A few weeks ago a friend and former colleague wrote about his 25 lessons from 25 years at Microsoft. And while I wasn't at Microsoft that long, I realized I’ve been working for just over 25 years now and figured it might be a good idea to share a similar list of thoughts. Things I learned over the years, some of which I occasionally share while coaching or mentoring people.
Here they are in no particular order. Feel free to add your own below; always learning!
- Nobody is going to make your job interesting but you
It’s a bit provocative the way I state this here, but that doesn’t make it less true. This is something I only realized when I started managing other people and they began to ask questions about job content as well as how I saw their jobs evolve. I never asked my manager about that, I always unknowingly had the urge to develop my role at a company myself, finding out more and different things to do. Sometimes developing a new role altogether. The advice is simple: you have all the power you need to make your job (more) exciting or interesting. Take it where you want to take it. But not without making sure the expected job output is impeccable of course.
2. Have a craft
The term craft refers to the something that involves skill by making by hand. When I saw this tweet from R/GA I full-heartedly agreed, but with my own spin on it. For me having a craft does not only refer to the capability of making things, but to something useful that you can bring to the table. I believe it’s truly valuable for anyone to be known for a specific skill, something someone is really good at. People will come and find you for that. So beyond your job description, find something that is valuable for work that you are good at, something that people will come to you for. Have a craft.
3. Knowing what you’re good/bad at is more useful than knowing where to go
Besides knowing what you’re good at, figure out what you aren’t good at. Make sure you’re not overconfident about what you do or know well, and open up to possible weaknesses you have. People often overestimate their qualities, underestimate their weaknesses. Knowing what those are, will give you a lot of direction in your career and is in my opinion a lot more valuable than knowing where to go.
4. Make time for young people
And that means all of them, not just the obviously talented ones. Anyone working for several years often forgets how uncertain one felt at the start of a career. As a more senior profile you can add a ton of value by just making time for young people. Not to overload them with your wisdom, but to make sure they’re seen, by comforting them with the fact that you’ve also been there. A little boost of trust is all one needs to become great at what we do over time.
5. Be good and good
Self-explanatory I guess. Be good at what you do but most of all be a good person. Talented assholes will fade away.
When you find success the desire to be good at something is replaced with the desire to be more successful. — Rob Campbell
So make sure you stay good.
6. Do the work, put the time in
There’s that famous quote that states that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Whether you’re talented or not, hard work always makes the difference. It sounds obvious and yet increasingly difficult to get people to do just that. You want something to happen, to change, to create something, … commit to it and work hard.
And it’s a reminder to everyone, throughout their career, to never become just a supervisor of something. Keep doing the work and get your hands dirty if you want to keep growing.
7. No matter how experienced you are, have advisers
One of the main advantages of having advisers is that they can provide you with perspectives and insights that you may not have considered on your own. They can offer different viewpoints based on their own experiences and areas of knowledge, which can help you make more informed decisions.
Before I decided to launch my own creative innovation studio I talked to several people I respect in the business, people who made me think of new things to consider before going into this adventure. Input that has proven to be very welcome and I still seek out their advice as I move ahead.
8. Be a perpetual student
The day you think you know it all is the day your career comes to a stop. I’ve always been a terrible student, at least when you consider my school career, but am a great learner (I think). Having been in charge of innovation for large businesses it kind of came with the territory. But I realize that the hunger and curiosity to find out about new things gives me a lot of energy. So seek out new things to learn as long as you live.
9. Have the confidence that you can find a solution, never think you are the solution
It’s important to have confidence in your own capabilities, your collaboration skills, persistence and belief that you can find a solution to any problem. It’ll keep you curious and will ensure you never give up on anything. Don’t ever think you are the solution to a problem though. That will never help anyone.
10. IQ, EQ and CQ but then in reverse order
With CQ being the curiosity quotient. Curiosity is just as important as intelligence and although hard to coach, it can be developed. It is a muscle that can be trained. People with a higher CQ are more inquisitive, more open to new ideas or experiences. As they are quickly bored by routine, the tend to generate more original ideas. Curiosity is basically a superpower that you can train yourself in. How awesome is that!
11. Don’t fall in love with your own ideas
Any idea needs to be explored, needs to be developed, and is never finished. When you fall in love with your own ideas you're blocking them from being changed into something new, possibly more interesting. And it will block you from looking at other ideas that are better and take it from there. Love the problem but don’t fall in love with your ideas.
12. Be generous. To those that you don’t need
Can’t stress this one enough. Be generous to everyone around you. It’s easy to be generous to someone you like to pay attention to you, but then you’re essentially hoping for a return that will benefit you. There’s nothing wrong with that, although it’s not what makes that generosity remarkable. So be extra generous to those who might benefit more from that generosity than you. It’s the right thing to do.
13. Think positive. Always
People thrive in positive environments. It makes them happy and happy people are confident people. They make stuff happen. And yet research has shown that our minds focus on the bad and discard the good — we’re wired with a negativity bias. So it might not automatically come to you but do think positive. Always. About everything. And you’ll thrive.
14. Luck is something you make
Countless times during my career I’ve experienced moments in which I wondered how lucky I must have been for these to happen. As if the stars were aligned perfectly, being in the right place at the right time for a unique career opportunity. But when thinking about it more you realize how much of what you did yourself actually led to that moment. And while there’s always an aspect of luck involved, a lot really had to do with actions you took before that just happened to line up perfectly to something new.
Luck is not something you wait for while doing nothing. It finds you when you’re working hard for something.
15. Have a compass over following a GPS
From day 1 of any career you'll start getting questions about what it is you want to become. I never had any idea about that and I'm glad because if I had, I would probably have made it a goal. And likely as a result I would never have ended up where I eventually ended up.
What is more important to me is that you follow what interests you and that you always stay true to yourself, especially when new opportunities appear and you grow your career. That'll give you direction and will unlock possibilities you cannot imagine at the start.
16. Nobody owes you anything
This one might be generational, but it's something I find really important. It's how I look at it anyway. People often think their employer owes them a lot of things — better salaries, better conditions, free stuff, more time off, more interesting work, better colleagues, a cool annual retreat, … whatever. I always figured my employer owed me nothing, I figured I get paid with the promise to do good work. And the naivety that if I could make that work stand out, it would be recognized. But it would make me work harder, better. If you think you're employer owes you something, the risk is you'll just do what was asked and there's no growth in that.
17. Small changes are just as important as big ones
Everything is important as they would say at Singer (and if you don’t know who they are, look them up).
When we think about change or transformation we get most excited about 10x style changes and yet the biggest difference happen when making a lot of changes consistently. And they're easy to do. Start making small changes, many of them.
18. You get the clients you deserve
It’s quite common in agencies to hear people moan about clients that don’t get it, clients that aren’t buying great work etc. When that happens it’s never (just) the client’s fault; the agency is just as responsible. It’s too easy to blame someone else — even if they are paying the bills — for not getting you to do great work. Wonder how they ended up with you in the first place. Or think about who proposed the work that ended up being made.
A former P&G client once gave a presentation about this at dani komunikacija (a pretty rad industry event in Croatia) where he made the analogy with The Torre Velasca, a building in Milan widely considered one of the ugliest buildings in the world. And yet it exists — is that the fault of the city, the architect, the project developer, …? It’s a shared responsibility; everyone let it happen. It’s the same when client & agency end up in a bad relationship, doing bad work — you’re both responsible for it, not just the client.
19. Investigate how stuff works
Start with what you’re passionate about as it’s easier to find motivation for it. Most of the time we all just enjoy the pleasant experience of the things we use, without really knowing why we like them so much or what actually makes them good at they do. It’s essential to try and figure out how things work — not so much the technical or scientific part — but more why things work the way they work. What design decisions were made along the way, what made difference in usage after feature changes etc. You’ll learn about yourself and get a better understanding of human behavior. At least, that’s what I believe.
20. Investigate succes stories more than failures
There’s a lot of focus on understanding failure as a way to innovate and/or grow a business. I think that is important but tend to be more keen to investigate what really made succesful ideas so successful. When an idea worked great we automatically assumed that was because of how we designed it. I mean, we knew it was a great idea so it’s no surprise it worked so well. Yet in my experience often it’s the little things that weren’t exactly planned, the little accidents that happened along the way that maybe made all the difference in the end. Yes the idea was great; nobody ever said otherwise. Just make sure you understand the messy details of why it really worked out as they will help you repeat success more easily.
21. Go above and beyond what is expected
Do what you were asked to do. Do it as well as you can. Try to beat expectations. And then do more, do what you weren’t asked to do. And that’s how you’ll make a mark.
22. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside
Thanks Hugh. It’s an unfair comparison to say the least and will hardly ever make you feel better. So just don’t do it.
23. Challenge the status quo
A statement or attitude most people seem to agree with… yet very few of us actually do challenge the status quo unless we're specifically asked to do just that. So ask yourself with every single thing you do, every single assignment if there's another way to do it. Challenge yourself every single time to see if there's another way to tackle that assignment, other than how you would normally do it. We're getting so good at optimizing everything in our lives that we hardly ever challenge whether things need to be done the way they're done — and yet, the real opportunities lie there.
Beware of the assumption that the way you work is the best way simply because it’s the way you’ve done it before. — Rick Rubin
24. To know others is to know yourself
I got this one from my friend Maria who once decided to make a new friend every day of the year. Through her friend-a-day project (listen to her talk about it on this beautiful TEDx talk) she discovered how important connecting to other people really was and how it helped her develop a stronger sense of self.
“In a world, that’s becoming more virtual every day. It’s more important than ever to experience authentic connections.” — Maria Scileppi
We always talk about networking as something essential in business to grow your reach. And while that might be true, think about networking as a way to make more connections and through them get to know yourself a bit better.
25. Ideas from anywhere
Especially in a creative business we are taught that creative ideas belong with 'the creatives'. And while I by no means underestimate the constant challenge of coming up with great ideas every single day, it does almost always make everyone else keep their ideas to themselves as they don’t have the designation 'creative'. At my first creative agency job we even had a word for ideas that weren't from the creative team; those were called 'account ideas' and with that almost immediately deemed less valuable.
The best creative ideas can come from anyone in the organization. To be able to capture those ideas, an organization needs not only to believe that to be true but also set up a system for it. I always admired the open collaboration setup at 72AndSunny or Forsman&Bodenfors where ideas were shared with the whole agency quite soon in the process for anyone to contribute.
“When it’s on your desk, it’s yours. When it’s on the wall, it’s ours.” Ideas are attached to ego, whereas collaboration requires a detachment of ego. Within the agency, there is an absolute commitment to the group’s ownership of any publicly shared idea. — John Boiler (72AndSunny)
Thanks for reading. Leave your note in the comments. Curious to find out what other people have learned in their careers as well.