This article originally published on Inc.com
A lot of people end up being successful.
And some of those successful people end up being rich.
But very few people actually make their mark on the world and leave us all better off for having known them.
We need more of those people.
Here's advice on how to make your mark on the world, starting today.
1. Focus on what you're good at.
We've all been asked the interview question:
"So what's your biggest weakness?"
And at some point all of us have given one of those godawful answers that try to reframe a strength as a weakness.
"I care too much."
"I work too hard."
"I can be a perfectionist."
If you ever interview for a job with our company, I hope you answer the question in a real way. I would be far more inclined to hire the person that says, "I'm a crystal meth addict, and this election season has been a real challenge to my sobriety," over the person who tells me, "I'm too motivated for my own good."
At least I know the meth addict is a real human being who values honesty. The only thing I know about the allegedly "too motivated" person is that they are just telling me what they think I want to hear.
But I won't ask you that question anyway.
People spend far too much time trying to mitigate the weaknesses of themselves and others, rather than developing their strengths.
In a recent NPR interview, Bruce Springsteen acknowledged that he wasn't the greatest guitar player or singer, and that if he was "Going to project an individuality, it's going to have to be in my writing."
Bruce knew his writing was what differentiated him, and was what would ultimately help him leave his mark on the world. So he focused on his strengths, rather than his weaknesses.
And so should you.
2. Get even better at what you're good at.
You have strengths, just like Bruce does.
And you can use them to make your mark on the world, just like he did.
But right now, at this very moment, there are millions of people working hard to be better than you. And since terms like "good" and "better" are subjective and relative, what makes you better today can make you mediocre tomorrow.
And if you want to do something as big as making your mark on the world, you can never rest.
You can never stop getting better.
You can never stop learning.
You can never stop working hard.
And you must always...
3. Empty the tank.
It wasn't coincidental that I referenced Bruce Springsteen at the beginning of this article. His music and his writing have been the single biggest influence in my life and shaped me in a way that exceeds even the influence of my parents.
(Granted, it's not like the competition is stiff. My mom's advice to never let the cops in our house without a warrant pales in comparison, inspirationally speaking, with the lyrics of "Badlands.")
But I'm not the only one Bruce Springsteen influenced.
Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart said this of Springsteen at the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors:
"I would get in my car every night and would put in the music of Bruce Springsteen, and everything changed. And I never again felt like a loser. When you listen to Bruce's music, you aren't a loser. You are a character in an epic poem...about losers.
But that is not the power of Bruce Springsteen.
The power of Bruce Springsteen is that whenever I see Bruce Springsteen do anything, he empties the tank - every time."
Find your strengths. Make those strengths even stronger.
Then go out and empty the tank--every time.
This article originally posted on Inc.com
Of course, you would never use a racial slur at the office.
Or refuse to promote a female employee.
Or turn your workplace into a hostile environment.
Because if you did any of those things, you may face steep consequences. You could be fired and publicly shamed, like former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.
And even if you don't face consequences that steep, you will likely be shunned by decent people everywhere.
Like your employees, your colleagues, and your customers.
Here's the truth: you don't have to be overtly bigoted for people to get the gist about how you view the world. Bigotry can make itself known in the way you respond to a question, who you do and don't invite to lunch, or the jokes that you think are funny, but really aren't.
And we all have the potential to fall back on a stereotype, rather than see the human being in front of us.
We all have a comfort zone. And when people or ideas outside of that comfort zone challenge us, we all have the potential to show the worst version of ourselves possible.
Here are a few ways you can avoid showing everyone the worst version of yourself.
1. Practice humility.
I have a bad temper. Sometimes I start things and don't finish them.
Professionally speaking, I have a short attention span. Without the aid of my wife, I would have exceptionally bad credit. I spent most of my childhood with a mullet.
My parents have owned multiple Pontiac Firebirds.
Not the cool kind with the big bird on the hood, either.
The sad kind.
The 1988 kind.
Except, the year was 2002.
Point being, I am no one's idea of perfect, and neither are you.
If you start with that premise, it's much harder to be a bigot.
2. Educate yourself.
I'm a believer in higher education, but here I'm not talking about a degree.
I've met bigoted people with elite college degrees--the type of people who wear a Washington Redskins hat not because they like the team, but to make a point--and remarkably enlightened and tolerant people who didn't finish high school.
The difference wasn't the degree, but a choice to learn more about the world and see the people in that world with an open mind and an open heart.
In other words, they educated themselves.
My office is in a startup incubator in St. Charles, Missouri.
Every day I see entrepreneurs who work hard, giving it all they have to hopefully create a better life for themselves and their families.
A month ago I saw the exact same thing in the food stands across the street from my hotel in Mexico City.
(And I ate delicious tacos.)
No matter the color or country of origin, we are people, just trying to make a better life in a world that doesn't always make that easy. When you travel, you see that in action--and it's much harder (though not impossible) to be bigoted.
4. Realize that being a "straight-shooter" or "telling it like it is" is not a license to be bigoted.
Growing up my family loved the movie Pure Country, which starred country music singer George Strait. At one point in the movie Strait's character is trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his girlfriend's father, an old, crusty rancher, by pointing out a very recent act that Strait's character believes demonstrates his decency, after he had been hurtful to the rancher's daughter.
The rancher responds by saying, "You know that white spot on the top of chicken sh*t?"
The rancher pauses for effect, then continues:
"Well, it's chicken sh*t too."
That's a refreshing example of being a straight shooter (and a wonderful description of a bigot who wears a publicly acceptable face).
Telling a fundamental truth, like the old rancher in Pure Country does, is great.
But there is nothing about any form of bigotry that is a fundamental truth.
This article originally published on Inc.com
Leadership is practically a cottage industry, and content on leadership is literally everywhere.
And that's a good thing. Every time someone like Elizabeth Holmes or Bernie Madoff comes on the scene, we are reminded that true leadership is in short supply.
Maybe one of the reasons is that we talk a lot about leadership, but not enough about the traits and actions that make a leader. Leadership, after all, is the fruit of the tree, not the tree itself.
And one of the most important--if not the most important--roots of that tree is courage.
How much content do you see that focuses on courage, or attempts to define courage?
That's really, really unfortunate--because courage is the foundation of leadership.
Sure, you say, courage is great--but what about knowledge and intelligence?
Those qualities matter, but no one can argue that a lot of smart, intelligent people have failed miserably as leaders.
What about toughness?
Toughness has a pretty subjective definition--and I've seen people who value toughness above all else struggle to adapt when a situation calls for a softer approach.
What about being a hard worker?
Committing yourself fully to the cause is essential, but I've been
around individuals who defined leadership as the willingness to work 27 hours of a 24-hour day. Unfortunately, this approach to leadership drains the aspiring leader, and fails to inspire those who hope to follow that leader.
Put another way, I looked at a former boss of mine who worked that type of schedule and concluded that I wanted to be nothing like him, which inevitably lessened his influence to me.
Knowledge, intelligence, toughness, hard work--those qualities and others are, at varying levels, important components of leadership.
But above every other quality of leadership, courage is what separates real leaders from people with the titles and trappings of leaders.
However, before we define what courage is, let's define what courage isn't.
Courage isn't peeking around the corner with one eye toward a calculator,
trying to figure out when the odds are safest for you to step out and say something.
Courage isn't safe.
Courage isn't managed risk.
Courage isn't a math problem.
Courage isn't working the odds.
Courage isn't a safe bet.
Courage isn't data-driven decision making.
Courage isn't a statement from your spokesperson.
So what is courage?
Courage is stepping up and standing out--often by yourself--when you know something needs to be said.
Courage is leaping before you look in the name of a greater good.
Courage can be lonely.
Courage requires thick skin.
Courage requires you to have something to lose, and the willingness to lose it.
Courage might mean lost jobs, lost "friends", lost opportunities.
Courage is being able to proudly tell your kids and grandkids that you didn't wait for someone else's permission or the math to add up in your favor before you stood up for what you believed in.
Courage is leadership.
This article originally published on Inc.com
The desire to be heard. It's why entrepreneurs, writers, rock bands, artists, and a lot of other people do what they do. Or, like the great ska band the Mighty Mighty Bosstones says in the song "Graffiti Worth Reading":
"I tagged and marked and bragged and barked and I was here!"
How do you tag and mark and brag and bark in a way that can't be missed? Start by not being That Guy. And, I mean That Guy in a gender-neutral way. Because whether That Guy is a man or a woman, you know the guy I am talking about.
That Guy has an opinion on presidential candidates, social movements, race relations, young people, and a variety of other issues. That's not the problem. We should all have opinions on important things. The problem with That Guy is that you've heard all of his opinions before. You've already heard his opinions on TV or talk radio, or read them on any number of blogs.
Here's what happens when I come across That Guy:
I pretend I'm in Jurassic Park. The 1993 Jurassic Park. (Have I referenced the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Jurassic Park in the same article? Yes, I have. I am a child of the '90s. I also have a barbed-wire bicep tattoo. Class of '99 4EVA!)
When I hear That Guy start giving his opinion on politics or the social issue of the day using the exact words I heard on the news this morning, I act like I'm one of those kids in the upside-down Ford Explorer about to get eaten by a T. rex. I try not to move. I try not to breathe. I open my eyes really wide and try not to blink. Because if I move, if I give the slightest hint of interest, I might become engaged in a conversation with That Guy. And while what That Guy has to say may not necessarily be offensive, there's a good chance I've heard it all before--and being unoriginal is its own type of offense.
If you want to be heard, you need to be unexpected. (Note: Being unexpected is not a license to be a jerk in the name of "speaking your mind." Before you go too far with the "be original" thing, remember Jeffrey Dahmer was unique, too.)
In one of my favorite movies of all time, Ratatouille, a restaurant critic named Anton Ego discovers that the best meal he has ever eaten was cooked by a rat hiding under a chef's hat. The rat controlled the chef's hands and arms by gently pulling his hair. When Ego discovers this, he writes this in his review: "Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core." Be the rat in the hat.
Don't just regurgitate someone else's opinion. This applies to careers, too.
Don't come to a job interview repeating a bunch of buzzwords everyone knows and overuses. If you want to separate your voice from the rest, you need to have your own ideas. You need to think critically about what you believe, and develop your own original opinions. Because anyone who has ever had too much Coors Light in a dive bar knows there is an inherent sadness to any cover band: It's usually just background noise. But people stop what they are doing and listen when a true original comes onstage.
This article originally published on Inc.com
Business-to-business marketing isn't easy. Your message has to cut through a lot of noise, then grab and hold your audience's attention. While I have failed to do that many times, one of my more successful ideas came a few years ago when I had to create a campaign to promote conference attendance at a trade show for paper shredding companies. (Obscure, yes - but it's a real thing.)
My team and I came up with a concept that was a little bit weird, but it worked.
Here was our multi-step plan:
Transparent spandex aside, the campaign was a huge hit. And, while it might seem silly, I learned some of the best B2B marketing lessons I've ever learned by wearing that spandex.
Prior to creating the character I discovered that customers frequently viewed paper-shredding companies as little more than garbage men. While there is nothing wrong with garbage men - the world needs them - these companies viewed themselves as providing a service that protected important corporate information and prevented identity theft.
To a person, every individual I ever met in that industry believed that his or her mission mattered. They didn't go home and tell their kids that they spent all day taking large pieces of paper and turning them into smaller pieces of paper.
Instead, they went home and told their kids that they protected people. They kept people safe. They were more like Batman than mere paper shredding companies.
Through this experience I learned that people create a mental framework of the work they do that paints that work in a heroic light. If, as a B2B marketer, you can find a way to communicate the value of your product or service in a way that shows how it will help your customer achieve that heroic image they have of themselves, you've won.
You could call speaking to your customer's inner superhero stroking their ego, but it's actually more about understanding the way your product or service fits into a customer's utility belt, because there is a part of every one of us that believes we aren't just climbing into our sedan to go to work.
Instead, there is a part of every one of us that believes we are climbing into the Batmobile and heading into Gotham City to meet Commissioner Gordon.
This article originally published on Inc.com
In mid-2014 I started publishing on LinkedIn's Pulse platform. When I started writing I - unlike others who approach building a platform strategically - had no intention of growing a followership or launching a new career.
In fact, I had no Twitter handle and no idea how to distribute content via social media. I had no idea what "influencer marketing" was - and I definitely didn't know why it matters.
I just started writing for the sake of writing. In the nearly two years since I have:
Here is a bit of what I've learned along the way:
1. Write to the only audience you'll ever know: you.
After I had some initial success on LinkedIn I looked around to see what sort of posts were getting traffic, and tried to write about those topics.
I was trying to write what I thought other people wanted to hear.
It was easily my worst writing. I had to learn that if my writing didn't move me, make me laugh, or interest me it surely was not going to have that effect on anyone else.
Bottom line: if you don't care about the subject of your content neither will anyone else.
2. Content must be designed to educate, inspire, or entertain first - and sell second.
Your blog, newsletter, eBook, or any other piece of written content must have value to the reader independent of whether or not they decide to make a subsequent purchase.
Think: how often do you go online or get on a device with the express intent of making a purchase and a totally open mind as to who you will make that purchase from?
If you're like most people, the answer is almost never.
Most of the time I go online to watch Netflix, or to learn something new, or out of sheer boredom.
Sometimes I go online to buy something, but usually when I do I have a pretty good idea of how and where I'm going to make that purchase.
Too often content is focused on the idea of catching buyers in the purchase stage, rather that at the boredom/entertainment stage.
Write your content in a way that catches individuals when they are just looking to be entertained, and if you do that well you may convert them into a buyer.
3. Pay attention to titles.
I have talked with more than one writer who dismissed the value of a good title, noting that there is quality content throughout the post.
Here's a reality few of us would like to admit: books are often judged by their covers, and content is often judged by headlines.
Titles are tremendously important to blog posts, and here a few quick tips:
Don't get too abstract or too direct. Let the reader know what they can expect to learn without giving away the whole story.
Err on the side of shorter titles, as long as the title is not so short that it fails to inform readers of what they can expect to learn.
4. Have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Too often business writing, in any form, is far too long than it needs to be.
That statement is relative, meaning that a book can be 100 pages and still be too long if the last 80 pages restate the same idea over and over again. A book can also be 800 pages and be just right, if each of those 800 pages has value.
Edit your content for repetition. Be economical with your words.
And, borrow techniques from good fiction, including knowing that all writing needs a beginning and a middle.
And an end.