Malcolm Gladwell

Let’s Face The Cold Hard Truth About Talent

I started taking electric bass lessons.

I used to play electric bass quite a bit (even studied it in a post-secondary environment). I worked very hard at it. I had private lessons, would attend jam sessions, played in a couple of bands and a whole lot more. At around the same time, I became much more interested in writing and managed to finagle a career as a freelance music journalist. I spent a whole lot of time interviewing lots of rock stars (hundreds… maybe even thousands… over the years). No joke. In 1989, my first assignment was interviewing Tommy Lee from Motley Crue (I jokingly tell people that my entire career has been downhill from there). Was I any good at playing the electric bass? I was. Was going to be the next Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke? Maybe if I just practiced harder?

It’s a tough talk to have.

I haven’t played the bass in over twenty years. I’m beyond rusty. It’s frustrating. On top of that, I’ve spent a lot of time watching what contemporary bassists are doing, and I am amazed at just how much progress has been made with the instrument. Have you ever heard of Michael Manring? Watch what he can do with the electric bass…

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

I’ve been watching a lot of videos like this over the past few months, as my interest in the electric bass continues to grow. Personally, I find that it is opening up many different creative roads for me, and just thinking about the language of music has been inspiring (not a bad thing). I was thinking back to the time when I decided that I didn’t want to pursue a career as a professional musician because the calling of a life in media was far more interesting. The truth is that I also wasn’t that talented with the electric bass. I was good. I could play. But, I clearly didn’t have the “secret sauce.” It also became apparent to me recently (after watching several interviews with these stellar musicians) that they, themselves, were unable to communicate where their talent comes from. They all seem to chalk it up to practice and hard work. I don’t believe them.

Malcolm Gladwell is wrong.

In his bestselling business book, Outliers, Gladwell points to the now-famous notion that anybody whose work/art that we appreciate in the world has put in the hard work to master it. The 10,000 hour rule (as it has become known). I’m not so sure. Here’s my take-away: if you practice the electric bass really hard (let’s call is 10,000 hours), my guess is that the vast majority of people will know how to play the electric bass very well, but very few of them will be true bass players. You can practice writing for 10,000 hours, and my guess is that the vast majority of people will be better at writing, but very few of them will be true writers. The same goes for painting, photography… and maybe even the work that you do?

There are those who can play the bass and then there are bass players. Those that have a gift for it.

It’s a tough concept to wrap one’s head around, but it’s true. The real experts seem to be the ones who put in their 10,000 hours BUT they also have some semblance of a gift/knack/aptitude for it. Of course, there are varying levels of skills and people’s opinions as to who is great at something is relative. That’s fine. This isn’t a negative concept, either. I’d hate for anybody to think that this blog post is intended to deflate your tires or make anyone feel like they’re not great at the work that they’re doing. Talent is not always something that can be developed with a simple application of a little elbow grease. Talent is usually something that shines when one individual taps into something that they actually have an aptitude for and can then nurture it to their advantage.

What do you think? Can everyone be a bass player or will most people simply know how to play bass?

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Choosing A Different Kind Of Life

What do you think people like Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss or Tom Peters do each and every day?

Do they go to work like you and I do? Do they have an office? A formal schedule? It’s something that fascinates me. You can get a glimpse into their lifestyles …

20 Best Marketing Books Of All Time

What are the best marketing books of all time?

It’s a question that I get asked, multiple times per week via email. It seems like people just coming out of school or professionals looking to up their game want to know not just what the latest and greatest books are, but which ones would be considered the seminal books on the subject of marketing. So, if I were putting together a MBA program with a focus on marketing, and was gifted the privilege of providing the reading list, these would be the ones that make the final cut.

The 20 Best Marketing Books Of All Time (in alphabetical order):

  1. The Anatomy Of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen. Before word of mouth marketing became a profession unto itself, Rosen was busy trying to figure out why certain brands get attention and how they do it. This is one of those classic business books that every marketer should read.
  2. The Art Of The Pitch by Peter Coughter. If you are in marketing, you will have to get good at presenting and selling your ideas. I’ve read countless books on the topic, and this is the only one worthy of reading, studying and applying. Woe the marketer that doesn’t heed these words.
  3. The Cluetrain Manifesto by Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger and Rick Levine. If you could point your finger at one book that changed the face of marketing, it would be this one. The entire social media movement came out of this book. Long before Facebook and Twitter, this visionary book told the tale of everything we believe and hold dear in these times of inter-connectedness.
  4. Seth Godin. I am cheating here (so, sue me). Not only could I not choose just one book by Seth Godin, but I found it hard to choose only five. So, I made my life easy by doing this. Buy and read everything Godin has published. Permission Marketing? Yes! Purple Cow? Of course! Unleashing The Ideavirus? You better! Linchpin? If you’re interested in a future, yes! The Icarus Deception? How could you not? I could go on and on (The Dip!), but I’m hopeful that you get the idea. Buy all of his books. You won’t regret it! 
  5. Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. This book is not for the timid. Shirky is more academic than fluff, and this book dives deep into technology and social media with beautiful and high-brow writing. So well written and researched. It is a gem.
  6. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan. When was the last time that you read a business book and laughed out loud? Yes, this book is that funny, but it’s also one of the best books out there on what makes an ad great, and how to push yourself to create a great one as well. Written by a copywriter, this book demonstrates the power of words and the power of spending the time to find the right words.
  7. Influence by Robert Cialdini. An incredible book about how we make decisions and what influences them (hint: it’s not what you think)… and this was published long before behavioral economics became so very cool. This is profoundly powerful because of all of the science and research behind this book. Most marketers haven’t paid any attention to this book, and it shows in the vast majority of terrible work that we’re exposing the public to.
  8. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. Marketing isn’t just about the ads. Marketing is also about the product and how to bring it to market. So many companies do everything right and yet still lose market share. If you’re interested in marketing and you haven’t read this book, it is a must-read.
  9. Life After The 30-Second Spot by Joseph Jaffe. Another one of those seminal books that you can look back at and marvel at just how prescient it was. This one is almost a decade old, but still resonates with some very deep thinking about where advertising is going.
  10. The Little Red Book Of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer. Don’t be fooled by the title. This simple, fun and short book is full of how to better position, market and sell both yourself and the products and services that you represent. In fact, anything by Gitomer is well-worth your time. This just happens to be one that I re-read each and every year.
  11. Made To Stick by Chip And Dan Heath. There have been countless books written on viral marketing and how brands should tell a better story. None of them hold a candle to this one. Perhaps one of the best books ever written on how a brand can (and should) tell a story (and how to do it).
  12. Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. A key component to better understanding the power marketing is to learn about how to network and connect with others. I devoured Never Eat Alone when it first came out, and recommend that anyone trying to figure out how to better market themselves pick up this book. Stop eating lunch at your desk and get out there!
  13. The New Rules Of Marketing And PR by David Meerman Scott. This book has been updated by Scott many times over. If you’re looking for the ultimate primer on social media, what it means and what it can do, this is the perfect book to bring you up to speed.
  14. Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy. What would a list like this be without a nod to one of the most well-known Mad Men of our time? David Ogilvy had a passion for advertising. He believed that it was a noble pursuit and a profession that should be taken seriously. This book is a great example of how to think like an advertising executive whose sole purpose it was to help brands sell more. Sometimes, in our digital times, it’s fun to read books like this and re-think all of the analytics and optimization talk we have and get back to the advertising as a form of art.
  15. Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. This is one of the “must have” books if you’re in marketing. It covers a ton of space on the topic of how to brand products and services and how to place them both in market and in the mind’s eye of the consumer. This should be the first book that anyone reads when they enter a Marketing 101 course.
  16. Re-Imagine! by Tom Peters. Not exactly a full-bore marketing book, but still Peters delivers in spades with this one. It’s also beautifully designed, which makes it fun to read. There are countless brand stories about excellence in this one.
  17. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. A wise individual once said to me that Gladwell has a knack for writing books that business leaders feel stupid for not having on their bookshelves. Pretty poignant and true. The Tipping Point is great because it helps marketers better understand the inflection point that happens when a product is ho-hum and how it then takes off like a rocket. It’s not really science so much as cultural, but it’s fascinating.
  18. Waiting For Your Cat To Bark? by Bryan and Jeffrey Einsenberg. The Eisenberg brothers posses an expertise unlike any other. They are experts at understanding and explaining the power of marketing optimization. Sadly, this is one of the most important aspects of the marketing sphere that most professionals spend little-to-no-time working on. This book is chock full of practical and powerful advice about consumers and how to help them by making your marketing easier to follow.
  19. Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik. If you have spent more than two minutes reading any of my content, you will know that I am an unabashed fanboy of Avinash Kaushik, the digital marketing evangelist at Google. In fact, the notion of Sex With Data from CTRL ALT Delete was heavily inspired by Kaushik’s work/thinking. Most marketers eyes glaze over when they hear the word ‘analytics,’ but thankfully Kaushik is here to help make it fascinating and important. This book is packed with ideas about how to think better about your marketing and what it’s capable of doing.
  20. Where The Suckers Moon by Randall Rothenberg. Most people in my world know Rothenberg as the President and CEO of the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau). What most people don’t know is that in 1995, he authored this book. A book that is, without a doubt, one of the best books on the advertising industry.

Anything missing? What would you add?

(special thanks to Jean-Philippe Belley for asking the question again to me today via email, and for inspiring me to pull this list together by roaming through my personal book collection).

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Malcolm Gladwell Disabled Part of His Brain to Research Latest Book

Author Malcolm Gladwell met with MashableReads, Mashable’s social book club, for a Twitter chat on Oct. 21 to discuss Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath. In his book, Gladwell uses the story of David and Goliath to outline the hidden advantages of…

How 6 Tech Underdogs Became the Industry’s Most Respected Founders

We’re finishing the last chapters of our October #MashReads non-fiction book club pick, Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath, and really hoping you are, too.
If you aren’t caught up on the premise of David & Goliath, then you should know that Gla…

7 Stories to read this weekend

Google cars, new attitudes towards mass transit, crazy future we live in, David Byrne, Zulily IPO, Malcom Gladwell, TED Talks and why bags made from crocodile skins so expensive — these are some of the stories on menu this weekend.

Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants

Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know that Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out.

His new book is called, David And Goliath. And, as usual, it is getting a lot of worthy attention. Everybody in business either has it, is reading it or wants it. Ahh, to be Malcolm Gladwell (a girl can dream). This past week, he spent some time at the Googleplex in Mountain View. What makes this video fascinating, is that it’s not standard Gladwell-fare of him presenting his stories. It’s a fireside chat with some great insight and it’s well-worth your time…

Talks At Google – Malcolm Gladwell: “David and Goliath”.

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Malcolm Gladwell Joins the MashableReads Social Book Club

As a result of the tremendous MashableReads launch two months ago, we’ve decided to expand our selection to include one non-fiction pick a month. Our first choice is David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
We’ll be hosting a Twitter chat with Gladwell …

10 Brand New Books That You Should Read

Suddenly, I don’t know where to start.

It’s like the brains of the world converged, had a meeting and decided to overwhelm us with a mass amount of brand new books to get our brains frothing. This is, without question, a tough time to figure out which brand new business book you should start with. My Kindle runneth over with books that must be consumed, contemplated and implemented. All of these books have either just come out (in the past month, or so) or will be coming out at any moment.

Go get your credit card. Here are 10 brand new business books that you should read (in alphabetical order): 

  1. The Authentic Swing – Notes From The Writing Of A First Novel by Steven Pressfield. I am an unabashed fan of Steve Pressfield. If you write or create anything and have not picked up his books, The War of Art and Do The Work, you are really missing out on something special. In this book, Pressfield walks you through how he came up with and wrote his smash bestseller, The Legend of Bagger Vance. The Authentic Swing arrived today, and odds are very strong that every other book on this list will be dropped down a notch until this one gets chewed up. Also of note, Pressfield will be appearing on Oprah‘s Super Soul Sunday series this coming Sunday. If you struggle with getting inspired, starting a project or getting to another level in your creative thinking, you don’t want to miss this book. Pressfield also launched a two-part online video series to promote The Authentic Swing that walks through his The Foolscap Method. Amazing stuff. Here’s a conversation we had back in 2011: SPOS #251 – Do The Work With Steven Pressfield.
  2. David And Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell. This is my current read. The book will be out on October 1st, 2013 and I am enjoying it immensely. If you’re not a fan of Gladwell, it is doubtful that this one will win you over. Personally, I like the way that he weaves research and academics with everyday people stories. I also like how he challenges the status quo with a different point of view. Insights, perspective and an amazing writing style makes this one a necessity for your book collection. Let’s face it, walking around with a Malcolm Gladwell book also makes you look smart and cool. Who doesn’t want that? ;)
  3. Die Empty – Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry. This is Todd Henry’s latest book. For my dollar, it is one of the best titled books on creativity to date. But, as you know, we never judge a book by its cover (or title). Thankfully, Henry fully delivers on this one. It’s a veritable page-turner of insights and new ways to think about how to soak the most creative juices out of your life. People seem to think that creativity is based on scarcity. Die Empty will help you better understand that it is a model of abundance. You just have to better understand how to harness it. This book comes out tomorrow, so don’t delay. Here’s a conversation we had back in 2011: SPOS #259 – Accidentally Creative With Todd Henry. Plus, look for an upcoming episode of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast where we discuss Die Empty.
  4. Epic Content Marketing – How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less by Joe Pulizzi. In a world where everyone is talking about the merits of content marketing, Joe Pulizzi is one of the true, experienced voices in the space. I read an earlier draft of this book and was amazed by the depth of it. If you’re looking at how to bulk up your content marketing strategy, or where to get started, this is a great primer and is right up there with Content Rules. Here’s a conversation we had back in 2012: SPOS #289 – Content Marketing With Joe Pulizzi.
  5. Remote – Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. The guys from 37 Signals blazed the bestselling book lists with their opus, Rework. Now, they’re back with a book and topic that is near and dear to my heart. There are days when my office is my MacBook Air and iPhone, and there are days when my office is the physical space that we occupy at Twist Image. How would we build, design and market brands if we all worked remotely? I’m not sure it would be as successful. This probably isn’t a zero sum game, so I am curious to see how Jason and David tackle this issue as our work environment changes from day to day. This book comes out on October 29th. I don’t have it, yet. 
  6. Smarter Than You Think – How Technology Is Changing Our Minds For The Better by Clive Thompson. Another book that I bought, but have yet to tackle. Thompson’s articles in Wired Magazine are always amazing. There is a massive technology backlash underway. A lot of it stems from comments like Google is making us all dumber or that Wikipedia isn’t always perfectly correct, and we’re loosing our ability to learn because all of this technology and inter-connectedness. Thompson doesn’t agree, and he lays out his lucid reasoning in this important book. Personally, I can’t wait to dive in!
  7. Thinking In New Boxes – A New Paradigm For Business Creativity by Luc De Brabandere and Alan Iny. Don’t be fooled by the notion that these two Boston Consulting Group consultants would struggle with helping businesses to figure out new ways to be creative and innovative. This book reads like an instruction manual for businesses to review their own strategies and figure out how to out-innovate those who seek to disrupt their industries. It is well-researched and tells some amazing stories of brands that have discovered non-obvious but complimentary new business models and have managed to create a sustainable competitive advantage. I talked up the book with Alan Iny right here: SPOS #374 – Inside The Box Outside? Outside The Box? New Boxes With Alan Iny.
  8. Unlabel – Selling You Without Selling Out by Marc Ecko. I am still waiting on the physical version of this book from the fashion, pop culture and art icon. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ecko at a mastermind session earlier this year, and we recently took some time to discuss his latest project: this book. The conversation with him will be published this coming week on the Six Pixels podcast, but he is one person who understands (and can explain) what it means to build an authentic brand. Many people talk the talk, but Ecko walks the walk… time and time again. If you’re interested in brands and how they work, order a copy of Unbrand. This book comes out on October 1st.
  9. Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed by Alexis Ohanian. I have been hearing about this book for well over a year. Alexis and I share the same publisher and editor. I’m really curious to read this book (which also comes out on October 1st) from the co-founder of Reddit, Hipmunk and more. He’s a passionate startup guy and investor (deeply rooted with Y Combinator) and this book is all about using the Web for good. I’m fairly confident that this one will live up to its hype… if not, he’ll get mauled on Reddit. I doubt he will let that happen ;)
  10. The Year Without Pants – WordPress.com And The Future Of Work by Scott Berkun. This is another one that I have recently purchased and can’t wait to attack. Scott has written books on everything from productivity (Making Things Happen) to how to be a great public speaker (Confessions Of A Public Speaker). I’m excited to see where this journey leads. Berkun writes with a very fresh, direct and powerful style. He makes reading easy… and it’s a welcome break from some of the more laborious reads.

Some others are coming soon as well…

Gary Vaynerchuk has his latest book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook – How To Tell Your Story In A Noisy Social World on November 26th and Scott Stratten (Mr. Unmarketing) is set to launch, QR Codes Kill Kittens: How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground on October 7th. I am sure that there are other gems that I have missed.

So, what brand new books are you waiting on?

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Malcolm Gladwell Overdose

Get ready for the heavy brunt of publicity and advertising around Malcolm Gladwell.

And remember this: all of it is merited. Gladwell’s latest book, David And Goliath, comes out on October 1st. I got my grubby little hands on an advance copy… and it…

10,000 Hours And 20% Of Your Work Time

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chunk would?

Time is always the number one concern in our lives, isn’t it? Feel free to blame consciousness. The clock is always ticking… and it’s ticking down. Some of the greatest thinking of our time comes from people who are more acutely aware of just how limited our time on this earth is. Work is no different. We’re constantly in this strange battle for time. Be it deadlines, product launches, responding to emails, starting a meeting on time, getting home on time, finding the time to blog or whatever. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

How much time will this take?

Because of the human addiction to time, we want things to happen fast, faster and fastest. We want raises, promotions and more as quickly as possible. This fascination with speed and business is especially prevalent in the digital marketing space. Because it is still (somewhat) nascent, employers are paying a premium for talent and that talent has expectations that they will be moved up as quickly as possible. We see it in the work that the industry is doing as well. Brands want to know how quickly it will take them to get a million fans on Facebook. They want to know how quickly they can change the brand narrative by engaging on Twitter. They want to know how much quick money can be made if they blast out another email promotion. But, here’s the thing:

It takes time to get good. It takes a lot of time to get great.

With that, the world keeps on spinning. So, we’re obsessed with speed and time. Clients want things to happen fast. Agencies have to appear like they are moving faster (to stay ahead). Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to truly master something in his bestselling book, Outliers. Last week, he revisited his 10,000 hour theory in The New Yorker blog post titled, Complexity And The Ten-Thousand-Hour Rule: “No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, I wrote: ‘achievement is talent plus preparation.’ But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that ‘the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.’ In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals. Nobody walks into an operating room, straight out of a surgical rotation, and does world-class neurosurgery. And second–and more crucially for the theme of Outliers–the amount of practice necessary for exceptional performance is so extensive that people who end up on top need help. They invariably have access to lucky breaks or privileges or conditions that make all those years of practice possible. As examples, I focused on the countless hours the Beatles spent playing strip clubs in Hamburg and the privileged, early access Bill Gates and Bill Joy got to computers in the nineteen-seventies. ‘He has talent by the truckload,’ I wrote of Joy. ‘But that’s not the only consideration. It never is.’”

Is it possible to be great at something in less than 10,000 hours? Or, asked another way, can we get there any faster?

According to Gladwell (and others), it doesn’t apply to everything (obviously). Some people may be inherently gifted with specific genetic and physiological gifts that make them more prone to be successful when you can match that specific gift with a specific area of expertise (Gladwell’s blog post points to areas like high jumping, etc…), but some things do have to be learned and nurtured through experience and more education. Marketing is one of those things. It takes time. Lots of time to get great at it.

What about focus?

While we’re focusing on time and how to get focused enough to earn those ten thousand hours, Google is either slowly ridding themselves of (or has already done away with) their infamous 20% rule (where every employee is expected to spend 20% of their work time focused on a personal project – no matter how outlandish). The Wall Street Journal reported today in the news item, Google’s 20% Mistake, that “one can’t just throw money and bodies at innovation–there is no correlation between the size of a company’s R&D budget and its innovation rate. Most ideas are bad ones, so you have to entertain a lot of them to find the real gems. On average, a company needs 3,000 ideas to get 300 of them formalized, 125 of them into small experimentation, ten of them officially budgeted, 1.7 launched–and one that makes money… On paper, eliminating it might look like it saves money. But the signal it sends is that management, not the workers, know what the most productive use of your time is. It’s a step down the road to a company of clock-punchers.”

Time is money.

For my time (and money), all of this is less about management decisions and how HR is going to deal with the fallout, and much more about the macro issue of time well spent and how we’re all struggling in a world that is expecting us to put in our 10,000 hours and find our true groove. We can’t look to our bosses on this, we have to look within. After reading these two powerful pieces on how much time it takes to get great at (mostly) anything, the only thought I had was this: am I, personally, committed to the 10,000 hour rule and am I spending enough of the other time working on something personal, out there and possibly bigger than me?

Get less worried about how long something takes and get focused on how much better you are getting over time.  

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My First Job

I was in grade 10. It could have been grade 9.

My entire grade was taking a summer trip overseas. I wanted to become a million by the time I was 18, so the clock was ticking. Tick. Tock. Instead of having fun with my friends, I had bigger aspirations for my summer. I wanted to buy an electric bass… and a stereo. I had to earn the money to get the sugar. I worked in a cosmetic factory. It sucked. My job – day in and day out – was taking this round piece of white plastic, dabbing the center with some glue and using wax paper I would push into place the mascara. From there, I would screw on the see-through top, place them a box, get the right count, tape up the box and put it on a palette. I don’t think it rained one day that summer. At least, it didn’t feel like it did. I wouldn’t know. I was stuck inside a dirty warehouse all day that was filled with people who had no passion, desire or drive. They just did their jobs. Collected their money. Time to make the donuts.

The food sucked too. 

I wasn’t a brown bag lunch kind of guy (I’m still not). We’d hit up some greasy spoon or grab something quick at the corner donut shop. It was in a part of town that had lower income apartments and random businesses. It was a long haul to a cruddy fast food joint. It wasn’t even worth the trip. I hated the work and only semi-appreciated the minimum wage. It wasn’t about the work… it was about the means to the end. By the end of the summer, I got the electric bass that I wanted… the stereo too. I had even made enough money, to put some of it aside. You can bet that I appreciated ownership of the bass and stereo.

Hard work.

It’s all about the hard work. Not just at the job – each and every day – but about putting in the hard work. Always. Luck is a lot of hard work. You can chastise Malcolm Gladwell all you like, but he’s right in Outliers about the 10,000 hours. It may not be an exact number, but it speaks to the time and dedication it requires to be successful. We hear about the random stories or the lottery winners and we’re fooled into believing that luck has something to do with success. I didn’t want to work in that warehouse. While that was my first job, it wasn’t my last hard job. I must have a thing for hard jobs. I worked at a frozen yogurt place (part-time) one summer in high school. The customers were borderline disgusting (“can you put in a few more strawberries?” – I would try to explain to them that there is a formula to create the best tasting result. They would fight me on it. I’d put in the extra strawberries and they would return it and say that it was too tart). During the day, I was a counselor at a day camp, working with ten 9-year-old boys. It was a great summer, but it was hard work. We forget about how good hard work is. It keeps us engaged, it keeps us motivated and – sometimes – the lesson is bigger. I love hard work, because when it’s the stuff I’m interested in, it pushes me to be better. I love hard work, because when it’s the stuff I’m not at all interested in, it pushes me because I never want to do that kind of stuff ever again.

I can still smell that mascara. I’m not going back there. I’ll just keep on working hard.

What was your first job?

BTW, this post was 100% motivated by Ashton Kutcher‘s awesome speech at the Teen Choice Awards 2013. Watch this… and show it to your kids:

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How To Become A Thought Leader

You are one if someone reputable says you are one.

That is the short and simple answer to what is a very complex thing to define. If Anderson Cooper describes you as a “marketing thought leader” prior to interviewing you on air, you can run with that title. Personally, I would have never defined myself as “the rock star of digital marketing,” but when Marketing Magazine called me that, I ran with it as well. Harder than defining what, exactly, a thought leader is would be an attempt to explain how to become one. Mashable recently had a very interesting piece on the topic (which you can read here: How To Become A Thought Leader). It got me thinking about how often we toss that phrase around, how few individuals actually are thought leaders and how easy it is to simply self-anoint oneself as a thought leader.

Who really is a thought leader?

Pushing beyond semantics, a thought leader is someone who is sharing (in text, images, audio and video) their own unique perspective. That would be the “thought” component of the equation. A thought leader is someone whose unique perspective is seen and accredited by both peers or other industry experts as truly being visionary (saying and doing the things that others have yet to do). Leadership isn’t just about being first. Leadership is about how the thinking is ingested and used by the audience. It’s one thing to be shooting a whole bunch of darts at the board in the hopes that something hits the bull’s-eye, and it’s quite another to be someone who has successfully hit the target – time and time again – over the years, and have that coupled with the actual growth of the industry that the thoughts have served. Thought leadership is sharing the vision, having the vision being accepted by the industry at large and having that vision become a part of the DNA and how that industry moves forward. People like professor Henry Mintzberg and Don Tapscott are true thought leaders. Their work has changed how we see ourselves and and how we work.

On becoming a thought leader.

Over a decade ago, I read the book, Become A Recognized Authority In Your Field – In 60 Days Or Less by Robert Bly. The main crux of the book is this: publish, do media appearances, speak and more. The more you do these very public acts of publishing and presenting, the more social proof your personal brand will accumulate. The book dives much deeper into developing a core level of expertise in a very niche topic and beyond. It’s a great read, and it’s easy to see why others might confuse a recognized authority (or, for that matter, someone with a lot of followers on Twitter or a popular blogger) with a thought leader. Being recognized as an authority on a specific subject is still a hop, skip and a jump away from being a thought leader.

Malcolm Gladwell was right.   

In Outliers, Gladwell defines success or expertise as someone who has put in their 10,000 hours. A thoughts leader’s perfect formula might look something like: Gladwell’s 10,000 hours + being a truly recognized authority + peer acceptance of thinking + work that has changed the industry it serves x multiple instances = thought leadership. Thought leadership shouldn’t be a term we toss around like “guru,” “expert,” or “ninja.” The litmus test could be as simple as asking this question: who is really a thought leader in my industry? Before rattling off a list of names, give pause. Is their experience and work (the hands in the game) equal to the published words (a lot of fans and followers)? Are they truly doing and saying things that others have not said before? Do they have the depth of experience that allowed them to do this on multiple occasions?

Thought leaders are an endangered species (or, at least, they should be).

It doesn’t mean that they’re all going to be gone, it just means that the flock is (and probably should be) very lean. We should care, nurture and watch the thought leaders very carefully, because as we toss that term around we may, in fact, be stripping away those who have this tough-to-be-claimed title in lieu of pumping up our own online egos and bolstering our resumes. My guess is that the real thought leaders don’t use that title to define themselves (and you probably won’t find it in any of their bios). They’re probably too busy doing the hard work instead of figuring out how to best position themselves with a title like “thought leader,” because that usually makes the lot of us cringe.

Interested in being a thought leader? Get to work :)

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