Resources v. Results

The reason many people cheer for Cinderella during March Madness is
understanding what they’re up against. The rules don’t provide these
financially overmatched teams with help to defeat the leading teams
and their limitless resources.

So they have to get creative and work at their craft. It’s often the
scrappy underdogs that pioneer systems that keep them competitive.
Those systems work and others mimic them (ever heard of the Princeton
offense?) because it doesn’t matter where a good idea comes from, it
just matters if it works.

Imagine if small teams tried to beat the big dogs at their game? How
successful would they be? How often do you hear these student-athletes
talk about “our system” and “teamwork.”

No, they don’t always win the ultimate prize, but there’s only one of
those each year anyway. It’s not an accident the players who feel they
have nothing to lose, seem to be having the most fun game in and game
out.

The real takeaway in my mind is about having a philosophy, believing
in it and working just as hard in all facets of the game as the
so-called virtuosos do. Your outcomes might not be heralded on a large
scale, but it doesn’t make your work any less significant or
meaningful.

What winning is about

The reason I think we find sports in society so compelling is because it looks nothing like real life. The rules are defined, there are boundaries and if you don’t outperform the people you’re competing against, you will lose.

When you’re competing on an even playing field under the same rules; it doesn’t always mean that people around you won’t cut corners. But you can stick your own philosophy and when you find success, find that others around you start to watch what you’re doing.

Often, a philosophy is attributed to a brave soul who comes in with youthful enthusiasm, a monk-like devotion to duty and a desire to make things a bit better and find people who buy into the vision.

What’s the point? Success isn’t always measured in metrics or dollars and cents. It’s sometimes about cultivating a philosophy and a way of doing business that reflects the ideals of the people working in that group, institution or company. While it might be articulated fully, it’s not always best expressed by the CEO, but the line employee who’s worked there for a year or three.  It’s not just demonstrated in the way they do work during business hours, but when the shop doors close.

Winning is often the only thing anyone ever thinks about, but it’s not surprising that their success gets capped somewhere before their own personal grail. It usually takes more than will, more than a desire or a passion alone to find the combination which results in big wins.

Calipari has 1,113,647 followers on Twitter, 138,325 fans on Facebook, and his Coach Cal application for the iPhone and iPod touch sold more than 6,000 applications in its first month, making it the top paid sports application on iTunes less than a week after its debut last month.

His Web site, CoachCal.com, which went up in July, receives more than 100,000 page views each week. It has been visited by people from more than 100 countries, even Kyrgyzstan, which borders China.

Calipari, who was first encouraged by Indiana Coach Tom Crean to become active on Twitter, says social networking helps him connect with Kentucky fans, who are famously rabid.

“If you’re not doing it, you’re behind,” said Calipari, who had 1,300 people wish him happy birthday in 25 minutes on Facebook last month.

Facebook and Twitter Keep Calipari Ahead of the Game (via NYTimes)

Creating a personal narrative

It’s not unusual for Gen Y types to come to the job market with a dizzying array of jobs, interests and things they’re trying to do. It’s not only a stigma of the millennials, though. Due to the shifts in the job market and how differently hiring is than it was decade ago, many people are entering the marketplace with a wide range of skills. If they’ve had one career already, they might be actively involved in a second act already or for some, a third.

The personal narrative is no different than the “founder’s myth” that some companies have. (Think: “I came up with the idea for this firm on the back of a napkin, one day talking to some friends at a party…”) It’s not about creating a myth though, but rather, an authentic story that informs your audience on what you’re about, where you’ve come from and the reasons for the path you’ve taken. Especially if it’s a winding one, it’s important to think long and hard about the ways you got where you are and come up with a logic behind it or else, it might be difficult to shed the notion that you’re flaky or indecisive. 

How does this work? Well, it’s really specific to the individual situation of the person. But it requires a great deal of thought and introspection. Here are some things to consider during that process:

1. No one has traveled the path you have, because your path is unique to you. Accentuate your strengths in a well-crafted sales pitch. Think of it this way. If you’re a farmer, do you want to take the best crops you’ve grown to the market or the battered ones? Will people stop and ask you why your crops are battered or are they likely to move to the next stand? Do you want to start on the defensive? Not if you can help it. It’s important to appreciate your path for what it is and to start thinking about what’s led you to where you are.

Once you’ve done that, you can begin to really create a trajectory for your own career; even if you didn’t have one when you embarked on that path. Some things to consider: What’s important to me? What are my goals? What have I done consistently well over time? These are the sorts of things that inform someone about what your values are and what you can contribute to an organization.

2. It’s often all about the way the product is packaged. But you still need substance. Going back to the products at the farm stand, you have to present the best package possible and once people sample it has to taste good. In other words, you have to make sure there’s substance behind whatever it is you’re offering up. The packaging is just a way to get them to try it out. Thus, the time you really shine is when you’ve received the opportunity to discuss why you’re the right fit for a role with someone. A great cover letter can be a step in the door, but if your in-person presentation skills don’t back up what you’ve put together, it’s not going to work in the end.

3. Sometimes, you have to be willing to want it bad. It can be discouraging to often feel like people “don’t get it.” Many of us feel like we’re talented and that it goes unnoticed. Except, there are all sorts of people out there who’s mothers told them they’re special. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not going to feed you much. You’ll have to brush yourself off and really hone in on the ways you’re better than the other kids who’ve come to the birthday party with hats in tow. 

How do you do this? Standing out. Some people suggest resumes that pop or doing unorthodox methods to get a decisionmakers attention. You’ll read about these success stories in blogs and newspapers from time to time. If you do, it’s not a signal that you ought to try the same thing they did. Personal methods are often marked by what I call an emotional patent. In other words, they’ve blazed their own trail and did it in a manner that change the game in their favor. You’re not going to do it that way, because it wouldn’t be changing the game, it would just be conventional since it’s already been done.

Not every idea has to be game changing, but the best opportunities for success exist when you’re working in concert with your own authenticity.

Timing is usually everything. What works today might not work next week and just because something doesn’t work now, is not a sign that it can’t work at another point. The keys are really knowing who you are, what you’re good at and make a decision to understand what you want and where you want to be.

4. Ideal situations don’t really exist, but it’s good to have an idea in mind anyway. Dream jobs are just that…dreams. Yet, it can be helpful to model what we want out of a career situation by thinking about what we’ve done in the past and present. Rather than imagining a dream scenario, it’s more productive to think about the scenario in which you’d grow and thrive.

Think about that moment when your last job became stagnant and what you felt like you needed to make it better or more fulfilling. What would it take for you to get that? Once you’ve figured that out, you can begin the work of making it happen.

While this is a lot to digest, the real point of clarity is by focusing on many of these ideas you’ll begin to have a personal narrative that is concise and able to be elucidated beyond just the confines of interviews. It’ll become woven into a life mantra that others can begin to reference as a sort of shorthand to remembering you. Standing out isn’t always about shouting the loudest or being the most aggressive; it can often be a matter of being a person who represents a core set of ideals consistently.

Challenges abound in a market that’s being redefined with new rules constantly, but knowing yourself well and what you have to offer can be an advantage that provides you with the keys to open doors you believed were closed to you.

The fallacy of the worthless degree

The New York Times has a story on students who attend trade schools to give themselves a boost on a possible career, only to find themselves in a worst spot than they started due to lack of opportunities and now saddled with debt from their practical education.

None of this is really new, nor is it a surprise and it’s not likely to change anytime in the near future. One of the readers selection comments had other ideas though:

Agreed, it can be a rip-off. But, er…how about those expensive university degrees in Feminism Studies that cost upward of $100,000 and more? How about all those Journalism degrees awarded to students years ago who still haven’t paid off their loans because delivering mail is not such a high-paying job? You guys at the Times need to dig a little further and explain exactly what a young person does after he gets that Environmental Studies degree. I imagine that impoverishing yourself by going to a regular university is far more devastating than doing the same with a trade school.

It’s going to be increasingly important as time goes on to use all of the tools at our disposal to educate people on what colleges and universities — specifically the non-profit ones — are actually selling.

Social media & The independent school

Independent schools have a bit of a different thing to consider when deciding on ways to leverage social media. While they’re not colleges, many of them are very different than traditional parochial or private schools in local communities due to their recruiting and alumni considerations. 

It’s for all of these reasons that social media is just one more tool in a wide arsenal of communications mediums aimed at reaching audiences, expanding brand possibilities and so much more. 

The question that prompted this post is basically a question of why. Why would an independent school use social media and what are the benefits? 

Brand awareness and exposure are about more than brochures and advertising in traditional media. Social media is an invitation to discovering what an institution is about. There’s no better way to create a low-key introduction to your school than using social media tools.

For instance, using YouTube as a venue for videos about your school; whether it’s events held there, a look into a classroom experience or just life on campus, it can be a way to provide insight. It’s also a great way to demonstrate your values without writing a lot of words. It’s visual and appeals to both parents and prospective students.

The goal is to increase awareness and this is just one way to do that.

On freebies and “work” on the web

So how would I get a web site for a non-profit that has no budget?

We’ve surely heard this question before, no? I’ve spent nearly an entire term in the classroom talking about the value of work and how, if people don’t understand what goes into something it’s hard for them to value it.

For too many people, work on the computer is still voodoo magic that gets done by people who haven’t found serious jobs yet. Sure, some of them get rich doing it, but they’re completely off the mental radar for the purposes of these conversations.

Consider that people are more willing to pay someone to shovel their snow, cut their lawn, provide them with processed foods or any number of other things. But when it comes to building a web site as a promotional vehicle for their own projects, they never want to pay. I realize that for some organizations that rely almost entirely on donations this is not a new thing. And they target companies that might be more willing to offer up this kind of work because they can handle it. But the larger the firm, the more significant the request seems to be.

We have a responsibility if we’re working on the web to no longer dismiss how hard something is. It’s alluring to see like the smartest person in the room when you can or to make things seem easy and not like a bother. But the difference between the paperboy on his bike and the graphic designer on her iMac, is people can watch the paperboy and if he were to fall could probably help him complete his route. If the lady on the computer needs something, her client would be a creek.

Since I’ve never worked strictly as a web person, but rather, a strategist I can understand the need to have quality portfolio work. It’s also important to be able to eat and I can think of few industries where investing significant amounts of time and energy working for free, will yield you the sorts of results you want.

Paid gigs are harder to find, but come with many of the same constraints and demands as the free ones. Using your own discretion is the best way to decide when to choose to do free work and when not to. But if we don’t take the work we do seriously, it’s going to be universally hard to convince other people of the same things.

In response to the question the person asked about a site for a non-profit with no money, I hesitated, before finally explaining a breakdown of the various free solutions online that might serve the purpose he was describing and mentioning how cheap a domain would cost, much to his surprise.

Education trumps misinformation, but if no one provides the information, people will continue to remain ignorant about the work that goes into what they perceive as whiz-bang magic.