The one commodity which is never in short supply is advice. The best advice I ever received about advice is: listen only to the people who have done it (whatever they're talking about); the others are qualified only to tell you about how NOT to do it!
So this time around we get some insights and inspiration from some people who have done it.
1: What Does Your Gut Tell You Today (About Tomorrow)?
The March 21 issue of Fortune magazine asks a group of key business leaders what is the best advice they ever received. One answer I thought especially interesting came from Sumner Redstone, the 81 year old Chairman and CEO of Viacom: "Follow your own instincts, not those of people who see your world differently."
As evidence of how this worked in his experience, he says, "(People) said MTV was a fad. They said Nickelodeon would never make it...But I saw MTV not just as a music channel but as a cultural channel, a generational channel, and a channel that could travel around the world. As for Nickelodoen, my instincts as a parent and as a grandparent told me, 'What's more important to people than a kids' channel?' My instincts also told me that children are pretty much the same all over the world."
ACTION: We're usually too busy with day-to-day matters to take time to consider the long view, and to listen to our own instincts about where things are going. Consider scheduling an hour this week - maybe off-site at a coffee shop - for checking your own educated guesses about what's happening next in the world or in your field. Start with the big changes you see or anticipate, then continue to narrow your focus until you have specific ideas of what you can do to benefit or learn from these changes.
2: Who Would You Like to Meet?
Another interesting comment in the Fortune survey came from film and TV producer Brian Grazer. He says, "Every month I create a new list of people to call. I call it my 'interesting people list.' I call, on average, five people a week - I'll personally call Eliot Spitzer or Isaac Asimov - and may end up meeting with one every two weeks...And I ask them to tell me about their world. I meet these people to learn ultimately how to be a more efficient filmmaker."
He's been doing this a long time: "I've collected advice from over 1,000 people over 30 years."
ACTION: Who are the interesting people you'd like to meet? OK, obviously famous people are more likely to take a call from an Academy Award-winning producer than from you and me, but there are lots of fascinating people who aren't famous and who will be flattered by your desire to meet them (suggestion: offer to pay for lunch).
Make up a modest list to start with and consider setting the goal of meeting with at least one or two people like this per month. (I'm going to start doing this and will let you know how it works out - please let me know of your efforts as well.)
3: It's About Time (A Tip from the Time Doctor)
We had a great sold-out Time Management for Creative People workshop here in London last week (we had to turn people away so we may schedule another one for the summer - you'll find out about it here).
One of the key points: creative people tend to be very visual. This is one reason why many of us don't like to use filing cabinets or Palm Pilot-type devices: when the drawer is shut or the device is off, we can't see what's in there! We feel more secure when we can see the material we may want to access (or at least the clearly labelled container for it).
ACTION: Instead of file folders inside a filing cabinet, use box files with the spines clearly marked, and put them on open shelving. You'll know at a glance exactly where everything is. You can also colour-code them by getting a variety of colour labels and using one colour for each major type of file.
4: The Secret Lesson of the iPod (It's Not What You Think)
You can hardly open a publication of any kind without reading praise for the iPod (yes, I have one, too...).
But most of them focus on the styling, the ease of use, the permutations that keep appearing, and they miss the real genius of the entire concept. Namely, that Steve Jobs was able to get the record companies and artists to agree to a download service when 'download' was a word they associated with piracy and loss of control. The iTunes site launched with about 200,000 songs and now offers over a million.
I mention this because so many creative people feel that their work is done when they're only halfway there: when their book is written, or they've come up with the idea for a film or a clever new business, for example. It's only real when it's getting into the hands of the end-user; when - as Jobs did - you've overcome the doubts of the sceptics and enlisted the cooperation of those who can help you get your project out there and make it useful.
ACTION: What projects have you left half-done? Maybe a few rejections put you off, or somebody's negativity convinced you to abandon the idea. Often it's the things closest to our hearts that we leave half-done because we fear the pain of failure. Is it time to go back to that one 'crazy' idea or project and get to work to make it come true?
5: Baby or Porcupine - the Power of Metaphors
Medical doctor-turned new age guru, Dr. Bernie Siegel, gave this advice for coping with fear: "Once you've pinned down your exact fear, find a metaphor for it. I tell patients to imagine their fear as a tiny baby crying in a crib. I tell them to pick up the baby, caress him/her and see what happens. This exercise shows people they're distinct from their fears and suggests that they, and not their fears, are in control. Learning to control fear is very reassuring."
Sounds kind of far-out, right? Well, I just had a chance to try it out with the emotion of anger/annoyance, due to a phone call I've just dealt with! The metaphor that came to mind was a large porcupine (hedgehog), spines bristling. I'm not cradling it, I'm just stopping my metaphorical vehicle long enough for it to cross the road. And guess what? I've calmed down instantly.
ACTION: The next time you feel that any emotion may be overwhelming you, or getting in the way of how you'd like to communicate, try Siegel's tip: come up with a metaphor, in your imagination deal with the metaphor in whatever way seems appropriate, and then monitor your feelings - most likely, you'll feel more in control!
6. And a Quote to Think About....
"Flops are part of life's menu and I've never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses." - actress Rosalind Russell