Friday, 25 February 2011

So you’re a good storyteller. Are you a good story listener??

Since my book deadline conspired against me going on my annual Inspiration Trip to Texas, I’ve been keen to make sure I soak up the best of what London has to offer with talks and events throughout February and March. Last Friday I went to my first ‘The Story’ a one-day conference at The Conway Hall where a mix of artists, writers, digital producers and bloggers shared their storytelling experiences.

Storytelling is important to me as it unites all the projects I juggle. Whether I’m writing my new book or advising a client on how to communicate their offering, it’s all about stories. 2011’s 'The Story' had a good line-up, from the comedy writer Graham Linehan to the photographer Martin Parr. There were also a few surprises; I didn’t think I’d be that interested in Phil Gyford’s story, the guy behind Pepys’ Diary. But it was fascinating to hear how Phil has taken a story from the 17th Century and used digital tools to tell it now, from daily blog posts to Twitter. With 50% of his online community over the age of 60 it was great to hear an online success story that was not about young people.

But the stand-out for me was Karl James, a performer and director who runs The Dialogue Project, where he uses recorded conversation to explore people’s life stories. Karl played some audio clips of conversations reminding us about the importance of listening. He says we’re missing out by not listening properly, and I think he's right. In one audio clip where he’s asking the father of a child with leukemia about his feelings, there’s a gap of 19 seconds between Karl's question and the father's response. Karl didn’t try and fill that silence, he needed that silence to hear the right story. Through another example, he showed us that sometimes the story is not where you’re expect it to be, and that you need to listen to give it the freedom to get there.

Karl gave me such a simple but essential takeaway - how good are we at listening? In a crowded and noisy world full of multiple stories on multiple platforms are we pausing to listen? So I’m embarking on my own listening strategy, with my family, my friends, clients and people I’m interviewing for my book. I’m going to be listening more.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Don't Forget The Implications Of Transparency

Sometimes I - still - forget that by publishing so much of my life online, people know what I've been up to. That pub talk about the restaurant I went to, the film I saw, the meeting that went well, the train that was delayed is known-news for those that already read about it on Twitter. Of course that's no great revelation; it's a choice I made to be transparent and authentic, a case of what you see is what you get.

So bearing in mind the benefits and drawbacks of the transparecy that comes from social media, I was surprised to get a LinkedIn request from someone who seemed to have forgotton the new rules of engagement. I received a LinkedIn invitation from a woman I'd never heard of who'd opted for the 'I have worked with you in the past' option; a woman who explained she was contacting me on behalf of someone else, a recruitment consultant. So, what was wrong with that?

  1. If you want to use LinkedIn to hustle for business, that's fine. But just be honest. Don't suggest we've worked together when we haven't.
  2. It was sent by someone on behalf of someone else. The whole point about LinkedIn is 1-1 *authentic* connections, not connections via conduits.
  3. Do your homework. My LinkedIn profile is available to see. It clearly states that my employer's business name happens to be my own name. That means I work for myself. So asking me if I'm happy in my current job and would I be willing to look at other jobs is a lazy approach, they could have tailored it to me if they bothered looking.
  4. So transparency is two-way right? So I looked up the recruitment consultant's profile on LinkedIn. He lists loads of current roles (which is fine) but I don't see recruitment consultant anywhere near the top of that list. That tells me a lot. He should have thought about that.

So, remember the rules of engagement have changed. Social Media can be harnessed as a tool to drive new business, but don't be lazy, don't be impersonal and don't bullshit. And then - you might get somewhere.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Business Hustle: Lessons In Business From Jay-Z

I’ve just been reading ‘Decoded’ by Jay-Z. Decoded is on the face of it, a book that deconstructs his lyrics, but like the rap itself, there’s more to it that first meets the eye. The book is also part autobiographical and I left with some lessons that are valuable for anyone looking to make their business idea happen. So here are four business lessons from Jay-Z:

1) Being A Good Hustler Is Better Than An MBA. Whether he was dealing drugs in his teenage years or running Roc-a-fella Records and his business interests, Jay-Z embraces the spirit of the hustler. Those skills that he learnt on the street corner dealing - okay they may not be politically correct - but they still remain the essence of any enterprise: you buy something for one price, sell it on for a higher price and make a profit. For him, the hustler trying to find his fortune is the ultimate human story, “it’s the ultimate metaphor for basic human struggles: to survive and resist, to win and make sense of it all”. That mindset, that spirit, and that emotional investment is essential if you’re going to be a success.  Speaking about the launch of Roc-a-fella, he says, "we didn't know business yet, but we knew how to hustle".

2) There’s No Magic Without Hard Work. Like many before him, Jay-Z reminds us that success needs hard-graft. "Without the work, the magic won't come”, he says, and commenting on Michael Jordan, "that's the kind of consistency that you only get by adding dead serious discipline to whatever talent you have". Of course there are no overnight success stories in business; sure, you might get lucky, but you still need to invest ‘sweat equity’.

3) Have A Goal, Write It Down And Hit It. When he set up his businesses, Jay-Z set goals, "We made short and long term projections, we kept it realistic, but the key thing is that we wrote it down, which is as important as visualisation in realizing success". Once you commit that goal to paper, it helps focus your mind on meeting it. If it stays loose you can’t hit it.

4) Be Resourceful. Jay-Z talks about getting resourceful to deal with droughts: "a drought in the game is when the supply or demand starts to drop - and that's when resourceful hustlers have to get creative". Back to the dealing on the street corner, he talks about the metaphor of turning a 'mound' of work into a mountain of money. We all face droughts, when customers dry up or a deal falls flat. That sense of being resourceful is at the heart of the one-person business (I wrote about it in my first book Leap! Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business And Set Yourself Free: "All I have is my bare hands, a load of contacts and a bunch of ideas. And with that, I've got to make a whole load of money. It's that simple and it's that scary".

What else did Decoded remind me? That like a lot of art, rap can be read on more than one level; it’s truly multi-layered. So don't dismiss it -  'the art of rap is deceptive' - if you look under the bonnet you may be surprised).