Friday, March 26, 2010

How to succeed in business without really crying

Follow the Tubes' advice: get out of the business, and into rock and roll. But keep the suit.

Corporate culture is one of my favorite topics, because the work environment is the wackiest place on planet Earth: no amount of talking or training or education or anything will ever be enough to get you ready to deal with it, because it's different everywhere.

What you can count on is that you'll get to meet a diverse group of strangers, some of whom you'll like, some of whom you'll hate, and some to whom you'll marry and divorce. Then, you'll get to do it all over again.

My free advice about how to succeed in the workplace, based on years and years of practice and failure.

1. Memorize this: "You're the boss."

I realized early on that in advertising, nobody likes your work, least of all "the boss," who always thinks his or her ideas are better.

In my very first job writing ads for a magazine, my boss got me to rewrite an ad the way he wanted it. "Doesn't this sound better now?" he asked.

"You're the boss!" Respectful but non-committal. Perfect.  

2. Memorize this: "Guess I'll call it a day."

When I worked at a local TV station,  the crew would watch the news that we spent all day putting together, then sit. And sit. And sit. Some nights we'd all leave around 9 p.m., and the news was over at 6:30.

Although we weren't doing any work, the expectation was that everyone would stick around until the boss was ready to go.

One day, I couldn't take it anymore, so I said, "Guess I'll call it a day." Everybody happily waved goodbye as I walked out the door - a friendly way to say, "I've worked hard, and now I'm going home" if there ever was one.

3. Make a good first impression by blowing them away the first time you work on a project.

Is the first project due next Tuesday? Stay up all night and give it to them first thing the next day.

They'll never forget about how fast a worker you are, and that reputation will stick with you forever, even when you just meet deadlines after that.

4. Be friendly all of the time, but get mad at someone who really deserves it once a year, just to show that people can't walk all over you.

Is this a variation on "Walk softly, carry a big stick?" So be it; it's true.

5. Be funny and charming. Smile.

Never leave a meeting without a hilarious quip. Say it, and get the hell out, so people can talk about what a charming and funny person you are. 

6. Write fast and well.

Workhorse writers who "get it" are hard to find. If you're one, you'll be worth your weight in gold.

7. Work harder than everyone else.

When people are taking their kids to the Ice Capades, you're working for the weekend. Work is better than the Ice Capades!

8. Be smarter than everyone else.

Read everything you can, learn new media, be plugged in 24 hours a day. People start deferring to "the expert" pretty quickly.

9. Embrace what you are doing so that you love what you hate.

If I know I'm going to hate a project before I start, every step is torture. If I frame it as a challenge, it's amazing how much I can enjoy turning it into gold.

10. Network with people when they're on the way up.

A few years ago, you could've worked with Barack Obama every day. Now, not so much. Keep your eyes peeled for people who have got it going on and help them out. They'll get you on the rebound.

11. Donate to charities and political parties.

Not only does it instantly plug you in to what's going on, it sets you up for careers later on. Charities and political parties need communicators, and they actively seek them. Plus, this work looks great on a resume, and it's just a good thing to participate and contribute in your community and life.

12. Be polite. 

Say please and thank you.

13. Embrace the thing that makes you most uncomfortable. 

Are you afraid of the iPad? Buy it. Same goes for everything else.

14. It's not enough to learn about something, you have to do it.

Same deal: if I had a nickel for everyone I've ever heard say, "I'm not on Twitter, but I know all about it, and it's crap" I'd be a rich man.

15. Remember that it's only work.

Work can make you rich - yay! - but it can also screw up your life - boo!

Keep work in perspective. Some of the best days of my life are days that I was "a quitter" and went on to do other things. Don't be afraid to pack it all in for a cabin in the wilderness.

So what are you waiting for? Let's work!

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