As I’ve mentioned frequently, one of the perks of writing this career advice blog is the free books I receive from authors who would like me to review their work here. I read all of the books I receive, but I review only the ones I like. I like Act Like You Mean Business: Essential Communication Lessons from Stage and Screen by Rob Biesenbach.
Rob is an interesting guy. He has worked in corporate communications, has been the Press Secretary for the Ohio Attorney General and has appeared on stage and television. In Act Like You Mean Business, he begins by saying, “Business and acting are not so different. Connecting with an audience, expressing idea visually, appealing to emotion, telling stories – these are all important lessons business people can use to communicated more persuasively and effectively.”
I particularly like Chapter 1: “The Power of Story.” Rob nails it when he says, “Everyone needs to craft his or her own personal story. One that communicates who you are, as opposed to the things you do.”
If you want to create the life and career success you want and deserve, you need to brand yourself. Your personal brand differentiates you from everyone else in the world. Stories can help you build and reinforce your personal brand.
My brand is “The Common Sense Guy.” Because of my brand, people know that they can rely on me to provide them with common sense advice that will help them reach their life and career success goals. They also know that they will get this advice in a straightforward, easy to understand and apply manner, because after all, I’m just a guy.
You need to spend time crafting your brand. Your brand is the two or three words you want people to associate with you. Decide what you want these words to be, and then go about making sure that all of the people with whom you come into contact think of you that way. As Rob points out in Act Like You Mean Business, stories can help you do this.
When my name comes up, I want people to think of two things – “common sense,” and “guy.” I do everything I can to get people to think of me this way. My writing is simple, straightforward and to the point. The stories I tell and the career advice I give my career success coach clients is always based on ideas they can put to use immediately – never filled with a lot of theory, even though it is based on the latest life and career success literature.
This is important, because nature abhors a vacuum. If you don’t brand yourself, others will. It’s better to be in control of your personal brand by creating it yourself, than it is to let others create it for you.
Steve Jobs brand was “innovator.” I wrote a blog post on his passing last Friday. Butch Parrott sent me the transcript of his famous Stanford graduation speech the other day. I was rereading it just before I began this post. Check out the story Steve Jobs told as he began his address to Stanford graduates.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example.
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
Notice how this story does two things. First, it humanizes Steve Jobs. When I first heard the bottle deposit part of the story, I flashed on my college days at Penn State when I used to split a 10 cent coke with one of my buddies because neither of us had a dime to buy one for ourselves.
Second, it allows him to make a point about the importance of being tuned into the world around you. Calligraphy and computer design seem to be worlds apart – until you hear this story.
Let’s get back to Act Like You Mean Business. Rob Biesenbach says…
“Because they reveal something about ourselves that others can relate to, stories have unrivaled power for breaking down barriers between people and groups. From there, the doors are open – to connect, to communicate, to persuade.”
The career success coach point here is simple common sense. Dynamic communication may well be the single biggest life and career success skill. Rob Biesenbach’s book Act Like You Mean Business shows you how to employ acting tools to help you become a great communicator and career success. I found his chapter on stories and story telling to be really solid common sense life and career success advice. If you want to become a great communicator, you need to be able to tell your story in a manner that makes other people sit up and take notice. A good story can really help you build a strong personal brand. And a strong personal brand is important if you want to create the life and career success you want and deserve.
That’s the career advice I found in Act Like You Mean Business. What do you think? Please take a minute and share your thoughts – and stories – with us in a comment. As always thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success. I value you and I appreciate you.
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