The way we do business is a reflection of the way we live our lives.
What kind of (business)person do you want to be?
For the past two months, managing editor Kim Green and I have been on pilgrimage.
In mid-April, we strapped on packs in the French Pyrenees and crossed the mountains, the border, and two-thirds of Spain on foot, en route to Santiago de Compostela and, eventually, the Atlantic Ocean.
There’s a generous measure of vulnerability in shunning vehicles for weeks at a time, carrying everything you need on your back, and inching slowly across an expanse of earth for 550 miles, in wind and rain, snow and sleet. Knees ache and blisters form, exhaustion sets in, and at some point along the way, you discover a personal limitation or two—physical and psychological.
That’s when you know it’s time to ask for help.
In some of those moments, Kim and I helped each other. Other times, we received help from other people. New friends treated our blisters and aches, fellow pilgrims shared daily tasks like clothes-washing, and strangers offered all manner of kindnesses—gifts of food, flowers, advice, or a kind word from an upstairs window. And (I hope) we succeeded in paying some of those kindnesses forward.
If we learned anything from that long, hard, beautiful walk, it’s this: Nobody succeeds alone, even if they take credit for doing so. Every path—a pilgrimage or a writing project, an advanced degree or a new business, demands not only the determination of the pilgrim, writer, student, or entrepreneur, but also the creative energy and expertise of a number of people who help along the way.
In light of that, why don’t more people offer a hand up, or at least a kind word from an upstairs window?
M.L.K would ask if you plan to, “..walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
I have long held the belief, probably based on my early exposure to Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar, that the way to get the things I want is to help other people get what they want.
I watch PIs hoard secrets all the time. They hone a new method, find a new gimmick, buy a hot new gadget and then try to keep everybody else from learning about it. I see established PIs try to discourage others from learning their particular skill.
“I am the one who does surveillance the best. How dare you try and do what I do?”
“How can you consider yourself an expert? You haven’t done as many murder cases as I have.” (Actual quote from an older investigator to one of the best criminal investigators I know.)
“I’ve spent years learning how to research. Why would I dream of helping someone take my business?”
These attitudes are short-sighted, as if business were always and only a zero-sum game. It doesn’t have to be. I like the idea of giving, freely and openly, without any specific agenda. Not just a Christmas box of cookies to the guy who assigns stories. (Though this is not a bad thing, it’s nothing but marketing.) A gift of time, information, or friendship-sweat-equity, throwing in a few extra hours to help make a friend or colleague’s life easier.
Seth Godin says, “Sending someone a gift over the transom isn’t a gift, it’s marketing. Gifts have to be truly given, not given in anticipation of a repayment.”
The winner, the go-getter who is seen as the trendsetter in her industry, is often the one who freely trains and advises. The winner, the guy who owns the most successful company, is often the one who has time to grab a coffee. The winner, the boss who is a true leader, is often the one who encourages you to create your own business.
Winners are not afraid of losing. They know that helping other amazing people reach their goals is the easiest way to maintain their position of influence. And they honestly enjoy lending a hand.
Pay attention to the leaders in your community—church, industry, rotary, chamber of commerce, whatever…the leaders, the ones who stand out, who are always giving. They always have time to volunteer, to write a post, to share their tips, to lead. They always remember your name.
Pay attention, too, to leaders in the business of encouraging startups: Seth Godin and Chris Guillebeau constantly inspire me with their energy and optimism, their generosity and approach to life. In our own industry, you’ll find a number of these leaders offering hard-won tips and insights in Pursuit. Soak up the wisdom of PI-writers like Brian Willingham, Joe Stiles, and Eli Rosenblatt. Learn all you can from them.
And then, consider sharing your own earned wisdom—as a mentor, a teacher, or an industry writer. Your mentees, students, and readers will be grateful…and you’ll lose nothing.