If you have been reading my posts, you know that most of my attention is focused on “big picture” things like history, geography, and social trends. While I have built and run businesses, you won’t usually find me suggesting specific financial, operational, or marketing practices. I figure there are plenty of books and writers who cover all that. And much business technique is only learned through the trial and error of experience. Especially in marketing, the specific methods that work best change every year, sometimes every week. Only with a great deal of curiosity, and the willingness to learn and experiment, can you survive and prosper in the competitive marketplace.
Given this, once in a while someone will come up to me after a speech and say, “Give me some tip I can use today, that I can start applying right away.” So, for that person, and for you if you find it helpful, here are perhaps my two most important “practical ideas.”
First, write everything interesting down. I don’t care how smart you are or how good your memory is, 80-90% of all the good ideas you hear or think of in your life will slip right through your fingers if you do not write them down. You do not even have to go back and re-read them; the kinetic process of having the idea flow through your mind and down your fingers through the pen onto the pad has a significant impact on your memory. Of course, you can always reread them if you want or need to. I also find that writing stuff down – from the book recommendations of friends to music I want to buy to business ideas I have while walking down the street – takes a burden off me. I can forget about it, I know the thought or information is securely stowed away.
If you do get near someone you can learn from – whether a lecture, audio file, video, or TV show – not writing down key points means you are likely wasting your time. You will feel energized and informed at the time, but the information or inspiration is unlikely to stick.
If you don’t like the idea of always having pen and paper, your PDA or other gadget can serve the same purpose. But I have not found any system which is nearly as fast and convenient as pen and paper. It has a particularly fast startup time, especially if you use a pen that clicks instead of one that twists, the bane of any true type A person.
My own method requires a clicking pen – the Aurora Pen Company of Italy makes some beauties for about $100 but you don’t have to spend nearly that much – coupled with a Rhodia No. 11 tablet (which is about 3” by 4” and fits nicely in my shirt pocket). Rhodia is a French maker of great tablets – the ones I use have orange covers and the pages are graph paper style and perforated so I can easily remove them if desired. I started this system almost 10 years ago, and have now filled 149 80-page tablets, usually on both sides – so that’s about 24,000 pages or around 6 per day. The rate goes down when I am sitting around the house and goes way, way up when I am in a stimulating environment like New York City.
At first I only used the tablets for new ideas. Then I gave myself the freedom – something that can be hard to do – to use them any way I pleased, even as receipts to others or to do budgets or make to do lists. They are my tablets and no one else ever sees them.
They are always by my side, even at night beside the bed. When you meet with me or come to one of my talks, you will know you have sparked something when the red Aurora and the orange Rhodia simultaneously come flying out of my shirt pocket. On my recent trip to Thailand, where it was 100 degrees and intensely humid, I was glad to have a leather folder to protect the current tablet from my sweat.
I keep all my old tablets, for reference. I understand that superstar entrepreneur Richard Branson has over 3,000 tablets, all kept in order on shelves. I am sure he is not the only successful person who goes through life making and taking notes. Some people prefer an audio recorder, but I find that much less convenient to access later. I guess it just depends on what works for you and what habits you get into.
I am continually amazed at how many people who claim they are learners never have a pen available and never write anything down. When I give someone a graduation gift, I usually give them pen and paper. I cannot think of a more important tool to have at hand, and a better way to start off life.
Tip number two – I saved the really easy one for last – is to smile. It is amazing to me how few people really know how to smile.
We have all heard over and over that getting a college degree will double or triple or whatever your lifetime income. I actually do not believe that. There are too many drop-outs like Michael Dell, Bill Gates, and John Mackey who are incredibly well-educated and successful. Rather than a cause and effect, I believe that the same ambition the makes people get degrees is the ambition that drives them toward success. Both going to college and “succeeding” in life are driven by ambition. Degrees in themselves do not earn you much beyond a good start in the job market. It is more about what they say about your drive and commitment than anything else, a drive and commitment that the aforementioned entrepreneurs instead turned to their enterprises – Dell, Microsoft, and Whole Foods Market. If you are curious and motivated, you can educate yourself without requiring a diploma awarded by others. (Don’t get me wrong, I got a diploma and am glad I did. Structured classroom learning and discussion can be invaluable. Nothing beats a great teacher.)
On the other hand, I absolutely believe that a sincere and powerful smile will double or triple your lifetime income. I could not be more serious about this, and challenge anyone to do a study to prove me wrong. There are plenty of sourpusses in the world, and very few people like meeting with them, doing business with them, buying things from them, or believing what they say.
Most of us spend our lives in sales – selling ideas, selling procedures, selling products or services. Getting people to be open to us is key to success. Nothing opens the door like a warm smile.
Don’t get me wrong – an insincere smile, a silly smile, an inappropriate smile, or a never-ending smile is probably worse than none at all. But a real smile, one that comes from the heart, one that shines in the eyes, is the most powerful thing you have. And we all have it. It is just a matter of getting in the habit of using it and being comfortable with our own smile.
I remember one person I worked with who was great at everything they did. But they almost never smiled. In meetings their lips would curve down into a frown, and it would bring all the others in the group down. I don’t even think they realized they were doing it.
Once you get in the habit of smiling, it probably also allows that laugh to come a little more easily. Anyone who has been through tough times knows one of your greatest allies is a sense of humor. But that would be tip #3, and I only promised you 2!