A few months ago, I had the honor of representing Waze and speaking at Lider Empresarial’s “Movers and Shakers” conference. There I met Jim Keenan, CEO of A Sales Guy. Keenan is also a consultant, author and sought out speaker. In his first book Not Taught, he discusses how the internet, social media and access to information have changed the definition of work forever. Keenan was driven to write this book after he gave a talk to a graduating class at the University of Denver. “After I finished my presentation,” he said, “I realized everything had changed since I had graduated.”
When I graduated college in 2010, I quickly realized that I knew nothing about how the real world worked. My college education had given me the basics of business, but it didn’t teach me the tools necessary to succeed in the new economy. The job search left me anxious, frustrated and angry. In time, I found my footing and went through a rigorous self-education regiment. Finally it seemed, I was able to catch up to the 21st century and begin my career. But I wish I knew about the changing face of of business six years ago.
Luckily for new graduates -- or anyone who feels stuck -- Keenan has the answers. Here are 3 takeaways I wish I had understood in 2010.
1. Experience does not matter.
Expertise augments experience. The latter, as Keenan puts it, is just a matter of hours logged. You may have done something for x number of years, but did you actually grasp the concepts? “Expertise is the actual amount of knowledge, understanding, precision, effectiveness, accomplishment and delivery that someone can provide in their role," Keenan says. "It’s not based on time spent.”
What really matters is whether or not you can execute in your role. And expertise is a big factor. Whatever you’re interested in, study it profoundly. Alexander Hamilton came to the American colonies as a 14-year-old orphan. But he set out to learn everything he could about law and commerce. Through intense study and apprenticeship, he earned himself a position as General Washington’s aide-de-camp. After the revolution, he was instrumental in establishing our financial system. As the immensely popular Broadway musical tells, he was a self-starter who worked harder. Many have called him a genius, but Hamilton himself said:
“All the genius I have lies in this; when I have a subject in hand, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort that I have made is what people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.”
Dive deep into the subject you’re interested in. Seek out mentors and books in the field and get involved in any way you can. Before I moved to the Bay area, I read everything I could on startups, technology and business. I turned my local Barnes & Noble into a public library. I read, read and read, only to return the next day for more of the same. The time I put in there allowed me to gain some expertise in the field I wanted to get into -- startups. And more importantly, it gave me a blueprint from which to gain experience.
2. Master sales.
If you want to succeed in the new economy, you have to master selling. As Keenan mentions in his book “sales is a catalyst for change.” Our lives revolve around sales. You need to sell your friends on going to the concert. You need to sell your dad on why he needs to change his diet. You need to sell the girl in your Crossfit class on why she should go to dinner with you.
We have an icky association with sales. We think it involves manipulation, greed and lying. Sure, some sellers fit that profile, unfortunately. But they’re not salespeople, as Keenan points out. They’re charlatans and scumbags. If you care about what you do, and if you care about helping others relieve a pain point, then you need to become a good seller. “True selling means understanding the needs, goals and problems of ...everybody in your sphere of influence," Keenan says.
With Waze Ads, we understand our brands need a relevant medium to communicate their message. We help brands like Dunkin Donuts and Wells Fargo connect with people in a meaningful way. Drivers on Waze are already navigating to these locations. So if we can pin these brands on the map, we deliver value by making them more navigable and, at times, offering discounts and promotions. To me, this isn’t sales in the Mad Men way. It’s about stimulating change to make for a meaningful and enjoyable driving experience.
Ultimately, sales is about delivering value to the right audience. And if you can internalize and build upon it, you will be valuable to any company or cause looking to drive change.
3. Start creating content.
Creating content allows us to show our expertise and establishes our credibility in a given field. But most of us do not have the slightest clue where to start. Part of the challenge, I believe, is we have so many mediums to choose from. Should we blog? Podcast? Blogcast? And once we decide on what medium to use, how do we know what platform to pick? Before I started blogging in 2011, I spent more time researching the different types of platforms than I did writing. But as Keenan points out, none of that matters. “Pick the one (medium) that fits your personality and style, but pick you must.”
I may have ugly handwriting, but at least what I write is pretty. Two years ago Stephen Key asked me if I wanted to contribute to this fine outlet. He knew I blogged and he knew I worked in business. Of course I said yes. Writing for Entrepreneur would lead to an opportunity with Observer and Thought Catalog. Throughout this journey, I’ve been able to interview fascinating people and meet selfless mentors. If you told me five years ago I’d be writing for FastCo, I would have told you to stay off the lean. There are many more fascinating stories out there about individuals who just started with something and got better as time and practice went on.
Don’t get caught up in the weeds and paralyze yourself with analysis. Just start somewhere. If you start podcasting but later realize that you prefer writing, that’s okay. But until you get going, you won’t be able to get better.
Not Taught is a primer on how to succeed in the real world. I wish I had this book six years ago. For the graduating class of 2016, or for anyone looking for a career change, it’s the best read on how to get started and how to move forward. In the words of Biggie, if you don’t know, now you know.