So you’re new in this part of town . Meaning, you just picked up a hobby or changed careers, and you wanna get good at it. You wanna be just like your idols.
First, it was Michael Jordan.
Then, it was Gordon Gekko. (I understand he’s a fictitious character, art mirrors life.)
After that, David Ogilvy and Don Draper.
A little while after that, Steve Jobs.
Followed by Seth Godin.
Those have been my career idols thus far. The people whose career I’ve wanted to emulate. The cream of the crop. My goals have changed throughout my life, but my standards have always been sky-high.
What moms everywhere have been saying to their kids–still holds true “birds of a feather flock together.” My mom would say the Spanish equivalent of this: “dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres.” Tell me who you’re with and I’ll tell you who you are.
Let’s not kid ourselves, if you want to be a great basketball player, you have to start playing against the best basketball players you can find. Beating your little cousin in a pickup game doesn’t level you up after the first time you do it.
Surrounding yourself with people who are good at your chosen field will accelerate your learning.
Growing up in Dominican Republic, the big guys in the neighborhood wouldn’t pick me on their teams to play. And the two or three of us decent 12-year olds already knew each other’s moves, there was no benefit in continuing to play just one another. So we would grab our bikes and head across the bridge to play with the best kids from the other neighborhood. They beat us bad on their home turf at first, but eventually things got closer. And then we traveled a little farther. Rinse and repeat.
So let’s say you want to get into the advertising industry, or you’re a film director looking for someone to produce your film. The problem, they don’t want you in there. Those industries operate as one big clique. All the members fought hard to “get in the club” and they’re not gonna let you just waltz right in for a reduced price. Exclusivity has value to them. Exclusivity is often the DEFINITION of value.
So that’s the paradox. It’s tough to get good unless you surround yourself with top talent. But top talent doesn’t want you around until you’re good, until you’ve paid your dues and have the battle scars as your entry ticket.
My suggestion: Go the Travis Kalanick route. Travis is the founder of Uber. I know he’s a villain-type, but let’s reserve judgment on his character for a moment. The man was a business guy, a tech guy, but he had no experience in the transportation scene. Yet he felt there was an opportunity there. But the transportation arena had a lot of red tape, it was one big clique.
Travis Kalanick didn’t care. If anything, his naivete in the field gave him a false sense that this big task ahead of him WAS possible.
He didn’t try to appease the club so it could open up its doors to him. He went around that. He leveraged his inexperience and simply approached the problem from a customer perspective. You see, he was a customer. That’s how the idea first came about: he was in Paris on other business and he couldn’t find a cab to pick him up. He thought “there’s an opportunity here.”
The premise was simple: push a button, get a car.
He was an outsider, and he no longer cared to be let into the club. He would simply play as if the club should be following him, he would shuffle up how the game was played and work backwards from there. Your weaknesses become strengths when the rival’s strengths make them slow.
Ironically, these same industry insiders trying to keep him out were part of the inspiration for how he operated Uber. According to Travis, the San Francisco Cab Driver Association, the first big rival Uber encountered, well they are guilty of what Uber was doing early on. Travis is quoted as saying “they started off by operating illegally, without following any of the regulations and unfairly competing. And that’s how they became big—they had enough money to ignore all the rules.”
Yes, there would be litigation in almost every major city. Yes, he eventually had to cozy up to the local government and unions and transportation agencies, but now they pick up his calls. Had he been happy to do it the traditional way, he’d still be pitching his business plan to the city of Des Moine. Instead he’s having lunch with the Sheikhs of Dubai.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to belong. It is actually your responsibility to study the insiders, to study the masters and learn the craft of how it’s been done. You have to know where the artform has been–so you can push it in a fresh direction. BUT doing this doesn’t require you to be part of the club at the moment. Do what you can with what you have, and shatter the rules.
Often, rules are simply rules of thumb. Guidelines, and far from absolute.
I love what Seth Godin says: “Take your biggest problem, and skip it.” You might find it was never really essential at all.
What I’m trying to say is, no empire lasts forever. The #1 rule of the world is change. Clubs, and cliques, just like empires, die when they refuse to change.
The things that are valuable are the things that very few are doing. The club members are following all the rules because they think that’s what they need to do to succeed. Whereas you, as an outsider, you see it differently. You see the blueprint as a rough starting point for expression. Choose what part of this blueprint you’ll shake up, and now you’ll be doing something valuable.
Soon the club will be knocking on your door offering you a chance to lead THEM.