Monday, October 10, 2011

What My Nametag Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

After four thousand days of wearing a nametag, I’ve learned more lessons about being an entrepreneur than I ever could have learned in college.

Straight from my column on monthly column on American Express Open Forum, here are a few to consider:
1. Interaction is the agent of human decision. Any time people decide to listen to, buy from, get behind, partner with or tell others about you, it’s probably because of the interaction they had with you. How they experienced you. How they experienced themselves in relation to you. And fortunately, the cost of interaction is approaching zero. Thanks to the Internet, we now have greater access to each other than ever before.

Brands are reaching users. Writers are reaching readers. Artists are reaching collectors. Leaders are reaching followers. But you don’t need a nametag. You need to be open to what can emerge from every interaction. You need to interact with people in praise of whatever they have to offer. You need to approach everyone you encounter with a spirit of acknowledgment. Because every time you interact with people, you make a choice.

A choice to engage with swift responsiveness, nonstop gratitude, unexpected honesty, exquisite playfulness and loving unfairness. Those aren’t just interactions – they’re social gifts. And they change people forever. Are you known for a unique way of interacting with the world?

2. The media is your customer. I once got an email from a television screenwriter. He wanted to pitch a network reality show that revolved around my nametag. Awesome. But I had to ask the crucial question. I had to find out why he picked me. Not for ego purposes, but for market research purposes. I wanted to know where the rock created the ripple so I could go throw more rocks.

“Television is about the personality and the message, somebody who would be fun to watch every episode. Viewers don’t care about talent and skill. They want to laugh, be entertained and have their imagination captured. And after doing a lot of research on potential, I didn’t like anyone else. But you – you remind me of me. And that’s why I reached out.”

Cool. So we did a few conference calls, got the lawyers involved, signed an option agreement – I even flew out to Hollywood to meet with a few network producers. Unfortunately, the screenwriter got an offer to become a lead a writer on Survivor, the highest rated reality show of the decade. Damn you, Jeff Probst!

And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. But I wasn’t devastated. If anything, it was another glimpse into that whole world. It was an educational experience that taught me what the network wants. That’s one thing you learn about working with the media: You can’t get your hopes up. You can’t beat yourself up. And you can’t torture yourself waiting in limbo. Nor can you run around telling everyone you’re going to be on television.

The media is your customer, and you are an ocean under a fickle moon. You just have to keep saying to yourself, “It’s only a matter of time.” When it hits, will you be ready?

3. Enable the mystery. “I just have so many questions!” I get that a lot. When people find out I wear a nametag everyday, they’re instantly curious about a number of issues. And I’m happy to oblige. Comes with the territory. I once met a guy in a jazz club in Hell’s Kitchen. Noticing my nametag, he asked me if I had just come from an episode of The Price is Right. Good guess, but no. Even though I’ve always secretly wanted to be on that show. Just let me play one game of Plinko and I’ll be out of your way.

Anyway, the point is that people are enthralled by mystery. They never grow tired of things that invite constant interpretation. And your ability to fascinate them is a tremendous asset. Like Houdini, you have to emanate an aura of delightful unpredictability. You have leave the public always wanting more, wondering about your next move. Will you underestimate the profitability of mystery?

4. Reputational capital. The first interview I ever did was for Headline News. Three minutes. Five million people. Twenty-two years old. Yikes. I don’t remember much about my segment. I’m sure I rambled like a pro. But what I do remember was rushing home to watch the tape. And the moment that would be forever burned into my brain was noticing what CNN wrote on their lower third screen graphic: Scott Ginsberg, Name Tag Wearer.

And there it is. Four years of college. Thanks, mom and dad. Money well spent. But I learned something that day. You can’t outsource reputation. It’s not what’s in a name – it’s what after a name that counts. And if you don’t make a name for yourself, somebody will make one for you. Nametag Wearer. Sheesh. What would be written under your name?

5. Take a stand. I believe in having a point of view. Philosophies. Opinions. Perspectives. Theories. These things matter. These things make us uniquely human. They don’t have to be right or wrong, they just have to be ours. And it’s our responsibility to share them courageously and prodigiously. Otherwise we’re just decorations on the wall.

That’s what my friend Matt likes to remind me: You weren’t wearing a sticker – you were taking a stand. Damn right I was. I was taking a stand for my identity. I was taking a stand against anonymity. I was taking a stand in the name of approachability. When you do this, people notice. It draws them in. It teaches them how to treat you. And it reminds them that you’re a person with feelings and you demand to be heard.

Life’s too short to keep our doubts to ourselves, too important to keep our positions unknown and too beautiful to keep our conclusions quiet. Opinionated is the new black. Are you wearing it well?

REMEMBER: To be an entrepreneur is to take a risk.

You don’t need to wear a nametag – but you do need to stick yourself out there.

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Publisher, Artist, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

“I usually refuse to pay for mentoring. But after Scott’s first brain rental session, the fact that I had paid something to be working with him left my mind – as far as I was concerned, the value of that (and subsequent) exchange of wisdom and knowledge, far outweighed any payment."

--Gilly Johnson The Australian Mentoring Center