Saturday, March 22, 2014

how to stand out above the din?

I read a story recently in a screenwriting book "The Story Book".  It goes something like this:

Writing is like mining for gold hidden in the hillsides of your mind.  The young writer goes to the publisher and points at the hillsides, shouting, "Give me money and I will return you pots of gold!"

The publisher wants gold, but he's heard it all before from thousands of prospectors.  They never have the gold they claim.

Two years later, the writer returns to the publisher with a bucket of muddy nuggets.  "You have to acknowledge me now!  I have spent years digging nuggets out of the hills for you.  Look at this gold, gold, GOLD, I tell you!"

The publisher unblinkingly indicates to either side of the writer, who realizes he is in a line of a thousand other weather-beaten obsessives, who have similar weighty buckets and are shouting the same imploring mantra at the man who must decide.


Who from the thousands of writers proffering gold-filled buckets in the line and stridently proclaiming their value, will the publisher select?  Look along the line.  The writer he will deal with is easy to spot, because he's not holding a bucket full of hard-won nuggets.  He is holding up a cut and polished, solid gold necklace.

And he's not shouting at all.

I thought this was brilliant.  I get emails from strangers asking questions such as "How do I land an interview with company X?  My resume isn't great because I haven't done many challenging projects, so instead I've been persistently emailing company X every week but they ignore me" or "I'm not doing very well in school and I have few projects, but I really want to work for Google.  How can I write my resume in a striking way that gets noticed?"

There are entrepreneurs who are convinced the secret to success is not to focus on making their product high-growth but rather to maneuver their way into meeting with a venture capitalist.  There are people who are convinced the best way to further their career is go every week to a networking event, and finagle their way into meeting the highest-profile people in attendance.

These are all focused on how to shout more loudly.  Occasionally someone might shout loudly at just the right moment that they get lucky and get heard.  But that's short-lived if they don't back it up with real skills.  Shouting loudly is not reliable.  The far more reliable path is to make a solid gold necklace.

Sometimes people don't want to hear that, because it takes years.  It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert.  They want to hear that if they just format their resume in this super-special way and add these particular buzzwords, they'll get an interview and a job and can go back to not caring much about computer science but now with glory and money while relaxing.

But that's not real.  The real task is making your skills most useful to the world.


Goorgled said...

Why would anyone aspire to be just another slave cog at Google.....

A better idea is become a master in your craft and try to start your own company as opposed to letting Google take advantage of your hard won experience. They don't pay that well anyways..... Not to justify the high cost of living in the Bay Area and the massive overtime you will have to put in....

Anonymous said...

Perfect real life example would be Jeremy Lin. Your assessment is very accurate in profession such as engineering, medicine, law, and sports where someone's skills can be objectively assessed fairly accurately. However skill assessment in many other profession tend to be very subjective. Thus networking and shouting can be beneficial because who one knows becomes very important.