“Storytelling isn’t a fashion accessory that leaders can decide to wear or not. Very literally, leadership is storytelling and leaders are storytellers.”
“The first step is you have to say that you can.” — Will Smith
We all want to get better.
But sometimes the path to doing so isn’t clear. We’re not sure what holds us back, where to focus our efforts, or how to improve.
Here’s a starting point.
The better you know the following 10 things, the easier it is to improve your work.
1. Know what’s come before you.
How much do you understand about the history of your business or craft? Do you know why it was initially created? Who it was designed to serve? How it’s evolved? Who influenced its development and in what ways?
An understanding of what’s come before you is crucial to frame your own work.
You don’t have to follow the “rules,” but you have to know what they are to understand why you choose to break them.
2. Know who knows more than you.
How aware are you of other current practitioners of your work? Do you know your competition? Do you know what others create in your field? Do you know who the experts are?
No matter how unique your work or approach may be, there are others on a similar journey.
Seek them out, learn from them, and be inspired by them.
Know who knows more than you and pay attention to their work to improve your own.
3. Know what happened today.
We’re lucky to live in a world where limitless information is at our fingertips, but it’s our responsibility to take advantage of that luxury.
Do you consume information that’s relevant to your work as a habit? Have you set up a system of inputs to ensure you’re aware of what happened in your field today? Do you commit time on a daily basis to ensure you see what’s new?
Opportunities spring forth from information so you must create a way to ensure you get that information in a way you can act on it.
4. Know you need a network.
One of the best ways to ensure you see valuable information is to create a network of people and sources to deliver it to you.
Where do you currently get information? Do you follow good curators of information about your field? Are you connected to the right publications? Do you use tools like Google Alerts to efficiently deliver relevant information to you?
The better you become at discovering and consuming information, the more your work will benefit.
5. Know what your boss or company wants.
Our work can only be as good as our goals are clear.
How clearly has the vision of your boss and organization been defined? Do you know what they value? Do you know what they don’t? Have you discussed it or are you guessing?
Great work can only be great when it aligns with the problem it was intended to solve.
6. Know you need to experiment.
What was the last experiment you ran? How sure are you your current work approach is the most effective one? How often do you ask, “What if?”
Experimentation isn’t just something to try when things fail. It’s a tool to employ at all times to improve your work.
If you don’t bake experimentation into your workflow, you will miss opportunities to innovate and improve.
7. Know why some things work and others don’t.
When your work succeeds, do you examine what led to the success? Do you understand which elements of your approach were key and look for ways to replicate and expand on them?
When your work fails, do you dissect the failure and explore where it went wrong? Can you pinpoint the piece of your process that failed and learn from it?
Improvement doesn’t just come from repetition — it comes from the analysis of both success and failure.
8. Know what your customers or audience wants.
Your work is designed to serve somebody and its value is predicated on how well they feel served.
How much do you know about what they want? Have you asked them? Have you listened to their feedback? When somebody buys your product, do you know if they enjoyed it?
Never forget the people your work is created for and remember your path to improvement can be found in their feedback.
9. Know what non-customers didn’t want.
The people who don’t consume your work can be just as important as those that do.
When people don’t buy your product, or don’t consume your creations, there are reasons they chose to ignore it. Do you know those reasons? Do you know why they were turned off? Why they weren’t excited enough to purchase?
To understand what makes our work compelling, we must also understand what makes it off-putting.
10. Know where you’re headed.
What’s next? Where are you trying to go? What’s the arc of the work you do? Where do you see it in a year, five years, 10 years?
It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of the day, but improvement is ultimately plays out over the long term.
The clearer your vision of where you want to be, the easier it is to get there.
And the more you know these 10 things, the clearer your vision can become.
“The filmmakers I most admire recognize the value of teasing. People are in such a rush to get the action sequences going fast that they forget there’s pleasure to be had in the sneaking around part.”
“This is the single most immutable rule of media, folks. Publishing is community. And if you don’t know who your community is, you’re screwed.”
“Great things are done by a series of smaller things brought together. Steal from around you — it’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to. Those who do not want to imitate, produce nothing.”
“Don’t just learn for the sake of learning. Be a practitioner. Use the information you consume. It’s only as good as what you do with it.”
“Most of us read the wrong things. As Haruki Murakami put it, reading what everyone else reads means you’re probably going to think what everyone else thinks.”
“The secret to calm and focus is knowing the next step. Ignore thoughts that aren’t helpful. Make a decision. Focus on the next step and you won’t panic.”
“Humans love rags-to-riches stories. We worship college dropouts like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey. We love how they risked it all and made it big. But is that really how things happened? The truth is, successful risk takers are often very, very risk averse.”