I know, the title seems like such click bait but over the last few weeks, I have listened to a few podcasts, heard some crazy stories and have started thinking about how we have all defined success and mapped out the exact steps to get there.
For example, say you want to start a business – traditionalists might think that to start a business, you need to go to school, get a university degree, work for a few years, then apply for business school, do 1 – 2 years of networking, case studies, etc., get a job as an executive and then once you know everything there is to know about a specific industry, you will be well equipped to start a business. I’m not saying that’s the wrong way to start a business but what I am saying is that there are lots of successful entrepreneurs out there who did not take the normal route of starting a business.
Here are a few stories that I have heard recently and the ways that I believe you can apply them to your life:
The price is right and annoying someone until they give you what they want
Alex Banayan recently published a book called “The Third Door”. It chronicles his journey from winning the Price is Right to fund his book research, to meeting Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Tim Ferriss and other celebrities through unconventional ‘back door’ means. Alex shares his story of how he got on The Price is Right which I paraphrase here (but you can listen to how he tells it through the Rich Roll podcast or The James Altucher podcast).
Alex was studying for finals in University (i.e., procrastinating on Facebook) when he saw a post that was offering free tickets to The Price is Right. He pulled an all nighter that night, but not because his exam was coming up but so that he could understand and figure out the secret to The Price is Right. A lot of people think that you do a single interview and then you are in, but in fact, there is another secret interview where the producer comes around as you are waiting in line and gives you a mini interview. If the producer likes you, he turns around, gives a wink to his assistant, who writes down your name, and you get ‘chosen’ as the person to come on down. Alex decided that he would learn everything there is to know about the producer so that he was ready for the secret interview. When the producer came around to interview Alex, he tried to make a joke but the producer did not turn around to wink at his assistant. As the producer was walking away, he called to the producer again, trying to get him to come near him. He had heard from somewhere, maybe it was Tony Robbins, that to get close to someone and build a connection, touching them would help. The producer came over and he was pounding fists and doing funny handshakes but still the producer would not wink at the assistant. Finally, as the producer was walking away a second time, Alex yelled the producer’s name at the top of his lungs. The producer ran over, thinking there was an emergency but Alex did not have anything to say so he blurted out the first thing that he saw about the producer which was his scarf. Alex talked about how he was an avid scarf collector, how he had a few hundred scarfs and that he was just missing the producer’s scarf for his collection. The producer laughed, handed him his scarf and then finally, realizing what Alex was trying to do, winked at his assistant. Alex went on to win a yacht on The Price is Right, sell the yacht and fund his research for his book.
What’s the lesson here? Be so annoying and persistent that people cannot help but agree to your request. As they sometimes say at work, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I would certainly caution against using this strategy too much but in small doses and at strategic times, you can get what you want by being really annoying.
Practice reverse networking
Networking for me has always been quite strange. It feels a lot like dating – you meet someone and try to develop a connection from thin air. To say the least, I have never been very good at networking – which is why I try to practice reverse networking. What the heck is that? It is where you go into a networking event and try to help others connect and benefit from networking. Strangely enough, when you go in with that mindset, you are more likely to appear friendly, helpful and valuable and you might actually do a better job networking (and have more fun doing so).
How do you put this into practice? Think about your own network and look for people that you may know at the networking event. Catch up with the people that you are familiar with first – this will help make you comfortable to the idea of networking and give you a small confidence boost before you meet strangers. Next, ask a lot of questions to those that you meet and seeing if there are connections between what those strangers might be looking for and how people you know may help. For example, they may mention that they need to do landscaping and you have a friend who is part of a landscaping business. They may mention that they are looking for work and you know some HR professionals who may be able to help answer questions for them about the job application process.
A secret hack to get mail delivered for free
Back when I was younger, I remember learning about this trick with sending mail. If you put in some mail without any postage, the mail would be returned to the return address on the back. So, rather than putting your intended destination on the front of the envelope, you would put your intended destination as the return address and your originating destination on the front of your envelope. When the mail is sorted at the facilities, they would see that your envelope did not have any postage and would then look to return it, using your return address. I don’t think this works nowadays but I was absolutely amazed that people figured this out.
The lesson here? Figure out the rules of a system and then figure out what would happen if you do the opposite, omit steps or just purposefully do different things. What will happen? Tim Ferriss shares a story of him entering the Chinese Kickboxing tournament and becoming the champion through an unconventional strategy: he found that in the rule book, if any participant fell off the platform three times, they would be disqualified by technical knockout. He decided to use this to his advantage: he trimmed down before the weigh in and then bulked up significantly so that he would end up being a weight class above all the other competitors and then he would push them off the platform, not performing any kick boxing at all.
Do you hate specific parts or components of your work? Do a terrible job.
Malcolm Gladwell was talking to Adam Grant and he shared a story about his work as a news reporter back in the day. For your background, the worst news items to be covering (according to Malcolm) was any hurricanes, big storms or other weather-related phenomena. The reason is because as a news reporter, you get stuck in a weird and small city in the middle of nowhere and you do not have any control over how long you are there for as weather can come and go. Well, there came a day when Malcolm was called upon to cover a hurricane in Columbia, USA. Being from Canada, he decided that he would feign ignorance and he flew to Colombia, South America. He spent a few days there and when the company called him, he said that he was from Canada and that he had no idea that there were multiple places called Columbia / Colombia. His boss thought that Malcolm was absolutely terrible for covering hurricane stories so Malcolm did not get asked again to cover any future hurricane stories.
How can you apply this to your life? I think that this strategy works better when you are new to your job or career – do a horrible job on things that you know won’t help you with progressing in your career or building your brand or another worthy goal. In Malcolm’s case, he did not want to be covering hurricane stories ad he did an awful job covering his first one. Don’t like doing business cases? Do an awful job on your first one. I don’t think this works though if you are generally just awful at all aspects of your work (unless you are doing it for some reason on purpose in order to get laid off).
Oh and back to starting a business. What’s the unconventional strategy for starting a business? There are several – you could just start a business and then learn as you go. You could take online MBA courses for a fraction of the price of a MBA. You could read The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman and learn the same things as an MBA, although perhaps at a smaller scale and not as comprehensively, supplementing areas of interest or weakness through more reading, mentoring or online courses. You could design a real world MBA like Tim Ferriss did.