Have you ever been told, 'there are no shortcuts to success,' 'there is no easy road,' or 'practice makes perfect'? We've all heard something to that effect. In fact, it may be safe to assume we have all personally dolled out that same sage advice a time or two.
Yet, when it comes to practice, many of us look for the quick fix, the easy way or expect it to just simply happen. We're all susceptible to this way of thinking. I'll admit it has failed me a time or two, as well. In fact, I'm still trying to decide how to drop the twenty pounds of sympathy weight I achieved from the births of my two children the last four years. I know the real answer - I just want it to be easier.
Let's say you are a corporate CMO or VP of Brand Management or an advertising agency SVP of Accounts or Creative Director; you possess great responsibilities to move a company forward, create sales, help the brand achieve a voice and a litany of other objectives. Yet, when it comes to actually doing that, you frequently fail. Yes, that's right - you (the one reading this), in all your greatness, fail all the time. You are failing right now, and you probably don't even know it. Why? Three reasons:
1. You facilitate or create false direction
2. You get discouraged
3. You don't define accountability
In personal and work life, false directions exist on every corner: the newest fad diet, the work from home and get rich quick scheme, the 'we can get you ranked on the top of Google' pitch, and my favorite – the 'send this to seven friends in the next minute or else' message. In the business world and, specifically, the digital media industry, there are many false directions. These can take the form of a process, another person or your own worst enemy: yourself.
On a weekly basis, I interact with many businesses. Most have a false direction in their midst. For example:
1. The social 'guru' that told them they need to get to 400,000 Facebook likes to be successful
3. A person (boss or yourself) that fails to look beyond the initial obstacle and realize it can be done - and done well - with proper measurement and true accountability
To each of the examples above, I'll offer you the following:
1. Likes, page views, brand impressions and the sort are not success metrics, they are not goals – they are false directions
2. Failing to implement, assess and mine your data with advanced analytics is relegating you and your business to mediocrity – the failure to realize this is a false direction
3. Applying obstacles - and not options - to challenges is not only misguided strategy, it is (you guessed it) a false direction
False directions lead us down the primrose path. False directions do not teach us right or wrong or challenge the standard. False directions do not hold themselves accountable. False directions misguide and tell you research isn't that valuable or is always skewed. False directions tell you to focus on Facebook instead of things that are platform-neutral, such as communication strategy and content development. False directions tell you analytics and measurement are too expensive, not valuable or make excuses as to why they are not ready for that data to be extracted and used.
False directions lie, steal and cheat you from success. Now, don't misquote me - I'm not saying all false directions are liars or will steal intentionally. It is very important to understand that false directions may be sincere, but being sincerely wrong can and does occur. False directions will fail you if you give them a chance.
Ok, well no one ever said life was easy, right? The same holds true for work. Managing the above 'false direction' issue is hard. Actually, it's both simple and difficult. We are all, on some level, driven to succeed. But if and when we let false directions creep in, we get discouraged.
Discouragement often occurs when something isn't going our way or doesn't happen on our terms. It takes perseverance and focus to keep us on track. Referencing one of the above examples, we let a false direction in when we fail to realize that measurement by who 'likes' us is not really measurement at all; it is simply a metric of convenience. What we have done in this instance is allow a false direction to lower our standards, make a mockery of our true goals and lead us to a discouraged place. I'm not saying you shouldn't have people 'like' you, but using that as a primary focus will eventually lead you to discouragement. And when that happens, there is no one to blame but numero uno because you didn't focus on the true goal which, in this case, would be customers taking action, engaging with your messages and ultimately buying your product or services.
Let me provide you a sports analogy. You know you want it - sports analogies are never discouraging.
In 1990, a running back from the hometown of Pensacola, FL was drafted into the National Football League. He was a good athlete; not by any means the biggest, not by any means the fastest (in fact, I truly believe I can personally outrun him in a 100 or 200 meter sprint – I'll bet a grand on it). The first time he ever touched the ball in the NFL, you know what he did? Nope, he didn't score a touchdown. He rushed for one yard. That's three feet for the mathematically challenged – you can spit further than that. You know what he did the second time he touched the football? Boom Jackpot! Another yard. Yep, Emmett Smith ran for a total of two yards in his first game with the Dallas Cowboys. I'd call that a slow start.
So what does this have to do with discouragement? I'll tell you what: consistency. Over the next 14 seasons, Emmitt Smith would become so consistent, he would eventually break the record for most yards rushed by the one and only Walter Peyton. Taking the time to study, create a game plan and execute it time and time again, coupled with solid intelligence, gave Emmitt Smith the ability to become one of the best ever. Discouragement was not in Emmitt's repertoire. You can do it, too, by creating real goals (not convenience goals) and by staying consistently focused on the end result. That will keep discouragement at bay.
So, what's the best way to avoid false directions and discouragement? Being accountable. You know what it takes to be accountable? Two things:
1. A partner
2. A system
A partner: someone or something that can objectively measure and hold you to goals, stretch your goals, challenge your thinking, challenge your focus and help you with proper direction. A partner is an absolute necessity. You may find this in a business partner, a co-worker, a vendor or a mentor, but you must have a partner that can be there with you along the way and question your path critically. And you must listen!
A system: something that will allow you to be consistent all day, every day. A system is practice or putting into practice. In both our personal and business lives, it's easy to get jazzed up and then quickly distracted. How many of us have ever seen or heard something we thought was a great idea, and we tell ourselves, 'I'm gonna do that.' But we never do. Without a system, something you can follow and stress the importance of, you won't have accountability, and you will miss the opportunities that come your way. I don't think I have ever heard any successful businessperson simply say, 'I was just lucky.' Even if they did, it's not the truth. The truth is they worked hard, many times for many years, to put them in a position to take advantage of an opportunity and get lucky. They learned to be accountable. Lucky didn't just happen.
So learn to do it right. Don't let false directions guide you. Be consistent so discouragement doesn't invade your journey, and create accountability in all you do in order to create a strong and true direction. Now, send this to seven friends in the next minute or else you will have bad luck for 10 years… seriously.
Steve Parker, Jr. is a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Levelwing, a digital advertising agency that provides data-driven marketing solutions. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter at @sparkerjr.
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