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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Patience & Advertising

(I'm sure Jon would appreciate this one.)

Last night, we had a bright, handsome young man over for dinner. After dinner, he was calmly expressing his frustrations with different aspects of an organization he's involved with, seeking out advice as to how to best approach the various issues facing him and those around him. He noted that the largest difficulty they faced was the overall apathy of the people around them in general.

What was perhaps most interesting among the various suggestions posed by the different people still remaining were that they all had the same approach, or more accurately, all noted the same points about his planned approach:
  • You will not succeed if you expect to make sweeping changes in a short period of time, and if you do expect to do so, you will only frustrate yourself to the point where you won't succeed at all.
  • The best way to have the impact you desire is to bring in people just ahead of the stage you are in life who can impress upon everyone around you what aspects of life they need to be cognizant of for themselves.
  • Only after people around you see how things impact them will they suddenly turn back to you to seek out help in addressing those issues.
  • Most importantly, you must have the selfless idealism and understanding that whatever impact you have will not be seen until after you are long gone from the place you are now, and you have to accept that whatever changes you cause you will not see yourself.
What was particularly interesting was that this young man clearly "got" what everyone was saying, was able to accept it, and yet you could see the pain evident in his expression at the idea that this would be something that would only occur years down the road after he was gone. He was mature enough to accept it, he is mature enough to still move forward... but it certainly hurts. In a society of instant gratification, it is difficult for people to take a long-term approach, and it is commendable that he is likely going to push aside that pain to do what is necessary to help others down the line.

I thought it was interesting partly because of how it was a flipped version of something we went through at work this past week. Our company, on the advice of my boss, placed a large-scale advertising push that cost us a nice amount of money for one of our divisions. The manager of the division being advertised almost panicked, not sure they'd be able to handle the volume of calls. I didn't expect a lot of calls, but didn't know if they could handle the demand should they get too many. End results - Day One: 1 call. Days Two - Four: A handful. Day Five: A bunch. Total: Maybe 15-20 calls, for an entire week of not cheap ads. But as anyone in business or majoring in business will tell you, advertising is a bunch of bull - its purpose has nothing to do with business directly, but branding, image, perception, and awareness. Every vendor or person that walked into our office this week commented how they'd noticed our ads all week. A local news station wanted to run a story. Other vendors wanted to know if we'd advertise with them. The people who helped place the ads wanted to use our services themselves and recommended it to friends. When we asked our boss when he came back into town how many calls he expected on the week, he said "10". Upon hearing that we took a little more than that, he was thrilled; we'd beaten expectations. But the primary lesson of the week was that advertising is about delayed gratification. It's not that someone who sees an ad then calls up to use that service or buy that product; it's that when they're looking for a service or product, that ad they saw is what comes to mind and is the first place they look.

While people often vastly overrate the importance of experience in many areas, there are plenty of areas in which people vastly underrate it. Listen to your elders, but don't be afraid to challenge them as well - if you don't state your objections, you won't have the chance to learn where you may be making an error. I've learned more in the past four months both by teaching those around me and by questioning those above me than I have in a long time. My boss is notorious for saying "You'll see" after giving his explanation of what will happen when it flies in the face of logic as we might understand it... and has been more than vindicated each time. Perhaps most important, both applicable to business and life, never be stuck on your own opinion of something: If you take it personally, you will not be able to succeed. Fight for your opinion, but when you see that it has lost, move forward. You will eventually see better what was and was not going to work from your approach. It was heartening to see the young man at our table arguing strongly for different ideas, but understanding the flaws as they were noted. He'll go far in life.

Postscript: I thought it was ironic that the young man's major was psychology.

Postcript II: This post sounds way more serious and pompous than it is intended to be. It's supposed to be random musings on life as learned over the past couple of months, seen more clearly when flipped from the student role to co-advising role. Please read it as such. Thanks! :)

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