My Top 10 Lessons From The Last 15 Years


Although, I have had some great mentors, most of my best life lessons have come from trial-and-error. I have a very high tolerance for both risk and failure, and because of this, I have generated a high volume of experiences from which to learn. Failure is always the best teacher.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity (and honor) to share these lessons as a  guest speaker for Clint Schaff's USC Annenberg Program on Online Communities class in Santa Monica. I really enjoy teaching, especially teaching graduate students who are quick to grab concepts and put them into action.

Petr Pronsati is an excellent example of this. I think he did an excellent job honing in on the main points from my experimental, non-linear discussion in his "What I Learned"  post. You can find those points re-blogged below with some additional background/commentary (in italics) below.

(1) “Being early is the same as being wrong” – If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s important to figure out if the market is ready for your idea and if this is the time and place for your idea to exist.

GF: This is actually an old saying in startup culture and one a previous boss, Andria Tay, reminded me of recently. We had this experience first hand when we launched a Social TV product at CES in 2007. It is great to see that Social TV is all the rage -- in 2013 -- we knew it would be... We were just too early for the market. Lesson learned. And now, I repeat this lesson to every entrepreneur who will listen.

(2) Testing, Testing, Testing – Make an assumption, try it, test it, get all the data and figure out what you learned. Then, test against that. So, change one element and repeat the process. Compare. Repeat. Learn.

GF: We all learned the Scientific Method in grade school. This is the backbone of my process and one of the ways in which I have been able to create structure in the unstructured world of social.  If you use this method as a business process, you will find the gold -- whether figuring out what will make your consumers Retweet your messages or which Facebook ads drive the most amount of sales.

(3) “Go for it” – If you are working with new or emerging technology you have to be willing to take risks. It may be a failure, but you’ll live through it to try again.

GF: I doubt this comes as a surprise to you if you are reading my blog. Risk taking is my ethos. I am willing to completely bomb publicly to try to figure something out. Somebody always has to go first and I would rather recover from failure than suffer from fear. Always.

Erik’s brain is a creative cross-pollinator.

Gretchen is all about power statements. 

GF: I experimented with the teaching dynamics a bit to co-create the learning experience with the students in this class. I wanted our experience to be more social and demonstrate the difference between a crowd and a community. We all learned about the students' strengths and goals in order to be able to support one another. We discovered, one student, Erik, has a common strength with me -- I call it pattern recognition for business application. He called it creative cross-pollination. I loved that term! And I shared that I love powerful combinations of words. You'll see that a lot in my writing. Words have the power to transform. Just take a quick glance through the book, The Power of Now, to see.

(4) “The people that you know are going to be the most important people in your careers” – Most jobs are given to people by people they know. Form a network and help each other.

GF: This is probably the biggest thing for young people to understand -- don't bother submitting your resume a hundred times to job sites. People give jobs to people they know. Build your network. Let people know what you're looking for and help them find work, too. This approach will serve you better.

(5) “Producing as much as possible is key to manifesting the life that you want” – Blogging about the things you’re interested in doing not only keep you informed, it will give you a body of work that can set you apart from everyone else.

GF: This is one of the key differentiators I see between people who are successful and those that are not. Producing is about acting. It's about taking the reigns. Most people do a lot of thinking and wishing about what they want and don't actually take steps to make it happen.

Blogging is a great way to take action, and so are other forms of social media. Through these efforts, you can cultivate your personal brand (see number 7) and create community around shared interests, specifically work interests.

(6) “Keep your overhead down” – Tumblr sites are easy to update. Don’t make it too overwhelming to update. Keep it lean. Technology has a lot of simple solutions.

GF: I see this issue frequently. You decide you want to start blogging so you find the "best" solution out there. Often what is the best solution for a pro is not the same as what is best for a beginner. Start with something manageable and then upgrade when you have outgrown the platform. Better that than to drown in a host of features and options only to find yourself unable to even get started. 

(7) “Everyone has a personal brand” – You can use social media to figure out how you want to position yourself in the business world.

GF: Your presence on the Internet is a representation of who you are in real life. For example, I am bold, assertive, and slightly irreverent. You can hear it in my writing voice and it makes up a part of my personal brand. Social media is a great place to exercise your personal brand and discover your unique voice. People remember things that are clear, concise, and consistent. This should be the goal of every brand, including yours.

(8) Do it right — If you want to start your own social media consultancy, have the resources to do it right. You don’t want to have to do every job yourself.

GF: This is actually my second time to have a consultancy. I learned a lot from the first go around -- namely, it takes a lot of work and money to start a business. I promised myself I would never do it again without hiring and partnering with people that are strong where I am weak. Nobody is good at everything. It's better to play to your strengths than go down for your weaknesses.  Luckily, there are a lot of startups catering to small businesses these days, and you can find a good and affordable solution for everything you need.

(9) “Social business is a core business function” – It’s about making sure every piece of the business is using social data; is leveraging social technology, community and conversation; and is able to respond in real time.

GF: This is my mantra right now. I have a lot of thoughts on this topic. Too many businesses are stuck in the early phase of social media and there is a way bigger vision for social. I will be detailing this vision as well as practical steps to get there over the coming months. Get ready, I am going to rattle some cages in the process. (If you are interested, you can get my blog updates in a weekly newsletter by subscribing here.)

(10) “Explore, Explore, Explore, Explore” – Technology is always changing. Everything will be different in two years. But the human connection has always been there and always will be there. So one way to ensure success is by finding ways to use technology to build community.

GF: This is actually two pieces of advice. First, play with every new technology that comes out. Things move way too quickly to not keep up. Second, as you explore technology, always think about how it can be used to improve your relationships. It *always* goes back to relationships -- whether you're looking for a job or acquiring a new user. People like to feel like they matter and technology can be a great facilitator for those connections -- and one of the biggest areas where most companies miss the boat.

What do you think? Do these align with your own life lessons? I would love to hear your own lessons in the comments below and I am sure many students will be very appreciative of your insights.

By Gretchen Fox, Social Architect at grtchnfx


Posted on March 20, 2013 .