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Protecting Your Superpower
by Blair Enns
You cannot fully understand a system from within the system. You cannot read the label from inside the jar. The thinking that got you here won’t get you there. It’s unlikely the problem will be solved from within the context it was created. All of these sayings testify to the power of an outside perspective, and perspective is something that you have in spades. I would argue that your two greatest assets, when it comes to helping your clients face their challenges and capitalize on their opportunities, are first, that outside perspective—the vantage point from which you are able to view your clients’ situations, unencumbered by convention, politics, or concern for one’s career trajectory—and second, your creativity. Creativity, remember, is not the ability to write, draw or code, but the ability to see—the knack of bringing a fresh perspective to problems, of seeing things in ways that others cannot. The compound effect of these two assets gives you something approaching a superpower. Your client may have some people as creative as your own, but they’re sucked into the hairball that is the corporation while you remain in orbit, retaining your perspective. That’s a gentle paraphrase of the late Gordon MacKenzie’s great book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, in which MacKenzie playfully describes his career as a corporate creative (with Hallmark) as a kind of dance in which he struggled to stay in orbit of the corporation without ultimately succumbing to its gravity. To maintain their superpowers, creatives must maintain their perspective.
So, mister or miss superhero, let me ask you a question: how do you maintain this superpower of yours? How do you keep your perspective?
I’ve been enamored with this aerial shot of Manhattan because it’s framed similarly to the shot below it, showing off the contrast of these two divergent places. The second shot is of the remote mountain village that is my home, and that of Win Without Pitching world headquarters: Kaslo, British Columbia in Canada.
These two places are not just thousands of miles from each other but worlds apart. It occurs to me as I look at them both that I couldn’t work in the first place if I didn’t live in the second. Rather, I almost certainly could but I couldn’t do it the way I do it. I couldn’t think the way I think if I lived in New York, or in London, Hong Kong or other markets with high concentrations of creative firms and their clients. The conventions are just too strong for me to live in these markets and still think differently. I know because when I’m in a place like New York too long I start to believe what people say about how new business should be done! It’s only when I get home that I’m able to think clearly again.
You have the same hairball challenge with your clients. How do you stay close enough to the epicentre of the fast-moving world where all the clients and challenges are, but not start to think what everybody thinks, not blind yourself with convention or even dogma, not lose your ability to see things differently?
How close are you to the epicentre now? Have you already been sucked in? Are you routinely hired by clients who write the briefs themselves and do not let you bring your superpower to bear? If so, how will you escape? Dramatic physical relocation like mine isn’t necessarily the answer (after all, travel is a bitch) but there is a danger of spending too much time with your peers or listening to too many clients on conference stages or reading too much about what your competitors are doing. What is your plan for hairball extrication, for getting back out into orbit where you are free to use your superpower to make the world a better, more interesting place?
Image credits: Kaslo by Air courtesy of wildairphoto.com. Visit their site to see more shots of our amazing home.