In this brilliant guest post, Tom Lane, the former Associate Editor at Talking Points Memo, shares what he wishes he knew when he began his career. Tom previously produced and reported from the BBC’s United Nations bureau.
That may seem a rather gnomic observation. Indeed, it may well be not so much something to “know,” but rather something to take on as part of your approach to spotting opportunities.
Let’s say you have an idea for a project and you know exactly who to take it to. Well, don’t just go to that person with the mere idea. You should try to create as much of it as possible before you make the presentation. If it’s an article, write a draft of it. If it’s a TV or radio piece, piece together as much as you can of it independently. If it’s a larger proposal, have a comprehensive outline and have people you’ve already reached out to and who could be set to work the moment you get the green light.
Why? It’s simpler to kill something that’s just an idea. It costs your boss no effort to say no, and once he’s done that you’re usually blocked from picking the idea up and coming back to him again. If you do work on it in your spare time and then approach him with a fleshed-out version of something he’s already shot down, then you may be exposing yourself to trouble.
However, if you approach him with an article that’s already written, or something that’s clearly wound up and ready to go, then saying “no” becomes much harder. It’s better still if it’s a finished piece; sometimes a project people have been banking on falls through at the last minute and the sudden appearance of an unsolicited work can be a godsend. What’s a fortuitous bit of filler for them could well be a foot in the door for you.
The vast majority of ideas die before they hit a page, let alone before they become concrete realities. Some deserve this, but many don’t. I suspect I would have had things rolling sooner if I’d taken the time to start making various ideas into reality rather than sending them out in insubstantial and airy forms.
Time and pressure mean it’s hard to follow this rule invariably, but it’s worth bearing in mind before you open your mouth. Like a baby animal, an idea is most vulnerable as it’s coming out of the womb, and just after it’s been released. Sometimes you have to make sure there’s a little fur on the creature before you can let anyone else touch your pet.
Antonio Neves is a coach, speaker and award-winning business journalist. He is the founder of THINQACTION where he works with young entrepreneurs to produce exceptional results in their work. Work with Antonio. Follow Antonio