Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mitch Joel on perseverence

I've been working with a few folks at Seth Godin's Triiibes project on an ebook currently titled "We want you to fail". It explores perseverance and its impact on the success or outcomes in ones life. We've been compiling interviews with a variety of individuals - from the famously successful to those stories of the lesser known. About two months ago I did my first interview for the project with Mitch Joel.

I first met Mitch Joel just over a year ago. I was attending the Annual General Meeting of a client, and had heard that there were a few guest speakers. When I arrived I was seated at a table in the front left. Beside me sat a young guy with a shaved head and glasses. We were both listening intently to Terry O’Reilly give an impassioned speech about creative communications. When Terry finished and the applause was over, I noticed he was in my direction. That’s odd, I thought. He sat down to my left. As he did this, that guy on my right stood up and proceeded to the podium. That’s when I realized I was sitting at the speakers table (uninvited). As I looked up at the podium, that guy was introducing himself. It was Mitch Joel.

I wanted to speak to Mitch about perseverance because he has had an extraordinary ride, but did not come from a priveledged environment, invent some new technology, or climb his way through some political ladder. I wanted to speak to Mitch because he has successfully made it where he is based on knowledge, insight and audience. These are intangibles that are a valuable currency in any industry and being able to use them effectively is not a common story.

Here are a few excerpts from our interview:

Q: When did you realize that for you – the rules of the game were changing and you wanted to be ahead of the curve? Your colleagues must have thought you were crazy…

A: Pereverance has two sides. One side is negative. This is has to do with facing obstacles that come along and viewing them as problems or adversity. The negative comes out mostly in external factors you cannot control, like the people who are naysayers, or the barriers you create for yourself. With this side of perseverance you have to keep on pushing no matter what people say to you or how you feel.

For example, people will look at the Newpaper industry and say ‘look how it is persevering through these tough times”. I think that’s not it at all. I would say that Newspapers, like the music industry, are failing to persevere. Persevering for these industries would be to acknowledge the shift from content ownership to content publication. They would look at what they’re creating and who they’re connecting with. They would see the change in consumer habits, the prospects in new revenue and ad models, and the greater opportunity of taking advantage of the limitless opportunities that exist beyond their traditional walls.

The other side of perseverance is positive. This is how I look at the equation. You determine what you want to do. Then you do what you want to do. It’s really rooted in the knowledge that when you wake up in the morning you know what you want to do and you’re excited to do it. You know what success looks like and that excites you. You want to learn and take the steps to get there.

These two sides of perseverance are two different worlds. The positive side is not about doing it to keep on doing it. That’s not smart and strategic. Our actions should be flowing with the times, always searching for that better way.

Q: How is that going reflected in what you do (work, book, blog, etc)?

A: The positive side of perseverance has affected my career in a fundamental way.

About three weeks ago I had a light bulb moment… I started in magazine publishing and journalism. I still love the industry. I was preparing the sales and marketing plan for the book [Six Pixels of Separation] with my team at Twist Image, and it hit me. My blog Six Pixels of Separation, my podcasts, Media Hacks, Foreward Thinking, my business book review twitter feed, the columns in the Montreal Gazette and the Vancouver Sun - wait I’m a publisher. While persevering in my career I’ve become more of a publisher than when I owned two magazines.

If you would have asked me 5-10 years ago what I wanted my book to be, I would have said the standard answer “I’m working for this to be everything I know it can be” At the time, for most people, a book was ones opinions published and projected to the masses. Now, a book doesn’t feel the same. It is no longer the single source of opinion, commentary or insight. My blogs, columns and opportunities to speak are all part of that impression and each influence the other. Think about it. I finished the book in December 2008. However it set to launch in September 2009. The book is coming out almost 9 months after it was finished. In that time I’ve published a blog post everyday, gathered more ideas from colleagues and podcasts, it’s almost another book worth of valuable content.

The book is really a reflection of all my other content publishing efforts. It’s not a feature on Mitch Joel but on the columns and experiences I write about. The blogs, podcasts, and columns supplement the book, while the book provided the road map.

And my favorite quote of the interview:
"One thing I can say that I’m most proud of - I will always try things even at the risk of my livelihood. That’s not always the best choice (ha), but it keeps the fire burning and drives my excitement. Understanding how to be proactive in a serious confrontation is the self defense of marketing."