"Tolerate nothing less than 'Departmental excellence and coolness.'" Tom Peters
Sally Hogshead is the author of Radical Careering : 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job, Your Career, and Your Life. From the book jacket: "Growing up with the last name Hogshead would give anyone an unconventional point of view. By her early twenties Sally had garnered an unprecedented collection of national advertising awards for innovation, and opened her first ad agency at age 27. One of the industry's most celebrated creative directors, Sally's been described in the press as 'intrepid,' a 'mastermind,' and 'the Oracle of Venice Beach.'"
Today, Sally is a sought-after keynote speaker and consultant for companies wanting to identify and develop their ultimate competitive advantage. An expert on high-performing Gen X employees and managers, Sally helps corporations recruit, motivate, and retain those key professionals.
Sally's breakthrough approach to branding for clients such as Coke, MINI Cooper, CondÃ© Nast, and BMW Motorcycles has been recognized by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN, as well as the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
Sally lives in Los Angeles with her two young children and her husband, a stay-at-home dad. Her secret mission in life is to bring back the hogshead as a unit of popular measurement.
tompeters.com asks ...
What is a careerist?
SH: Think back to those times in your career when you've performed at your absolute best, when you blew past expectations and quite simply kicked ass. That's when you were a careerist. A careerist is somebody who takes action to become the most powerful, valuable, and fulfilled version of themselves. Careerists want to kickstart momentum, attack bigger possibilities, and get excited about Monday mornings. When you put that kind of action into your career, it becomes a verb: "careering." Hence the name of the book, Radical Careering.
Who's your target audience for this book?
SH: Great question. First, let me say who it's not for: bureaucrats, whiners, cynics, or wimps. Anyone who cherishes linear hierarchy or traditional corporate games will hate this book.
Radical Careering is for people who want to make big things happen in their lives, in their own way. They aren't afraid to break the rules or disregard the status quo. Most of all, they have big ideas and nerves of steel.
My research focused on the 25-to 45-year-olds, because as a group, they tend to have a much more aggressive, entrepreneurial, independent perspective on their careers. They've had a few years of experience, and they already know what they want out of their work. You can't succeed by following the convention these days—Tom Peters teaches us that!—and anyone who just wants to push papers or watch the clock is going to have a really tough time of it.
They're goners, in short?
I understand. But I think we're going to see some interesting things with the boomers. A lot of them are going to retire and then they're going to say, "Holy crap, I've got a lot of money, and now I've got a lot of time, and now I actually want to do something interesting." So you might, in a way, see that a book like this could have an impact on that group as well.
SH: And I would love that. There's a great article in this month's Inc. magazine about that. The boomers have this amazing idealism, and they've engaged so passionately with work that once they get rid of the shackles of their daily work life, they can get on with it and really start doing what it is they truly want to do.
I don't think of Radical Careering as a book that is targeted to an age group—it's really targeted to a mindset. There are people who are comfortable with taking some radical risks in their lives—they're okay with focusing on their long-term happiness and sacrificing things in the short-term. They don't follow the traditional rules.
You've got a great quote from Dolly Parton. You gotta love any book that has a good quote from Dolly Parton. And it says, "Figure out who you are and then do it on purpose."
SH: Isn't that great? It wouldn't be quite as cool if it came from anybody else.
Definitely. But I think it still has great meaning, though at the same time it raises that always lingering question beneath all of this subject of, "Well, how do you figure out who you are?" How do you help people figure out who they are? Because I think for a lot of people, that's the biggest problem?
SH: That is the biggest problem, I absolutely agree with you. My very favorite Truth in the whole book is Radical Truth #99: "Expressing your truest self is the ultimate competitive advantage." You're going to be most successful when you unapologetically express yourself—your talents and your strengths and your personality. With my background in advertising, I was helping clients figure out what it is about this brand that, if expressed in a particular way, will have people emotionally connect with it. When that happens, those consumers become evangelists and transform that brand's place in the marketplace.
All those same principles work for people. When you can peel away the layers of what you've been taught that you should do and you have to do and rules that you must follow, you can help people start to figure out, what is their career for? The big questions. What's it all about, what's the purpose of what you're doing? How can you tap into that passion and turn that passion into your career? Then your career comes from a place of infinite strength, because it's who you are, rather than just a series of steps up a corporate staffing chart.
Yeah. I suffer from this problem off and on in my own life, and I often think—and you say this any number of times in your book—just do something. Just get going and do something and you'll sort it out. You can sit around and think about this "Who am I?" question way too much.
SH: Oh, definitely. Emotion is worthless without action. It doesn't matter how much you figure out who you are if you don't then act on it. And that's careering—that's bringing action into your career—intelligent action.
Now, the most devastating factoid in your book I thought was this quote that says, "A study by Al Reis on retirees reported that 75 percent of them regretted not switching jobs at some point."
SH: Oh, I know. Didn't that kill you?
That's a whole lotta' regret. That sounds like a country and western song to me.
SH: We all know that old expression: "Nobody ever said on their deathbed that they wished they'd spent more time in the office." I have two kids, and my life doesn't revolve around work. It's a mish-mash of the big picture. But that being said, loving what you do is non-negotiable. It's important to have a life outside of your work, but if you spend 60 to 70 percent of your waking hours on the job, then you've got to make sure that you passionately love what you do. To suddenly find yourself at age 85 looking back on a lifetime of meaningless effort and hated jobs, that's just tragic.
This reminds me of a Gallup Poll I saw recently that found that 19 percent of employees were actively disengaged with their work.
SH: Actively disengaged?
Meaning they're to some degree subverting whatever they're doing.
SH: Wow. That's an awesome statistic, when you think about how much money a company hemorrhages when an employee leaves—not just the intellectual property and client relationships, but the 150 percent of the salary that they're going to spend recruiting and getting somebody else up to speed. But when people stay in the company, when they've quit psychologically, they're stealing from the company and they're saying bad things about the company, and that's far more damaging. So the advantage of having employees that are motivated—it's not just better performance, it's less anti-performance.
Yeah, which reminds me of another one of your little factoids which states that you've gotten way too bureaucratic when you spend money on head hunters for new positions, but don't spend a dollar on a birthday card for an employee.
SH: Right. There's a lot that's out of whack with HR economics. it just doesn't make sense from the point of view of supporting employees. I call it a "sacred cow." It's one of those obsolete practices that just moves forward because it's always been that way. For example, it just devastates morale when employees watch their microwave popcorn getting cut from the budget while people are still taking full-fare ticket plane rides.
So how did Stonewall Jackson get killed?
SH: He had escaped injury through battle after battle, and he was absolutely idolized by everyone around, and then he was accidentally shot by his own soldiers. What I love about that story is that we've all had it happen, and I should hope we learned from the lesson. For example, maybe there's a really important presentation and the board is flying in from all over the world and you're going to present—that's the reason they're all flying in. And somebody puts the wrong zip code on the FedEx slip, and the stuff doesn't show up. The tiniest details cause the entire empire to crumble.
And you also write that you once took a 50 percent pay cut in exchange for a U-haul full of portable equity. So could you explain portable equity, and then tell me about that?
SH: Portable equity is what I call the personal capital that you get to take from one job to another—or more precisely, that propels you from one job to another. So in a job, if you're constantly creating a better reputation, a better network of people who support you, fresher skills, a list of impressive accomplishments—all of those things are portable equity. Because even if you're not necessarily getting a bigger salary, you're increasing your market value.
On the other hand, there's trapped equity, which is all the things that we do during the day that don't help us either move forward within the company to get a promotion, etc., or to move to another job. Trapped equity is like your batting average on the company softball team. It's good and it's important and I'm not saying you shouldn't play some games with the buddies, it's just that when it comes time to either leave your position or leave your job, that's not what's going to get you to the next level.
Here's how I viewed my own portable equity. I opened my own agency when I was 27 and I loved it. It was great. We worked on a project basis with clients like Target and RÃ©my Martin, and we were very successful. But after about three and a half years, I felt as if I just wasn't learning anymore. I wasn't developing—I wasn't getting new skills. We'd gotten in a bit of a groove that was becoming a rut. Then I was invited to a very, very cool, high-profile job. The job only paid 50 percent of what I was making. I'm the sole breadwinner of my family, because my husband's a stay-at-home dad. A 50 percent pay cut? Major, major lifestyle implications.
But I did it because I knew it was going to skyrocket my portable equity. By working with this new company, I was going to be able to learn things and do things and have things and meet people and engage with clients and make presentations that I never would have been able to do in my own company. So, even though I started with a 50 percent pay cut, within three years, maybe four years, I was making way more than I had to begin with.
It's not about how much money you're making today, it's about what you're worth. What's your potential price tag out in the market? I say market value is a combination of RESULTS + REPUTATION + NETWORK. So if you're not constantly improving the work you do and the people you know and the brand you've created for yourself, then your market value goes down. But if you're pushing it, whether you stay in the same company or you move to a different one or you start your own, that's when you're going to have the maximum portable equity.
What's a good way for people to figure out what they're worth? Are there any websites that help with this or do you just have to suss it out from people you know?
SH: There are websites for different industries. But I recommend instead that they have a group of people that they can confidentially go to in their industry, maybe not in their own company, but a group of four or five people whom they can ask, "Can you help me figure out where am I now, where do I need to go, how much am I worth, what are other people at my level making?" And they can very informally touch base with these people twice a year and get feedback from them. Pay scales can vary so widely and oftentimes the best opportunities pay the worst.
Do you have a favorite radical truth out of the hundred in the book?
SH: I think my very favorite would be either Radical Truth #15, "Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room," or Radical Truth #19, "Being in a crap job isn't your fault; staying in a crap job is."
Let's talk about 'aspire to be the dumbest person in the room.' What does that mean?
SH: Everybody wants to be the smartest person in the room, it's only natural. And the smarter you are, the more you want to be the smartest person in the room. The thing is, if you surround yourself with people who aren't as smart as you, then they're not pushing you and challenging you. Whereas, if you're the dumbest person in the room, it's like playing on the A team versus the C team. A great way to evaluate your current job or potential job is to look around and say, "Do these people have a lot to teach me? Can they teach me new skills, can they bring me new experiences, can they introduce me to clients who are going to give me a new range of portable equity?" When you're playing on the A team, it's uncomfortable. It's really uncomfortable, because you have to get over yourself and you have to admit you don't know it all.
When I decided to produce this book, for example, I knew I wanted to package it from beginning to end. Meaning I did the whole thing all the way up until handing off the digital files to the printer. So I had creative control and, to a certain degree, editorial control. But I didn't know anything about publishing. I didn't think it was going to be that hard because my background was in advertising. But the reality was, it was really, really hard because there's so much that I had to learn from the ground up in terms of printers in the U.S. versus China and copyeditors and how books are formatted differently than a spread ad, and on and on and on.
But it was so amazing to go from this point in my career where I felt I had mastered all the things I needed to know—to then being way on the bottom of the totem pole. Going to classes and going to seminars and reading the books and starting over from the very beginning and basically trying to get a graduate education in publishing. How can I transfer my skills? There's nothing more empowering than learning how to do things that you didn't know how to do before. Because that's what employers want. Anybody who's hiring, whether it's a client or an employer, the question is what is the value that you can bring to the party? And if you can help that employer or client make $2 for every $1 they spend on you, then you're naturally going to be very popular. So the more you can constantly enhance or refine your skills by being with people who put you in that very humbling position of being the dumbest person in the room, the better.
A lot of these things connect, obviously, but then there's also that saying, "Scare yourself every day," which I believe comes from Eleanor Roosevelt.
SH: That's one of my all-time favorites: "Do something every day that scares you."
But that's hard to do day in and day out. This puts me in mind of Bob Dylan. I just saw the PBS American Masters special about him the other night. Dylan shows up at the Newport Folk Festival playing an electric guitar. Everybody freaks out because the guy's going in a new direction. There's a guy who was scaring himself every day because he didn't know where he was going next. Yet his fans wanted him to maintain the status quo. People really love the status quo.
SH: They sure do, and it's very uncomfortable to be on that forefront, in that pioneering mode. But if you look at the clients, the companies that are doing the most successful, most interesting work, they're the ones who are challenging the status quo in the same way, who are saying to themselves, "Hey, we're good at this. How can we apply it to that?" Well, how can this apply to that? Look at the things that Google's doing now and look how the iPod is expanding. The most successful companies right now are the ones that are building an ecosystem so that they're able to connect a lot of different dots, rather than making just one big fat dot. It's similar to Radical Truth #31, which is something I have to repeat to myself: "You can be comfortable or outstanding, but not both."
Good point. But now, let's talk a little bit about your website, because you've got radicalcareering.com, but then within that, you've got this subset of sites that are mentioned, I think, in each of the chapters?
SH: Itâ€™s funny. There are disadvantages to being a first-time author, the biggest being that you're standing there in line with 100,000 other people. But there are certain advantages: You don't know the rules, so you can break them more easily. The thing that frustrated me about publishing a book was that it couldn't be a dialogue, it was a one-way conversation from me to readers. The fact that readers couldn't have any interactivity with the text just didn't make sense to me. So when I created the website, what I did was this: For the key concepts in the book, there is an icon. If you want to learn more about those key concepts, you can go through and find this little "info-to-go" icon in the book, almost like a guidebook. And whenever you see that icon, it tells you that there's a micro-site that has a tool or a quiz or an exercise, some sort of interactive way for you to be able to experience the key concept. Because in order for people to really take in the information, they have to be able to apply it to their own lives. That's what the micro-sites are about, allowing people to engage with this content in a new way.
I'm also asking people for content. I have a performance review on there where people can give me a performance review so I can be—
I'm looking at that page right now.
And I'm going to promote you.
SH: Yea! [LAUGHTER] I'm promoted! I love reading those. When I started this project, I said to the publisher, "I want people to either love it or hate it," because I don't want it to be a book that just sort of sits out there. I want it to provoke people and make them uncomfortable. I want it to poke through the chinks in the armor.
So have you gotten some negative feedback?
SH: For the most part, it's been great. Then there are people who say, "Your design's all over the place." The very thing that people say is the best thing about the book, other people say is the worst thing about the book. It's like how Tom Peters, what was it—who was it that dubbed him corporate America's most dangerous man?
Oh, I think it was BusinessWeek, business's best friend or worst nightmare, something like that.
SH: Right, exactly. And I think that's what's so amazing about what Tom Peters has always stood for and always written about. You know, we were talking before about how you have to know who you are to be happy in your career, this whole thing about your ultimate competitive advantage. Tom knows it, he knows what he is, and so he talks to the people who share his worldview, and then he ignores the rest of the people because he's never going to reach them anyway. Knowing that was a real inspiration for me when I was doing the book.
That's good. We of course believe in books that look like this. It's graphic, the images are fantastic and it's colorful and bold. I think it's great, you did a good job.
SH: It's so interesting to me how when you walk into the career section of a bookstore, oh, it's just so straitlaced and boring and depressing. It looks like a flashback to the Gordon Gecko era. And I don't think a career should be like that. I think a career is fascinating and innovative and sexy and thrilling and creative. I love the rare career book that makes me feel that way, that inspires me to take action, to get out there and do something.
But now, you mentioned there's a company, is it Design 17?
SH: The name of the company is Number 17.
And so they're the designers of the book and the website?
SH: They didn't do the website, but they developed the look. When I began this book, I tried to explain to people what it was that I was doing in my proposal. I tried to explain my vision for the book, that I wanted it to be less Brooks Brothers and more Banana Republic. Or less IBM and more iPod. Nobody was understanding what I was talking about and I couldn't get people to visualize it. They couldn't see what I was going for.
So I built a prototype of the book, and that took months and months, but I basically wrote and designed the book before ever showing it to a publisher. Once that happened, a bidding war started because suddenly people could see what I was talking about. Even up until the very end, the design was always based on that original prototype. But the reason Number 17 had such a heroic role was that about three weeks before my final files were due, I called my publisher, Penguin, and I said, "You know, the book looks good, but the book doesn't look great. And it's a book about not compromising, and so I want to throw out the entire design and start over."
All right, good for you.
SH: The reaction was like nothing I'd ever heard. I had to hold the phone away from my ear. Then it boiled down to my publisher saying, "You're the packager so you are contractually obligated to deliver these files on time. It's on your head. You can make the calls if you want to throw out the design and start over. But there's no way you can get a design in just a few weeks." And they said, "You know, the design's good."
The blad [color mockup of a soon-to-be-published book] had already been not only produced, but had been sent out everywhere, into the sales force and so on. I said, "Yeah, the design is 90 percent there, but an Ann Taylor suit is 90 percent as good as an Armani suit. And I want an Armani suit." And they said, "Okay, girl, you let us know how that goes." [LAUGHTER]
That's when I hired Number 17, and they're exquisite designers. They've done a lot of very high-profile, very successful books, and they pulled the rabbit out of the hat. We had the files done a little less than an hour before the deadline.
SH: Thatâ€™s one of the scariest things I've done in my own career, because I'd never rolled the dice like that before. But how hypocritical would I be if I had a book that didn't match up with what I wanted it to be when I'm sitting here saying, "You can be comfortable or outstanding, but not both."
What are you doing now?
SH: I'm a S.W.A.T. creative director, which means I go and work with companies on a consultancy basis and I help them solve problems. Usually branding or product innovation or new business pitches, that sort of thing. I'm also doing a lot of things around the book, I spend most of my time speaking at conferences for groups that want to jumpstart their ultimate competitive advantage.
Well, good. Anyway, all best to you, I think you've done a great job here.
Sally's website: www.radicalcareering.com
Email: sally (at) sallyhogshead (dot) com