5 Lessons from the Oscars

Tonight a worldwide audience tunes in to watch “The Oscars.” Created in 1929, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seeks to recognize professional excellence in the motion picture industry. Many tune in to see if their favorite film wins, to see what their favorite star is wearing, or just to be a part of a global communal event and, well,  tweet about it.

But let’s face it, everyone is there to advance their own profession in one way or another, so let’s look at takeaways for your career.

People notice what you wear. Someone once sang, “It’s not who you are, it’s how you dress.”  That’s true, to some extent, at the Oscars—and to some extent, at the office. You hope to be judged for more, but your office doesn’t have to have a red carpet for you to know that no matter where you work your appearance is one of the first things people notice. While the cameras of the world may not be on you, everyone you interact with notes what you’re wearing. The plus side? It’s also one of the few things you alone can control. Remember the old adage…dress for the job you want. Look professional and prepared (Google “dress for success”).

Thank others. One of the most boring aspects of the awards show (besides, sometimes, the host) is the winner with the long, drawn out blustering acceptance speech.  No one climbs the precipice of success alone, so thanking others is admirable and appreciated. but a thank you shouldn’t sound obligatory it should be sincere. While you may not have access to a Sunday night primetime audience, you do have plenty of social media tools at your disposal. And while tweets and comments are a great way to say thanks, never underestimate the power of a personalized thank you note.

It’s not just about the stars. The base of the Oscar statuette has five spokes representing actors, directors, producers, writers and technicians. In addition to awards given for best actor, best director, and best music—often to names we  know—awards are given for sound mixing, costume design, and makeup—usually to names we don’t. Even if you’re not the “face” or “star” of your organization, know what it is you contribute and strive to be the best at it. Make yourself indispensable, and you’ll last longer than the pretty faces, anyway.

The best work isn’t always recognized. The Monday morning water cooler discussions center around who won, who didn’t win, and who should’ve won. But if there is one consensus about the Oscars, it’s that “the best” doesn’t always get the reward. You won’t always get that job, that promotion, or that recognition, no matter how deserved. There will always be lucky first-timers, irrational favorites, and sympathy winners. If you’ve ever felt jilted, take heart from actors such as Cary Grant who have never won an Oscar. If the reward you want is something controlled and bestowed by others, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get it. The only solution is to put your focus on being the best performer you can be today, and keep your eye on tomorrow.

What’s your own “Oscar?” While you are sitting on your couch watching others have their big night, think about what you want to win and what would be a good representation of that success. It’s fun to see others celebrate their giddy success, but you deserve to celebrate yours, too. Oh, and when the day comes that you walk up to the podium, please remember the three classic rules of public speaking…Be sincere, be brief, and be seated. Thanks.

Who do you blame?

 “If we fail, it would be only our fault,” said an engineer in Tripoli quoted by Reuters. “Before we blamed everything on Gaddafi, it was easy. Now we can only blame ourselves.”

 When someone else is calling the shots there is an element of freedom in the repression.  Freedom to blame someone else for your troubles. And the more iron-fisted the control is, the more excuses you have for your own predicament—the more it’s someone else’s fault. It’s even more convenient if that someone is on posters, TV, or represented by statues. The name for your pain becomes ubiquitous.

 Not everyone in the world can blame a dictator or monarch for their misfortune or lack of success, though. But many have a radio show host or political figure-du jour that fits the bill. And others choose to fill this role with vengeful bosses, overbearing spouses, or controlling parents or in-laws. Not to mention the looming specter of corporations, government, or religion. There’s no shortage of people or organizations to lay blame, and we can usually find like-minded confidants to share in our woe.

That’s because complaining is easy. it’s not easy to take stock of ourselves and take the action necessary to remedy the shortcomings that hold us back. It’s not easy to topple those statues we love to point our fingers at. But it’s something that everyone can do if they choose. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

So declare your own little revolution, throw some ropes around whatever it is you’ve been blaming, and topple it once and for all.

Business Lessons from “Pawn Stars”

Negotiation is a cornerstone of business, and like business, it’s an ancient art. There are many books on the subject, from Robert Cialdini’s Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion to Trump’s Art of the Deal. But while watching the History Channel I realized that some key business essentials can be gleaned from the show, “Pawn Stars.”

In the program, a Las Vegas pawn shop is run by a cast of colorful characters including a curmudgeonly “Old Man,” his affable son Rick, and his rebellious grandson “Big Hoss.” The show incorporates a blend of historical insight, humor, and good old fashioned business wheeling and dealing.

Here are some takeaways:

Start with a firm number, not a “hope.” If you are interested in selling something, and asked for your price, don’t say, “Well I was hoping to get $5,000.” No one cares what you are hoping for, and right then and there they know to stick a pin in your balloon of hope and hit you with a lower offer.

Know all you can about a situation. These days there’s no excuse not to run a search on the item you want to sell (or buy) and the people or organization you’ll be dealing with. I’m amazed to watch people walk into the pawn shop without knowing anything about what they want to sell or what it might be worth. P.T. Barnum had a word for people like that and how there’s one born every minute.

Don’t be wishy-washy. Often, sellers on the show say they are “looking to get $400 or $500” for their flea market find. If you say that then the $500 is immediately off the table because you’ve already negotiated with the other side by saying you’re open to $400. Don’t let the other guy help you decide where to start a deal.

Remove emotional attachment. Do you want to sell something or not? Once you have decided to sell then you have moved into the realm of a business transaction, and any sentimental value the item has to you will be irrelevant to the buyer. (“Well, you know, my grandmother used to keep this in her kitchen…”)

Always be ready to walk away from a deal. The Pawn Stars guys regularly turn down unique, cool items not because they don’t like them, but because acquiring them makes no business sense.

Know your business. Business owners can only stay in the black if they can readily sell an item for more than they bought it. If they can’t do this they can’t buy your item no matter what you think it’s worth. Whenever they deviate from their core business and think they can invest more money in an item to fix it up, they increase the risk of losing money.

Retain SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). For Rick and his crew, the job is to run a pawn shop, not to be be experts on esoteric obscure objects of historical interest. That’s why they are quick to call in experts on vintage guitars, toys, currency, or antique weapons. Build your own network of subject matter experts you can call on, legal, tax, sales, marketing, real estate.

Finally…Never underestimate the power of a good poker face.

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