Some lessons are feelgood, upbeat and inspiring.
Others teach you via a swift kick-in-the-teeth.
This week's main lesson is arggghhhhh! the latter, and comes courtesy of the triplets Could've, Should've and Would've.
Happily, there's a coda lesson that provides a little Novocaine to soothe the pain.
To put this all into an explicatory perspective, I was invited to hear Richard Branson speak on Tuesday. More than just a good seat courtesy of my friends at McGill University, I was also invited to a small, pre-event cocktail where I was certain to meet the man face-to-face.
While I had crossed paths with Sir Richard once before (of all places, standing next to each other at a bank of urinals in a Toronto convention center), this meeting promised to be a little less awkward and more personal.
So what did I do to prepare for it?
I had just returned from a week away at the TED conference, spent two days dealing with the deluge of email, phone calls and meetings that a week away brings, and frankly, the Branson thing was merely another box on a calendar-ful of events, appointments and commitments. There: my lame-ass excuse.
So when I actually had some one-on-one time with the Virgin King on Tuesday, I went with his flow instead of my agenda. We chatted about clothes (more on that later), my history at Just For Laughs, the way my company Airborne Mobile had been an early partner of his Virgin Mobile, and my upcoming TXT-TV interactive television product. When the small talk was over, he moved onto his next private audience...and I beat myself up over a lost opportunity.
I don't know about you, but I don't get an audience with Richard Branson every day. As self-serving as it sounds, the opportunity for me was to look for ways for him to help me. But without the proper preparation, without me truly doing my homework, there was no opportunity.
Here's what I should've or could've done:
1) I wrote a book about Surprise, in which Branson has a starring role, including a chapter-heading full page drawing of him by renowned artist Tim Barnard. I should've brought a book and used it as a gifting ice-breaker. Odds are long that he would read, or take any action on, said book, but odds are even longer if he ain't got one. Is it tacky or self-serving to do something like this? Perhaps, but a gift is a gift, and any error of commission is better than an error of omission.
2) Who cares about my past? The TXT-TV project could be right up Virgin's alley. A tight elevator pitch and ask could've resulted in a connection that could take the concept further, faster. Instead, it passed through his ears like water under a bridge.3) I was there with my son Aidan, who HAD prepared a tight elevator pitch about his collaborative web music project Youphonics. If anything, I could've said: "Ahh, who care about me. It's my son who's doing something really cool"...and passed the attention over to him. Instead, we got a nice photo opp.
So that's the bad news. And a hard lesson learned. Never again do I go anywhere where opportunity can knock without being prepared to hit the door. And hit it hard.
And this isn't just "big picture" stuff; the same goes for every meeting I have, every social gathering, every time I have an interactive opportunity--I must set aside some time prior to prep for it.
For my own good.
Alright, enough self-flagellation. Here's the good news:
Out of a room of about 75 people vying for his attention, Branson surveyed the crowd while being ushered in, and after a few perfunctory introductions to others, made a beeline OVER TO ME.
Because of what I was wearing...primarily, a purple velvet jacket by designer Rene Lezard.
I've said this time and time again, but you either stand out or you're shut out. Blending in makes you invisible...which is about as useful as not being prepared, but I digress.
It may sound trite, but that jacket was the lure for the evening's big fish. First thing Sir Richard said was "Nice jacket. I'd trade you if you were my size," followed immediately by comparing how similarly we were dressed. Pow! Connection made. All I had to do was stand there. And stand out, of course. Now imagine the outcome had I been properly prepared.
Next time, dammit. Next time.
So, to close on a high note, here's a song for you. A few years ago, someone suggested that, given my attention to sartorial detailing, the following tune should be my musical theme.
You could borrow it...or at least follow it's wise refrain:
"You either got or you haven't got style.
If you got it, you stand out a mile."
So all this said, I guess the two go hand in hand. You can be prepped to the teeth, but if you don't get a chance to use what you've prepared, you're the proverbial tree falling in the forest.
And if you stand out enough to get noticed...well, you'd better be ready to sing when the spotlight hits.
Just like these guys.