I was reminded of an important lesson today, but first a quick story.
The other night during a family dinner we were all gathered around the table talking about our dogs. Yes, this is what you have to look forward to when you are a grown up living in suburbia. I started singing a song that I remembered from childhood – the lyrics are not too complicated and the melody is quite simple, “I’m a dog, I’m a working dog, I’m a hard working dog.” My wife immediately questioned what I was singing and whether or not I just made it up on the spot. “No,” was my reply. “It is a song I heard when I was very young – probably about 4.”
Nicole immediately protested, “There is no way that is a real song.”
“Not only is it a song,” I said, “but it was featured on Sesame Street.”
Now many of my friends know that I have a pretty funny memory. I can’t remember when the electric bill is due, but I can remember snippets from TV shows that I have not seen in decades. I can even carry on an entire conversation (usually with myself) using movie quotes. Now if you think I am the odd ball of the household, my wife is considered by many to be a Brady Bunch savant, but I digress.
In order to defend my honor, I did something that was unthinkable in 1975; I prayed to Our Lady of Google and, voila, within seconds I had proof that the song I was singing was not the result of some false memory of yesteryear – someone had found the clip and put it on You Tube (click here to be transported back to 1975).
Now for the lesson. After graduating from college, I had no clue what I wanted to do in the working world. Up until that point, my plan was to return to school and earn a Ph.D. in psychology (a goal that I have not given up on). That said, after 4 years of books, I wanted to earn some money. I jumped around a lot in those early days having worked at 4 different companies in almost as many years. It took me a while to discover what I was passionate about. Then, one day, it clicked – I wanted to apply my background in psychology to a career as a moderator. I wanted to dig into a consumer’s heart, mind, and soul in order to find those precious nuggets of insight that the next great new product would be built on or that a new advertising campaign would be rooted in. But knowing what you want does not lead you to a destination. My friend Kevin McGarry once said to me, “A pearl of great price is not obtained for by the asking.” One needs a lot of experience “behind the glass” in order to become an effective qualitative researcher (the glass here refers to the typical one way mirror found in most interviewing facilities).
In short, I knew exactly what I wanted but needed to carve a path to get there. First I invested $3,000 of my own money in training (you can’t be afraid to invest in yourself in order to build a skill set – when you have skin in the game, you are less likely to fail). Then I read everything I could on moderating focus groups from books, to blogs, to magazine articles. I even interviewed other moderators about their experiences in order to get a better sense of what the lifestyle was like. Finally, I looked for any opportunity to practice my skills. While working at Unilever I would often approach underfunded brand teams and offer to conduct focus groups for them if they could somehow find the money for recruiting and incentives. Since Unilever actually owned a research facility this was rarely an issue.
Like all new moderators, I was green at first. I made many mistakes. I wasn’t confident. Did I give up? No! I would go home, and cringe as I watched recordings of myself moderate groups. I would take notes of what I did right and where I needed help and I started to get better. But I simply didn’t want to be good moderator. Like Roy Hobbs I wanted to be “The best there ever was, the best there ever will be.” Perhaps that last statement is a bit of a stretch, but I knew that the field I wanted to get into is very competitive and if I wanted to play in the major leagues, I had to bring an A game.
My passion and perseverance paid off. I now make my living doing something I love and I am excited to bring my skills to a new company. I suppose it was fitting when, after my first day at a new firm, our karate instructor Shihan Manny drilled into our class the importance of giving whatever you are doing at any one time the full 100% of your attention, focus, and intensity. Whether you are practicing a blocking set, running a client call, or attending your child’s sporting event/dance recital, you should give nothing less than your full attention to the task at hand. Indeed, I would not be where I am today had I not had a laser focus on what my goals were and a solid plan focused on how to achieve them. I thought that was a great message to end the night with and hope you feel the same.