- Michael Thompson
I celebrated quitting my sales job by putting my phone on silent. With the exception of close friends and family, it stayed that way for close to a decade. But like a lot of feelings I had about things in the past, over time, my view on phone calls has changed.
When I began writing and online coaching in earnest three years ago, together with email, proactively making one or two calls a day became my weapons of choice.
This simple structure allows me to successfully avoid the social media time-suck that buries so many dreams while consistently being in the know regarding new ideas, updates, and opportunities. Not only that, but unlike video calls, the phone allows me to go for a walk and get some sun.
I personally reserve at least an hour a day for calls as it’s my all-in-one networking, ideation, and Vitamin D solution. I don’t expect you to do the same if you’re not used to proactively making calls. But if a few of the suggestions below resonate, give them a shot.
Everyone today is vying for online opportunities. It’s amazing how many people forget that offline relationships drive recommendations.
1. A “soundboard” call to gain clarity on this week’s ideas and tasks
Early on in the week, my friend Marina Glazman and I send each other a quick email of what we’re working on and then 24 hours later we hop on a call to hash them out. Getting Marina’s perspective on which ideas and tasks are an effective use of my time and which ones aren’t, provides me with loads of clarity as I start each week. Plus, I get a chance to vocalize my ideas, and flushing them out with someone with her experience and insights helps to quickly tighten my thinking.
“Here are the bones of two articles I’m thinking about — do you have anything to add, subtract, or move around some to make the argument stronger?”
“I’m thinking about doing X. What am I missing?”
If you do creative work for a living, there is little to lose by making room for a sounding board call — assuming you know someone with good taste who will give it to you straight. But even if you work in an office, there’s something magical about having a consistent thinking partner who knows both you and your work inside and out as it can seriously help drive your best ideas forward while helping you weed out which ones to put aside or bin.
2. Someone who stretches you
Oliver Burkeman, the former life-advice columnist for the Guardian, believes when deciding what we want to do with our careers, we should choose things that stretch us over what comes easily as it supercharges our growth. I like this idea. I think it’s also a good rule to follow when deciding who we should spend our time with.
Get in front of someone who holds you to a standard that’s higher than you may even hold for yourself. For me, my “stretch” call each week is with Fred Dust, former Global Managing Partner of IDEO, and author of “Making Conversation.” Fred, by default, makes me pick up my game as I want him to think I do good work to keep the door open to make something cool in the future together.
Some people say we shouldn’t try to impress people. I think this is nonsense. We should absolutely want to impress people. The key, however, is getting clear on the type of people we want to impress and then doing everything we can to ensure their time is well spent when we’re in front of them.
3. Someone who’s doing something cool outside your lane
I started my phone call habit by reaching out to fellow writers and coaches. When building your own calling strategy, I’d recommend starting in your lane also as having common interests makes for easy and energetic conversations which will help you cement the habit.
But if your focus is creating more opportunities, don’t underestimate the importance of getting to know people outside your lane. After all, if you only talk to writers and coaches you’ll primarily get leftovers. But if you make a point to get to know founders, designers, and salespeople you may find you get first dibs.
Plus, they’ll most likely bring a different perspective than people directly within your circle of competence while having a completely different group of contacts which in turn exposes you to even more new ideas and opportunities.
4. Someone you used to collaborate with
A friend of mine once told me that if your network isn’t bringing you 2 to 3 solid opportunities a year, you either need to grow a new network or change your attitude. I don’t know about you, but doing what you can to ensure your network wants to share opportunities with you sounds like a lot better option than a complete professional revamp or personality overhaul.
The beauty of this call is that it can only be for a few minutes; “Seeing anything new?” “Have you met anyone interesting recently?” “I came across this and thought of you!”
Not only does this keep the door open for future collaborations, but this small investment is the equivalent of growing a new set of transportable eyes and ears as you can fill each other in on what you’re seeing in the room you’re currently sitting in.
5. A younger mentor
If you’re just starting out in your career, obviously you can forgo this call and focus on getting to know people older than you who are doing what you want to do.
But if you’re a few years into your career, seek out a mentor or two who’s younger than you. I’d be willing to bet most weeks I spend at least 50 percent of my work time with people a decade younger than me like Amardeep Parmar, Stephen Moore, and Zulie Rane. Not only do they help me navigate online trends better than people my age or older, but they have a ton of energy which motivates me to step up my energy too.
The world is moving fast and the majority of this change is tech-driven. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have people walk me through this landscape who have been doing it since day one instead of people who are also trying to figure it out.
Plus, you may find that, unlike traditional older mentors, they’re more willing to get in the weeds with you on your day-to-day tasks and I’d be willing to bet they’ll be happy to do so in exchange for your life experience, knowledge, and connections.
Pulling it all together
When reading over this article a few trends popped out.
Getting your ideas in front of people is important.
The same goes for diving deep with a few people who you trust to challenge you.
But the biggest quality you should look for when recruiting phone partners is they see things differently than you.
After all, the more blinds pots you’ve got covered in your career, the better.