I still remember how it felt during my first week of work in the ad agency world: walking down the halls past unshaven creatives, weaving through cubicles of media planners, and schmoosing with account executives. I had finally made it to Madison Avenue – the place I’d always wanted to work. It was a great feeling and I was full of idealism and hustle. In fact, I still remember one of my first 1:1 meetings with an early manager where I proudly proclaimed my vision for my new role in media planning.
I told him that I wanted to learn how to be a media planner, but also – in learning how to plan media – I want to lean how to run an ad agency. After I said this, my manager sort of looked at me sideways for a second. He then replied:
“That’s impossible. Planning media has nothing to do with running an ad agency – you’re going to learn how to be a media planner and that’s it.”
Needless to say, we didn’t exactly see eye to eye on this one. In fact, I believe that almost anything you learn can help teach you other things. All you need to do is isolate the principles in the topic you’re learning about and then think about how those principles can be applied to other topics. Just like biking can make you a better runner, I believe that learning how to be a media planner can help teach you how to be an ad agency executive.
Brian O’Kelley recently wrote about this topic in an excellent article on Forbes.com. This topic is very near and dear to my heart and cross training has probably been the number one most important learning tool for me over the years. No matter what I’m doing, I always try to apply the principles and lessons to other things.
When I’m working on writing this blog, I’m thinking about the ways my sentence structure and word flow can help me write better product specs. When I’m running I try to think about ways to focus my mind so I can get through emails faster and more efficiently. When I’m metalsmithing I think about ways to apply the problem-solving techniques necessary for complex solder construction to managing a complex project at work.
Everything is connected in someway; the key is just identifying the similarities and assembling the puzzle.
I think that’s also why I like metaphors so much.
Michael Erard recently wrote an article on metaphors that explains how they are, at their core, a tool that helps unlock what we know about one thing in order to better understand something else. Here is an example he provides about how computer protocols are like hospitality:
“Once you understand the basic premise, the logical consequences of the metaphor tumble out: hackers, spoofs, viruses and the like are exploiting the hospitality features of our machines. We welcome them into our homes under false pretenses.”
Absolutely everything in the world shares some properties with other things – all you have to do is identify the shared properties and use them to your advantage. Using this technique of cross training will help you learn 10x quicker than everyone else.