Brian David Crane is the founder of CallerSmart, the best app for helping you with unknown or unwanted phone calls and texts on your iPhone. Like Waze for caller ID, CallerSmart has made it fun for our users to help keep our 600 million U.S. phone book listings accurate and up-to-date for everyone. Follow him at @briandavidcrane.
Imagine being in an expansive tent illuminated by candles. Strewn across the table in front of you are marked-up maps and handwritten notes that detail your battle plans. As you look around the table, your eyes go from one sage adviser to another. Each one has helped guide your planning.
That's how I envision the best advice I ever got: Make war with a council of elders.
This paraphrase of King Solomon's words of wisdom has stuck with me since childhood, but it wasn't until I started my own business that the meaning became clear. In order to succeed, you must draw on the wisdom of others who have done what you want to do, whether that's war or business. I've found the following strategies helpful in assembling my own council of elders:
1. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.
Before asking for help, get to know your strengths and weaknesses. For me, that means asking others for genuine feedback, journaling, and even reading old school report cards and quarterly employee reviews. (Spoiler alert: We change less than we think!) One tool I've found useful for helping me better understand myself is the Kolbe A Index. This online quiz measures the cognitive faculty of the mind or the actions you take that result from your natural instincts. It surfaces your instinctive way of doing things. As you get to know yourself better, you'll have a clearer idea of who needs to be in your council to fill in your natural gaps.
2. Choose qualified sources.
Let's say you set the goal to have $1 million in the bank by the time you're 30. If you're like me and grew up in a middle-class household, you don't know many people who've done this — so don't ask people who haven't achieved this before for advice. Instead, you need advice from qualified mentors who have done what you want to do, not your close friends and family (again, assuming they haven't done what you're looking to achieve).
Another common mistake that I've made multiple times is seeking to get my ideas or goals validated by others before I've achieved them. This results in a nice dopamine release, and it's why we like to tell our peers our ideas early on. We get most of the pleasure upfront and then are left with the hard work of following through.
3. Listen to your mentors (even when you don’t want to).
When you do get the ear of a qualified mentor, listen--even when his or her counsel contradicts your original plan.
I'm often reminded of Mike Tyson's famous quote, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth," when some of what I've considered my best plans have (fortunately) been proverbially punched by one mentor or another. When you take the advice of your mentors, follow up with them and tell them how you've changed plans based on what they said. This helps maintain the relationship. Keep those people close; they're worth their weight in gold.
4. Become an apprentice.
In my early 20s, I worked as a busboy and waiter at a nice restaurant. The place was only open for dinner, so the employees were night owls, and there was always a party after work. That wasn't for me, and it took me a while to realize that putting myself in the wrong work environment left me feeling drained in other areas of my life. More importantly, I wasn't learning many useful skills.
One of the best decisions I ever made was to go work under people who were willing to teach me useful skills. Being an apprentice isn't sexy nowadays, but I think it's an undervalued way to learn. That's why, when I was offered the opportunity to work for Inflection in Silicon Valley, I took it. The job title didn't matter; I'd found a place where experienced people (who'd grow into mentors of mine) were willing to invest their time molding me. Best of all, they paid me a salary while doing so.
That's why where you go to learn is as important as what you're learning. Environment is stronger than willpower. You pick up habits and routines in addition to skills, so it's wise to make sure you're putting yourself into healthy places. Before taking a new job or joining a new group, ask, "Will this opportunity bring out the best version of me? Will it help me achieve my goals?"
5. Fight the war, not just the battle.
Assembling your council is an ongoing process. It involves cultivating humility because you first have to acknowledge that you don't know everything. Then you need to muster the courage to ask for help. There is power in practicing vulnerability and opening yourself up to guidance. When you do approach someone whose counsel you value, be humble. You're not necessarily a peer. After all, you're going to him or her for help.
The idea of going to war with a wise council behind you also reminds me of the military adage, "If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn't plan your mission properly" (several members of my family served in the military, so I heard this phrase often). To me, that phrase is as relevant to business as it is to war because one's "fight" can take many forms. You could be fighting for people's attention, wallets, hearts or minds. Whatever your goal, surrounding yourself with a council of trusted elders who have been where you want to go will help you achieve success.