The secret to growing in life and in business is to hang out with people who are smarter, wiser and more accomplished than you.
I hang out with a lot of them in real life, my wife, my therapist, a few friends, a few business associates. But I hang out with many more in non-real-life.
In other words, to steal from Langston Hughes, I wonder as I wander. I look at things like a prospector might look for valuable ore. And when I find something worth keeping, I find a way to remember it and keep it handy. Don't spend what you know all in one place. You never know when you need it.
Reading provides me with a lot. It's made me who I am. As I've taken to saying, I spend an hour a day with one genius or another. Of course, there's so much genius in our benighted world--that despite the myriad horrors all around us, and despite my chemical liabilities, I remain optimistic. Like Faulkner, I believe humankind will not only endure, we will prevail.
But enough of that.
For the last couple of weeks, the story of Cinderella has been on my mind. That's because the Peacock Five from tiny St. Peter's College in Jersey City, have become a Cinderella story as they moved, quickly, from obscurity to the fringes of the college basketball Pantheon.
The Jersey City five were murderlized this weekend by a much more talented set of cagers representing the University of North Carolina. That defeat by the oddly nicknamed Tar Heels, led every living and breathing sportswriter to proclaim that St. Peter's "Cinderella story is over."
On hearing that tired metaphor, I immediately re-watched the Vonnegut clip pasted above from a lecture he gave called "The Shape of Stories."
And that is exactly what I mean when I write down the importance of learning from geniuses.
I only ever took two writing courses in my life. One in college when I was 20 and one 40 years later at an esteemed writer's workshop on Cape Cod. And I only ever took one advertising course--back in 1982.
Even so, I can't imagine any course teaching me more than Vonnegut does in the 4:27 above. In fact of all the things I store in my hard drive and my hard head, I think this is the one I share most often.
Story arc--whether you're writing 32 words of copy for an ad, significantly more for a website, or putting together a presentation for a client is crucial.
I am right now engaged in a fairly massive project for a fairly massive client.
I had to write for them a brand book.
No easy task.
I broke it down into seven chapters or eight.
The client asked me--how do you know the order is right?
Fair enough question.
I said, a story should be like a roller coaster ride. It should get you excited. Then there's a portion of calm--to recover, to reflect, to catch your breath, then the highest hill and the steepest drop and the most excitement.
I'm not sure they got it.
Maybe they never saw Cinderella.
Or watched college hoops last weekend.