Business insights courtesy of my seat-mate

Sometimes you get great business insights from unexpected sources in unexpected places. That happened to me just last week.

I was flying home from Florida after visiting my dad for a few days. It had been so hot—yes, even hotter than in New York—that I was looking forward to a solid couple of hours in some good old-fashioned, freeze-you-to-the-bone air conditioning. And I expected to be sleeping.

I was seated in 1D, which required some extra effort in hoisting a heavy carry-on into the overhead so that the aisle in front of me would be clear for take-off. In another row, I would have just placed the bag at my feet. But then, I wouldn’t have met my seat-mate. It was my struggle that caused the man seated next to me to jump up and help. And because he extended himself, we got to talking.

At first, it was the usual airline banter, as our flight had been very delayed due to weather. Then we segued to aging parents and his relief that he and his wife had moved to Florida in recent years, which allowed them to spend time with his mother and father before he lost them to illnesses.

After about an hour, we started discussing our careers. I was especially interested in what he did, since I had already learned, as part of our airline conversation, that he flew all over the world for his job and back and forth between Florida and New York on a weekly basis.

Turns out, he was a very senior information technology officer at a major bank in New York. This piqued my interest as my younger son is also in the computer science field. Since Jed has set his sights on one day becoming a Chief Technology Officer and has been asking me about the merits of an MBA in supporting his aspirations, I posed that question to this open and engaging man.

He never answered it, at least not directly. In retrospect, he answered the question that I should have asked on behalf of Jed, and maybe even, on behalf of myself.

His guidance was that the way to grow your career and get to where you want to be is to become the expert in your field. You need to be the person who others seek out when they need to know what you know, and you should be the first person who comes to mind.

I found this such a simple, but compelling thought, that I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any of the underling nuances. So I asked him what he had done to get there.

He said that for him, incessant curiosity about technology was the key. Since he loved the subject matter, he explained that keeping up with computer science through reading was something he would do anyway. As a result, his knowledge was always fresh and cutting edge without his even really trying. This had elevated his stature and made it so that he could effectively mentor and lead, giving him the added benefit of learning from those who reported to him and the ability to always hire the very best.

Even though I hadn’t thought about career growth, my progression, or Jed’s in that way, everything he said made so much sense. As a marketing person, I often find that the insights that we land on are just like that. They make so much sense, yet they haven’t been articulated clearly and compellingly by another brand, so we leverage them for the benefit of the one that we are working on.

I gave these insights to Jed and I’m giving them to you to leverage on behalf of your personal brand. I’m certainly planning to put them to work for mine.

For more examples of big-agency thinking, without the big agency, visit

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