Doing Great Work is the Secret to Professional Success

Late last year I showed up to school with a black eye.

One of my classmates jokingly asked, “were you in a fight?”  I casually answered, “yes,” and moved on to our school work.

Black eyes, bruised ribs, cuts, and mat burns are all normal to people who practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ); it is the price we pay to learn.  These small injuries have taught me about myself and business.

You might think a black eye has nothing to do with business, yet let me explain.  I am only able to train BJJ once a week with my schedule and try to attend Saturday classes*.  I like the Saturday class because it is for advanced students, and I am not advanced.  When we practice I am generally getting beat up.  However, something amazing happens when I train with advanced students, I improve quicker than when I train with less experienced people.  After training on Saturdays I have an elevated skill-set.  If I only trained with beginners then I would have a false self-confidence . . . the same can be seen in our professional lives.

A fundamental goal of my business - - is to produce great work.  For all of my clients I push myself to give them excellent work in order for them to reach their professional goals.  The trick is to actually do great work which can be more difficult than people realize.

Essentially, when you are working with your peers or individuals less experienced, they might think what you are creating is amazing - whether a report, financial analysis, marketing collateral, etc.  However, when compared to more advanced professionals, the project could be seen as average.  That does not indicate you are bad at your job, instead, it reflects your level of comparison.

I routinely work with executives who have 20-30 years more experience than me, and when I show them the project I am doing, they nod with approval, give their critiques, and we move on to other business.

At times it can be troubling as I wonder if what I did was actually valuable, and question how to improve. In the moment my confidence might be shaken, yet then I realize I just presented to an executive team that has me beat by decades of experience.  I am normally the youngest in the room and am working on high-level projects.

On those days when I question if I am even capable of great work I usually watchNeil Gaiman’s Commencement Speech; it is not as well known as Steve Jobs’ famous Stanford address, yet I watch it almost weekly.

Our focus should be to always produce excellent work.  No matter your profession, you can continually improve.  A question becomes, how do I know if what I am doing is great work?  This is a valid question and I follow David Ogilvy’s criteria he used when first seeing an advertising campaign:

  1. “Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?  
  2. Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
  3. Is it unique?
  4. Does it fit the strategy to perfection?
  5. Could it be used in 30 years?”

Each question will reveal if what you are doing stands up to the level of “great work,” and I especially use the first question.  A simple technique to know if you are producing high-level work is to show it to a peer first.  When you show the project (report, analysis, design piece, etc.), make sure to look at their eyes.  

What is their expression?  

You will immediately know their reaction.  If they brush it off, then you have work to do; however, if they cannot look away and start talking about it in a positive tone then you you are on the right path.  With some improvements, you can then bring the project to higher-level individuals.  

Be brutally honest with yourself and do not defend the work, greatness does not need defense.

Each day should be a continual effort to better what we accomplish in our professional life.  If you have a mentality of growth then in a few years you will be doing things you could not imagine at this moment.

If you are interested to see how you can elevate yourself and set on a path to reach your goals, feel free to reach out - - I enjoy helping people align their efforts to their goals.

*For those interested, I train at Houston Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club with Professor Art Alvarado, he comes from the Gracie Academy in California and is one of the best instructors I have ever met.