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Mediasmith’s David Smith: What I learned from 50 years in media

This article was originally published on Digiday.com

First published January 9, 2019

 

David Smith is the founder of the agency Mediasmith.

When I founded Mediasmith three decades ago, “digital” as we know it today, did not exist. I had 20 years of experience in traditional media. I had read Stewart Brand’s book “The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T.” which referenced “the convergence” of computers, entertainment and media, but I lacked the understanding for how that would come about. It was helpful that our first client, Starsight Telecast, was the inventor of the interactive TV guide (IPG) as we know it today. But it was 3-4 years before the internet became visible and another year or two after that before it became a viable part of our business. It wasn’t called digital media at that time: it was “interactive media.”

But through my experience, I knew that digital media represented the future and that I — and my company — had a lot to learn. The learning has never stopped. My curiosity was my best friend. But when I reflect back on the past 50 years, I’m most struck not by the technological hurdles we’ve overcome or the progress digital media has achieved, but rather how fundamentally human the most important lessons of my career have been.

For those working in media today, I’d like to take a moment to remind you, based on my long career in media, what matters most to all of us in this, or any business.

Do what you enjoy.
Carving out a career path that you enjoy isn’t selfish. If you do something you truly love, you have a better chance of being good at it. In which case, everybody wins — including your clients.

In a similar vein, remember that it’s all right to have a good time. Having a good time and getting work done aren’t mutually exclusive. In a perfect world, these two concepts on a Venn diagram would reside directly on top of one another.

Think long term.
In industries as dynamic as digital, we can get caught in an endless spiral of short-term thinking. You must resist that spiral. By making a conscious effort toward long-term thinking, you will find yourself more capable of prioritizing short-term goals in ways that help you measure the value of your efforts.

So just stop occasionally, and ask yourself: What do you want to accomplish from a big-picture standpoint? What should look different in three years if you want to get there? Five years? Chart your course accordingly. The money will come eventually — assuming you are in it for the long-term.

Pay it forward.
Don’t hesitate to help others wherever you can. Those opportunities are a gift. By thinking of others in your actions and taking care of those around you, you build a strong base beneath you. That base will support you when hard times inevitably roll around.

Remember whom you can trust.
Keep those people in your network, even when circumstances part your ways professionally. And don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. Also, don’t turn down meetings or discussions. You’ll be surprised by how many times you didn’t know what the outcome would be. Stay as engaged as possible – and keep learning.

Take care of your clients.
Honor your agreements — always. Do what you said you would do and overdeliver wherever you can. Sometimes even your simplest tasks can deliver incredible value to someone else. And they will remember.

Don’t underestimate the power of mornings.
You’re not a morning person? I get it. But if you haven’t tried in a while, try again. And then try again. Early mornings are the time for yourself. As the day wears on, social buzz and social activity ramp up, and your time soon belongs to others. Mornings represent a beautiful, serene opportunity to do the work that matters to you with a clear mind and single-minded purpose.

Let go of what has happened.
This one might be the hardest lesson I’ve learned. But the simple reality is that you can’t change the past. You can only have an impact on what is going on right now, and your actions right now can lead to a better future. The Buddhists have it right on this one.

Be honest and transparent.
Transparency can be a pain in business dealings, and it certainly does not maximize short-term revenue. But it’s the right way to operate, and it builds trust for the long term.

Embrace change.
Back in 2011, Marc Andreessen told us “software is eating the world.” He was right, and that scared some people. But it didn’t change the inevitable march of devices and sensors that has since consumed our world and brought his observation to fruition.

When someone smart observes the inevitable march of progress, get on board. Set aside your fears. Reinvention keeps life interesting, and it creates opportunities.

Never lose your sense of humor.
This is hard sometimes, but it can be done. Do it even though it’s hard. It not only makes things easier on you, but it also makes those around you smile more.

Be more than just your work.
Pursue an outside interest that puts your brain on a track that’s separate from work. Have more than one if you can. Mine is music. I surround myself in it. I play guitar. I sing and encourage others to sing with me. I learn new songs.

When you take the time to lose yourself in something other than work, sometimes you find solutions to problems even when you’re not trying to solve them. Our brains are amazing that way.

Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself.
I don’t pretend that I can or do accomplish all of the above all of the time. I have learned these lessons. I’ve even written them down now. But sometimes I need to relearn them, and that’s OK. The point is to be open to the lessons in the first place.

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