Insights, APEX SpotlightPOSTED December 14, 2023

Getting ahead of the game

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By: Jacob Robinson, Consultant, APEX PR >

As a practitioner entering my third year of professional communication, I’ve learned quite a bit about process, people and the psychology which connects the two.

Between thinking critically, reading the room, managing perceptions, building professional relationships, synthesizing information, pre-empting events and identifying and fighting the right battles, to name a few – there is never a dull moment in this industry. There are many days when, in a sense, I feel like a professional juggler.

And while there’s still a long way to go, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

In fact, if there’s one thing I’ve come to realize – it’s that journeys are not meant to be linear. People can reach one ‘peak’, only to discover another ‘higher peak’, and then another ‘even higher peak’ after that. Such is life. Learning never stops.

But, the tricky part isn’t getting ahead. It’s staying ahead that’s the challenge.

For me, staying ahead means being stronger, sharper and better than I was the day before. Cue James Clear’s one percent better every day for one year, or Kaizen (modern Japanese philosophy for continuous improvement).

You don’t have to know everything, nor be perfect. Neither are possible in this world.

But, what is possible, is knowing at least a little bit more than status quo, and the competition (trying to) chip away at your heels. This is one way you can effectively maintain your edge and stay ahead – and not just get ahead – of the game.

Instead of simply trusting the process as many of us have become accustomed to – take control of the damn process. Your process. By being curious, by taking risks, by upskilling and by learning from the world around you.

Over a developing career, the higher a practitioner climbs, the greater the stakes. The higher the expectations. The more accountability that’s demanded. And often it, can feel as though there is less readily available help or support. And that’s normal.

This, my friends, is how leaders are made – because as the old adage goes, ‘nothing good comes from your comfort zone’. Courage builds character.

And it’s the people who exercise courage and take those risks who inevitably get rewarded for doing so. Perhaps not right away – but certainly in the long run, through intentional and consistent effort and resilience.

So, what else can an aspiring, rising communication practitioner do – particularly from a career advancement perspective – to help them navigate a terrain full of variables and unknowns with greater lasting effectiveness?

Knowing what I know now, here are eight quick tips I would have shared with myself when first entering this industry:

1 – Ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs.

Such is the nature of career, business and life itself. Success looks different for everyone. The very definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, only to end up right at the start. There is no silver bullet, nor is there a ‘right’ way. There are challenges, and those who keep moving, shaping and learning will weather adversity and emerge stronger from those challenges. Don’t be too hard on yourself – just keep moving.

2 – Focus on what you can control – not on what you can’t.

Your mental energy is finite. Take some time to map out what-if and worst-case scenarios, but don’t let hypotheticals paralyze your actions, or ability to act. While there will almost always be certain events we cannot control, we can anticipate and control how we prepare and respond to them. More often than not, the perceived severity of what we’re concerned about, assuming it happens to even begin with, is far smaller in the grand scheme of things than we give it credit for. Take care of your focus.

3 – Use the pause.

If a situation isn’t working and you’ve exhausted significant time, options and otherwise considerable investment, it might be time to pause or pivot. Clarity is kindness. You have the licence to assess, reflect and try something else. Where one door closes, another one opens. Take ownership of that.

4 – Understand bias and how it affects decision-making.

Often our biases are unconscious – where we’re either unaware or unassuming. This is why we need to take some time to reflect, to get out of our own headspace and exercise forethought and emotional intelligence in our decision-making. When you get good at recognizing your own bias, you can better identify biases around you and take next steps to address.

5 – Learn from people smarter than you.

Never get too comfortable. No matter how good you (think) you currently are at your craft, assume there’s almost always someone out there who could do it better. Learn from them. See it as an opportunity to improve, to help you build on your developing excellence. Intelligence is not one-size-fits-all – if you’re the smartest in the room, it might be time to find a new room.

6 – Stop analysis paralysis…

…and start ‘doing’. In business, ideas are a dime a dozen – it’s the right execution of the right ideas at the right time in the right sequence to the right target that matters. Along with the outcomes and impact which come with this ethos. A satisfied customer is a loyal one who wants to sing your praises. But – the realities of satisfaction and subsequent praise are not possible without ‘doing’.

7 – Be intentional with your time.

This means cutting out the activities that aren’t helpful – or worse – are wasteful. When activities are not clearly tied to purpose and outcomes, they have minimal to no value to begin with. Get to the root of why you do what you do, and why you might be asked to do something. Then assess and decide how you will proceed. Suggest alternatives where necessary and monitor progress. The Eisenhower box and Kanban are great tools to facilitate and support.

8 – Celebrate your wins.

They’re meant to be celebrated.

Remember – what holds true today may not hold true tomorrow. Environments are always in flux. Greatness awaits to those who actively seek it – never stop learning, and you’ll always stay ahead.

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For further reading:

Clear, J. (2022, August 31). Continuous improvement: How it works and how to master it. James Clear.

Clear, J. (2020, June 9). How to be more productive and eliminate time wasting activities by using the “Eisenhower Box.” James Clear.

Daniel, D. (2021, May 13). What is Kaizen (continuous improvement)?. ERP.  

Paterson, K. (2022, August 3). What is Kanban? The Ultimate Guide to Kanban. Zapier.