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Hitting Fast Forward

How to move your career ahead when you’re stuck in the doldrums

Hitting Fast Forward

Say you’re driving from Boston to New York. Or Miami to Key West, or Las Vegas to Phoenix, or one side of Los Angeles to another. We’re talking what, four or five hours behind the wheel?

But every so often you come across a shortcut that cuts short your trip by a third, or a quarter, or an eighth, or a… well, you get the idea.

And boy oh boy, how do we love these?

Let us count the Waze.

There’s just something uniquely satisfying about shrinking the time it’s supposed to take to do something. Driving in that carpool lane while everyone else is stymied in road-rage hell. Tivo’ing past all those TV commercials. Reading the cliff notes to a Tolstoy novel or a Shakespeare play. Fast-forwarding your career. Setting a podcast to play at 1.5-times speed.

Whoa, wait a minute. What was the second-to-last one?

Fast. Forwarding. Your. Career.

Yeah, that’s it. Let’s talk about that. What are some shortcuts that make the road to the top—or at least closer to the top—a little easier (and faster) to navigate?

Here are three to start… and start right away.

Meet ‘N Eat

Invite a senior leader to lunch.

This is easy, peasy, mac and cheesy. (Tip: don’t order that, unless of course it’s at one of those swanky steakhouses, or unless the executive in question is a 10-year-old kid.) All you’ve got to do is send a brief, politely worded email to one of the bosses, preferably one that at least knows who you are, and say you have questions about the company’s vision, or you have an idea you want to discuss, or you want to better understand an industry trend.

Or whatever.

And once you sit down with forks up, try to do about 25 percent of the talking. Ask and listen. Listen and respond and ask again. Befriend that big shot. The idea is to engage with someone that—assuming he or she doesn’t think you’re a total schmoe—can be a mentor or a sponsor or at least a North Star in your career odyssey. Most folks successful in their career had somebody along the way that took a shine to them, and it can start in a way as routine as this.

Take a Chance

Many a professional trajectory has been flattened into a beeline by unsolicited initiative. The old nobody-asked-but-here’s-an-idea-that-will-help-the-company gambit. It’s a low-risk maneuver with huge upside.

And for the most part, nobody does it anymore. It’s a lost art, like table manners or the sacrifice bunt.

Or back-to-back similes.

Although, and his name will remain anonymous, there is in fact a superstar executive in the online gaming industry that talked—more like wrote—his way into a job at a major land-based casino operator by sending its legendary CEO a letter—more like manifesto—describing myriad ways to increase revenue and decrease costs.

Said legend was impressed. Said legend set up a meeting. And said legend, after some vetting disguised as chatting, offered the man a job. Which he took and executed successfully for years before catapulting into something bigger and better.

True story, every word of it. Well, except for the catapult.

He took a plane.

Keep these four principles in mind when pitching ideas on spec: 1) Aim high; send it to the CEO or the C of something; 2) Put it in writing; 3) Focus on ways to save money or make money; that’s it; and, 4) Ask for a meeting to explain further.

That, unless your missive is massively misguided, should get you a call-back if not a face-to-face. From there, it’s up to you to seal the deal.

Speak Up

No matter how far down the food chain you find yourself, you usually get the chance to be in the room or the Zoom with the movers-cum-shakers of the organization.

Take advantage of those opportunities even if they don’t seem like opportunities. It’s all about getting noticed. Now of course, this could backfire like an old jalopy with bad ignition timing, but at least you’re in action, as the gamblers call it. Pose a question, even one you already know the answer to. Ask the highest-ranking person to clarify a point. Say something. Say anything.

And if by some miracle the Big Cheese in the room asks your opinion on something, there are a gazillion possible responses but only two good ones:

What a phenomenal idea, and I would love to be part of it!

Or . . .

What a horrible idea, and we should shoot it twice just to make sure it’s dead.

It might surprise you, but being right or wrong in this instance hardly matters at all. And how can you tell, anyway? Whatever you’re debating is probably speculative; time hasn’t told you the outcome yet. Your response needs to relay the message of conviction. Passion. Confidence.

That’s what leaders want to see in their team, because they know, from their own experiences, it is a crucial element to becoming one of them.

Let them see a little of themselves in you, and they will help you along the way.

Roger Snow is a senior vice president with Light & Wonder. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Light & Wonder or its affiliates.

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