If ever you get the chance to grill someone who is right at the top of their game, you’ll quite likely find that their number-one piece of advice for getting ahead is to get a mentor. Just find someone who’s already doing whatever it is that you want to do, they’ll say, and emulate that person. Unravel their secrets, learn from their experience. Easy.
What they don’t tell you, however, is that finding a willing guru to selflessly hand their hard-earned life experiences to you on a plate is nigh on impossible.
Luckily, we have a persuasive touch here at Friday: if it’s a mentor you seek, look no further. We’ve rounded up a magnificent seven assorted experts to share their top tips so that you, too, can do it like the professionals… It’s time to go pro!
1 Write like an author
Linda Davies, Dubai-based novelist
Misunderstood emails and badly penned letters all serve to remind us that our writing isn’t quite what we’d like it to be, and the problem, says Linda Davies – author of the financial thriller novels Nest Of Vipers and Final Settlement, among others – is “writing in haste”.
When it comes to penning something worthwhile, a lot comes down to the time and effort you put in. Linda’s novels, for example, take many months to bring to life. “Everybody’s story, their emotions, their hidden sides, could make a good book,” she says. “Everyone has the material. But to translate that into a full-length book you really have to love writing and be prepared to slog.”
Linda says you should begin by mapping out your plot and then worrying about it endlessly, asking yourself questions, seeking answers and recording your thoughts on your phone. “Look like one of those nutters having a one-sided conversation,” she says.
For Linda, one of the hardest parts of the process is trying to keep going when she suddenly thinks it’s not working. “I can do plots easily enough,” she says, “though technically, thrillers can be demanding, but bringing the characters fully to life can be tough.” What Linda does is think about their purpose, what burns inside them and what they truly care about.
With multiple novels under her belt – including the acclaimed Djinn children’s series – Linda has learned that reading your work aloud is an important part of the process. If you can get someone else to read your work back to you, she says, better still. “If they fall over their words or hesitate, you’ve written a clumsy sentence,” says Linda. “Also, you’d be surprised at how many repetitions you overlook when rereading your work silently, either words you use too much or concepts that you keep harping on about from different angles. Say it once, say it well, then shut up!” www.lindadavies.com
2 Think like an entrepreneur
Russell Gibbs, head of TV In A Card (a greetings card that has a micro-thin display with built-in storage that can hold about 30 minutes of video)
“The first thing you need to recognise is that it’s not all about money,” says Gibbs, who hit on the idea for his video marketing company while working as marketing manager for Xerox Emirates in Dubai in 2009. For many entrepreneurs, he says, the quest starts out because they realise there’s a better way to do things.
For Gibbs, the vision was to take a wafer-thin video screen and insert it into a greetings card – meaning marketeers could get their message across to customers instantly in a sleek and stylish way. The road to success was littered with obstacles, however, and Gibbs says that far from the popular image of the modern entrepreneur as a self-important flash-Harry, a more realistic image is of someone with his feet firmly on the ground.
Latent entrepreneurial tendencies, he says, will typically rear their head when someone spots something that isn’t working very well. “An entrepreneur is always looking for a better, more efficient way of getting things done.” With Dubai, the city that has so many innovations, an innovation such as TV in a Card was just waiting to happen, he says. “The emirate – where everything is possible – actually was the inspiration behind the card,” said Gibbs.
While dedication and hard work are the entrepreneur’s stock in trade, Gibbs’s final tip is well worth remembering if your path to glory sees you burning the midnight oil for the fifth night in a row. “Success is about working smart,” he says. “Lots of effort does not always mean lots of reward.”
www.tvinacard.com. Clients include Bentley motors, Flickr and Selfridges
3 Say thanks like an etiquette consultant
William Hanson, a tutor at the English Manner Middle East Academy
“A lot of people think that a thank you text, email, tweet or Facebook post is acceptable, but it is not,” says Hanson, author of the forthcoming book The Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette for the socially less fortunate. “A proper handwritten letter or card is far more the done thing and shows a greater level of appreciation for the hospitality or gift you have received.”
In order to write a meaningful thank you, Hanson points out that you first need to actually mean it. “One side of A5 is correct when saying thank you for a present or dinner,” he says. “Two sides is correct when thanking someone for a weekend stay.
“A thank you text is better than nothing, but it is not a fair pay-off for the effort the giver has gone to.”
The English Manner Middle East Academy was launched in the UAE in February 2013 and offers private tuition and training workshops in subjects such as social etiquette and household staff training. www.theenglishmanner.ae
4 Sizzle beef like a steakhouse chef
Paul de Visser, Executive Chef at Makhonya Company and former Executive Chef at Ruth’s Chris Middle East
“Most amateurs rush the cooking of their steaks,” says de Visser, “but you can improve things a lot by following a few guidelines.” His first trick is to get your frying pan to a medium-to-hot temperature. Next, season your steak with pepper and salt on both sides, add butter to the pan and let it turn golden brown.
“Place the steak in the pan and cook it on both sides for 1-2 minutes, depending on its thickness,” says de Visser. “Wait until the steak is golden brown.” Now comes the expert bit: “Take it out of the pan and place it in a pre-heated oven at 200°C for 3-4 minutes, turning halfway through. Then take it out and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.” De Visser says the importance of these steps cannot be overestimated as resting makes the steak more tender.
But it’s not over yet: “A few minutes before you serve the steak, place it back in the oven and warm it,” he says. As for which cut, de Visser says it’s all down to personal choice, but he advises that generally speaking, the thicker the better so that the steak doesn’t cook too quickly or dry out.
Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses can be found at The Address, Dubai Marina
5 Say ‘no’ like a CEO
Kai Peters, CEO of Ashridge Business School
“Saying no can be hard because we know we will disappoint someone,” says Peters, whose business school has been delivering integrated corporate education solutions for working professionals in the Middle East for the past 20 years. “We often end up not being clear and beating around the bush.” While he admits that a CEO’s seniority sometimes allows for a certain ‘end power’, more often than not “a CEO uses influence and balances competing priorities and challenges” when saying no.
“And to do that, he or she needs to think through a situation calmly and clearly.” Peters says that saying no should be a two-step process. First, clearly say the word itself – the dreaded ‘no’ – and then you must explain why. “Do this twice,” he says. Once when you’re initially turning them down and then again later, when the person has had time to digest the response and is thinking more clearly again.
If you’re looking for absolution, though, you’re out of luck. “I don’t think it’s possible to say ‘no’ without it leaving us feeling slightly bad,” Peters admits. “What really helps, though, is to think about why one is saying it – it is not out of ill will, but out of a need to progress the right projects in the best possible way.” www.ashridge.org.uk
6 Shoot like a pro-snapper
Duncan Chard, Dubai-based freelance photographer
“Most amateurs think that photography is all about the camera,” says Chard, who is well known in photography circles in the region. “But who’s ever stood in front of the Mona Lisa and asked what brand of brush did Da Vinci use? The camera’s just a tool.”
To get you into a new way of thinking, Chard suggests taking pictures… without a camera. “I know it sounds weird, but it’s all about teaching yourself how to see and to educate your subconscious mind to recognise the relevance in what you see. Look at the world and think, ‘What is it about this that is drawing my attention and why?’”
By building an appreciation of composition in your mind, you can start taking these mental pictures everywhere you go: once you’re better attuned to the world, pick up the camera. “It will make a dramatic difference to your shots,” says Chard. “Once you have a goal and vision, you then only need to figure out the technical elements: you’ll be controlling the camera instead of the camera controlling you.”
Chard’s final tip is to remember that photographers never stop learning. “It’s really all about understanding yourself as much as the world around you,” he says. “Every time I step into a bookstore or gallery I learn something from another photographer’s work; learning from others is just as crucial as learning about yourself.” www.duncanchard.com
7 Budget like a financial adviser
David Kuo, Motley Fool money expert
David Kuo, currently heading up the Singapore operations of The Motley Fool – a company that according to him “helps the world invest better” – has been preaching about proper budgeting for years and argues that whether you’re the chief financial officer of a company or plain old Joe and Jane Bloggs, a budget is your blueprint for “financial wellbeing” for the year.
“If you don’t know where you are and you don’t know where you’re going, how can you possibly know when you arrive?” he says.
A budget, he explains, is basically a roadmap of your expected income and expenses – and the difference between the former and the latter is your surplus. “Your biggest mistake is forgetting to stay on top of it.
“It’s not something you do once at the start of the year and then forget about for 12 months; you need to revisit your budget monthly, if not more regularly, to ensure you’ve not been overly optimistic about what you might be earning and spending.”
And, he says, you need to be ready to make minor tweaks to avoid nasty shocks later on. A rainy day fund should be a key part of any budget and should ideally be enough to cover six months’ of general expenses. “It’s also important to make adequate provision for long-term savings. You must make this money as inaccessible as possible.”
Finally, he asserts that budgets shouldn’t be a chore, but a delight. “Reward yourself if you hit your surpluses at the end of each month. Companies reward employees with bonuses, so you can do the same.” www.fool.com