It might seem like getting to the top in a given industry requires a deep and thorough understanding of that particular industry. And while that undoubtedly helps, it’s often the most basic tricks that can help you identify unconventional solutions and workarounds that others miss. It’s these tricks that can be applied to any industry, regardless of nuances.
David Reiss, who has built an impressive career as an entrepreneur, marketing consultant, business owner, writer, teacher, speaker, and more, says the secret to success in any industry lies in being able to think uniquely. Not one to remain stagnant for long, Reiss has cycled through dozens of industries. No matter the field, others often believe he’s been working in it for his entire life because of the ease with which he manages each transition.
Reiss credits this success to asking a lot of questions and looking in places that others tend not to. He thinks of himself as a “creative thinker,” and comments that many people are “spreadsheet thinkers.” “Spreadsheet thinkers don’t know how to think outside of the cell, row, or column they’re in,” Reiss says. “They’re limited in what they can see and how they can think.”
If you’re interested in pivoting industries, or even just in getting better at your current industry, one of Reiss’ biggest tips is to look at things carefully. “It’s simple. Find the issues that need attention and develop solutions,” he notes. When a warehouse was struggling with low productivity, Reiss increased productivity by 4 times by slowly turning up the speed at which conveyors were moving. . He found that if the speed was turned up slowly enough (it was done over a two-month period), the workers wouldn’t notice and efficiency would increase. “It’s just the way I see the world,” Reiss explains.
Reiss also notes that it’s important to understand how you grow in an industry. When he worked in entertainment journalism, he first got in by writing articles on writers, producers, and directors who never got the spotlight. He traveled ceaselessly from one movie and television set to the next, interviewing people until he eventually worked his way up to high-profile celebrities and the red carpet. Though this job wasn’t fulfilling for Reiss in the long term, he gained considerable experience. “Find a way to break in and go for it,” he urges.
Understanding how others think, and the psychology behind decisions is also key. As a double major in psychology and anthropology, Reiss understands people. He cautions that even something as straightforward as asking a question can produce a drastically different result depending on your wording. As an example, he cites this interaction between a priest and a bishop:
Q: “Your eminence, do you mind if I smoke while I pray?”
A: “No, praying is a sacrament. I forbid it.”
Q: “Your eminence, do you mind if I pray while I smoke?”
A: “Oh, go right ahead.”
The phrasing of a question can go a long way toward changing how someone reacts and responds. Even in an interview, how you ask a question can significantly affect how well you get to know your potential candidate. If you want to get the truth, you can’t ask the typical questions. For instance, “What are your weaknesses?” will only elicit a premade list of weaknesses that have some type of positive spin: “I work too hard,” “I’m a perfectionist,” “I don’t know when to quit,” and more. But if you ask someone, “If I call your references, which of course I will, what will they say your weaknesses are?” the answer is suddenly different. The truth comes out.
Reiss has built a lot of companies on his own, and in every case, he has managed to find creative solutions that have taken him to the next level. “I’ve made mistakes, and of course I wish I could’ve looked back earlier and known what to do differently,” Reiss says. But every experience has taught him something new, and most importantly, has reinforced his belief in not having fear as he pursues his passions.
“Fear is not a word I understand. Believe that you can accomplish anything, and you will.”