If you don’t already know the name Christopher Penn, I demand that you stop what you’re doing (well, after you read this blog post) and venture off to meet him.
He is, hands down, one of the top five smartest people I know.
But, until about two months ago, he was among the smartest people I was dying to meet.
And then it happened.
I was in Boston for INBOUND and he, Chel Wolverton (whom I adore and will make her debut as an inquisitee soon), Laura Petrolino, and I had dinner together.
He’s not only one of the smartest people I know, he’s that really nerdy, analytical smart that I LOVE (I mean, look how he answers the 10 years question). I could talk to him all day.
He was telling us a story of how his daughter has figured out how to reverse engineer an iPhone passcode so she can break in.
I looked at him and said, “She’s your kid. You really shouldn’t be surprised.”
Super smart, super charming, and lots of fun to be around.
That’s why I asked him to sit on the Spin Sucks Inquisition hot seat.
What is the Biggest Mistake You’ve Made in Your Career?
Believing in certainty.
I believed, with certainty, as a senior in high school that I would go into medicine.
I believed, with certainty, as I entered graduate school that I would be in IT as my career.
I believed, with certainty, that a company I worked for back in 2003 would be where I’d retire.
There is no certainty of any kind.
Learning that lesson has also been incredibly freeing; because everything is uncertain, I’m not as surprised or disappointed when things don’t work out.
It also means that when things are good, you learn to enjoy them, because times will change eventually.
What is One Thing about Yourself that Would Surprise Most People?
Most people, defined as people who are not actual real life friends: I’ve been studying ninjutsu—the martial art of the ancient Japanese warrior families known as the ninja—for more than 20 years.
A lot of people love to throw around the term ninja, but have never set foot in a dojo.
I’ve been training since 1993, got my first degree black belt in 2004, and learn something every time I train.
It’s the foundation of what I consider one of my strengths—the ability to see things differently.
If You Could Achieve Everything You Ever Wanted in Life, but Had to Die 10 Years Sooner, Would You Make that Trade?
What are the last 10 years?
If I’m fully competent and healthy, then those 10 years would be a loss.
If I’m not, then sacrificing them might make sense.
You can’t answer that question without more data or more clarity on the assumptions.
What Industry Advice or Practice Would You Most Like to Cry Foul On?
A venture capitalist said this the other day: The benefits of PR are silent and immeasurable. That’s simply untrue. The benefits are measurable. Everything is measurable. The question really is, what is worth measuring?
The other practice?
I have a modest little blog that accrues only a few thousand visitors a month.
The pitches I get from other PR professionals are WILDLY off target, and it’s abundantly clear they did nothing other than build a list in the software of their choice, insert a bad template, and hit send to a few thousand folks.
Individual outreach unquestionably takes lots more time and effort, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of identifying influencers, use that information sensibly.
What is the Best Book You’ve Read in the Past Six Months?
Depends on what you define as best.
I read all of Game of Thrones in the last six months, and that was interesting.
In terms of books I’d actively recommend to other people, I just finished Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, which was worthy and insightful.
Why Does Spin Suck?
Spin doesn’t suck.
How’s that for contrary?
Spin is a tool. Spin is like a hammer, a wine, or a car.
If you use it improperly, if you have no idea what you’re doing, if you’re just doing stuff without understanding why or not caring about the big picture, then you’re going to generate bad results.
You can ruin a very expensive wine by storing it wrong or serving it with the wrong food.
You can sour it fairly easily.
You can drive a car into a wall.
You can hit various parts of your body with a hammer, through neglect or insanity.
Does that mean these things are bad?
You may be bad at them, but they have no inherent value one way or another.
Spin, which I’m defining here as PR for the purposes of changing perception from an obvious surface interpretation, is the same.
You can use it well or poorly, you can use it to change perception of an unethical client to temporarily be an ethical perception, or vice versa.
That said, there are far more cases of bad practitioners using it for nefarious means than there are skillful practitioners who use it well—or you just don’t hear about them, because their efforts just seem to make logical sense.
Where You Can Find Christopher Penn
Unlike the digital marketing ninjas, Christopher Penn is the real deal. But, like the digital marketing ninjas, he can be found almost everywhere online…he just manages his networks better than most.
You can stalk him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Slideshare, Flickr, Instagram, Marketing Over Coffee (his podcast with John Wall), his blog—Awaken Your Superhero, or download his book—Marketing White Belt—on your Kindle.
ALSO! If you are interested in working with him and his team (unless you work with me…then you’re off limits), SHIFT is always looking for people in their San Francisco, Boston, and New York offices. Check out more here.
Photo credit: From my phone…my goal is to get him to smile in just one photo with me sometime in this lifetime.