Don’t chase the title, get up early, write: career and life lessons from IBM’s Jeremy Waite

I love Twitter. It connected me with so many clever people. Including Jeremy Waite, whose Ten Words I’ve recently reviewed. It inspired me and left me with many unanswered questions. I decided to reach out to Jeremy and chat to him. All about careers, personal projects, and passion.

It’s an autumny Thursday evening in London’s South Bank. Big Ben is under construction, London Eye stops welcoming tourists. I’m getting lost looking for the IBM’s headquarters. They are based between the National Theatre and the ITV. At least that’s what Google Maps tells me. I go all the way around, seeing a massive queue to one of the ITV shows. I somehow fail to find the main entrance to the Business Machines Corporation. But once I’m there, I get into the room full of artists, who are so forward thinking that they’re using artificial intelligence in their work. The event Jeremy Waite invited me has just started.

Read more about Watson on the IBM’s website

A couple of notes on my phone later, the event wraps up. I go and see Jeremy who has been not only actively participating in the event, and mentioned a couple of times in other panels, but has also had his keynote about Watson. Watson is a supercomputer that combines AI just to answer questions and make different processes much easier. Jeremy is an evangelist — he travels around “preaching” about this revolutionary technology.

AI and Watson are truly fascinating, but this is not why I wanted to talk to Jeremy. I wanted to really understand what drives him and how he managed to be so succesful in his career, being able to juggle personal projects with his busy life.

Ten Words in hundred days

We start talking about Ten Words. Jeremy tells me that his main motivation was to raise money for the NHS. “I’m not going to run a marathon, I’m not going to fundraise,” explains his first takes on the project. He also tells me about his projects from the past — book Sex, brands, and rock and roll, which landed him a job, but wasn’t as succesful as he expected. “It was quite disjointed and there was no rhythm to it,” critiques his own work Jeremy, emphasising that it was a collection of blog posts and it was “written in bursts,” rather than being a “cohesive piece of work.”

After that he realised that he’s not a writer that would be able to write a long piece. “All I ever do all the time is talk about people’s attention span being really short.” He also tells me about his friend Julia Jackson, aka Southern Monkey, who suggested him doing something in hundred days. Julia is part of the community on Instagram that posts themed pictures on a daily basis. Jeremy at the time has also read a book “The First 90 Days“. He goes into explaining how the first 90-100 days are important in the new job or project.

“On the 22nd of March, I had a blank sheet of paper and a legal pad.” Jeremy had an idea of compiling his favourite quotes from the people he spoke about during his keynotes and people who inspired him. He also tells me an anecdote about his old boss who used to say that “the coolest thing in the world is to have a really badass pen and a really cheap notebook.”

Starting from the March 22nd, Jeremy has been writing every day, ending up finishing the piece in 97 days. He has also been writing according to his short attention span, rather than in a traditional way of writing a book. Jeremy also tells me that within the first 15 days the process stopped being “I’m about to write a book,” and became “the labour of love” that was connected with Jeremy processing his favourite quotes and trying to make sense of them.

Jeremy reveals he was taking around 90 minutes to two hours a day to write. He would get up at 6AM and write for a while in the morning. When he was home in the evening, he tried to squeeze another hour to work on the book. “You’ll probably find, as you read 140 stories, that some of them are a lot more conversational and humorous than others. These were the ones done with a bit of whisky.”

During our conversation, he also mentions the accessibility and ease to become an author. He edited Ten Words in PowerPoint and self-published in through Lulu.com. He designed the cover page, too. “If anyone wants to write a book, it’s the easiest thing in the world.”

Taking vitamins, getting up early

I ask Jeremy how he found time to write a book and what piece of advice he would give to people that consider themselves “too busy” to pursue personal projects. Without hesitation, he tells me to “get up earlier.” Jeremy knew that he needed to find more hours in a day — he has twins and a full-time job. Apart from that, Jeremy also encourages exercise — he cycled every day during his hundred-day commitment — as well as taking vitamins and drinking water. I love how simple, yet powerful, his advice is. “It was just fitting the book around my routine,” he sums up.

The fitter you are, the more stuff you can get done.

Don’t chase the title

I nudge the conversation towards the careers. I want to know how Jeremy Waite has had such a succesful career and what advice he’d have for anyone my age. “I’ll give you the best piece of advice I ever received, but the best piece of career advice I had to figure out myself,” he starts off.

“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t have been fortunate to do things I’m doing now, had I not have gone through all the stuff. When I started out I was going to do maths and theology in college, and wanted to be investment banker. I then realised I didn’t want to do that.”

Jeremy tells me how at the beginning of his career he joined his father’s print and design agency, which later on turned into the brand consultancy. He admits that he went for this job, because he was allowed to get a big job title early on in his career. “I was concerned about what my CV and my title looks like, and partly there’s an ego attached to that, because I was young and stupid. But I see that now with kids all the time — they’re going for the title that looks good on LinkedIn.”

“I wish I would’ve gone and taken the smallest crappiest job in the best company,” retrospects IBM’s evangelist. “Don’t chase the title, go and work for the company that you love.”

Jeremy also mentions the advice he got from the management guru, Tom Peters, who says: ‘Hustle. Be prepared. Keep some clever research up your sleeve.’ Jeremy admits that “those three things have stood me well in every job I’ve ever had.” He talks about how having a clever piece of research in mind can make you stand out on every, even the most junior, level. “It’s not about technical knowledge, or even about experience. Sometimes it’s just about confidence and having that piece of research up your sleeve.”

It’s not about technical knowledge, or even about experience. Sometimes it’s just about confidence.

Write things down to make sense of them

I also ask Jeremy what advice he’d give to youngsters, who haven’t figured out what they want to do. “Write,” he says — again, without any hesitation. “I like the experience of sitting down with a gorgeous notebook and a really nice pen and just writing and creating stuff. The process of writing things down, trying to verbalise them in a way that your friend or your mum would understand, helps you make sense of stuff very quickly.”

Jeremy reveals that since 2003, he has been taking off half of every Friday — “just to hide in a hotel”. People who work with Jeremy know that they are not going to get him on email or on the phone. He has his notebook and his pen. He then gathers what he’s seen and read during the week. He goes through tweets he tagged, articles he bookmarked and added to Pocket, cuttings, slogans. “It’s a beautiful process of collating this knowledge together. It helps you to remember it, because you don’t write things to remember them later, you write things down to remember them now. The process of writing it down in a cohesive state, helps you make sense of it somewhere further down the line.”

Remix content and make it attractive for your audience

IBM’s evangelist encourages young people to blog, but he also advises not to worry about readership and following. “If you’re worried about putting your personality on a display, either make it a private blog, or stick it in a notebook or put it in Word and save it in a folder. But just have that creative outlet.”

Jeremy then tackles something that I personally struggled with and am sure many people starting out blogging do as well. “If your worry is that you can’t think of anything original to say — because you’re maybe too young or too unexperienced — you’re looking at it the wrong way.” He mentions the piece of advice he got from Gary Vaynerchuk (yes, I’m jealous, too), who told him that ‘Future belongs to DJs.’

“What Gary went on to say was your job is to repurpose existing material and put it in a language and a format that your audience understands and cares about,” explains Jeremy. He puts an emphasis on the fact that everyone has different views and perspectives and it’s beneficial to share them. “Remix stuff in a way that your audience loves,” remarks Jeremy.

If your worry is that you can’t think of anything original to say, you’re looking at it the wrong way.

Start with ‘How can I help you?’

I wrap up the meeting with Jeremy Waite asking for his one piece of advice to have a succesful career. Quoting Zig Ziglar, he says that ‘You can have everything in life you want, if you will help other people get what they want.‘ Jeremy says that people early on in their careers tend to care for themselves. The ones willing to help others will stand out. Jeremy concludes that he wouldn’t have been as succesful in his career if his starting point weren’t other people and helping them.

This has been hugely inspiring evening for me. First, hearing about AI, and then interviewing Jeremy. It has shown me that being kind and caring for others makes difference. Both in life and in career. Meeting Jeremy has also motivated me to undertake many side projects and showed that when you love what you do, you can really go far.

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Make sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter. Get inspired (and help the NHS!) by buying Ten Words. If you’re still hesitant, check my review of the book.

If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at] gmail.com, tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!

Author: Marcel Klebba

Junior Account Executive at M&C Saatchi PR. Working across the corporate & B2B accounts. Freshly graduated from the PR course at the University of Westminster. Interested in current affairs, tech, social and digital.

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