Career Success Advice from an Airline Pilot

As I”ve often said, I find ideas for this career success blog in a variety of places.  The other day I was flying from Denver to Des Moines.  At the end of the flight, the flight attendant came to me and handed me the First Officer’s – copilot in non airline speak — business card.  On the back, he had written…

Dear Dr. Bilanich:
As a frequent flyer with the new United Air Lines, welcome aboard and you thank you for your business.
Scott Gough

That was a surprise.  I fly a lot — and I’ve never had a Captain of First Officer send me a handwritten note thanking me for my business.  As you probably know, United and Continental merged to create a huge airline which they call the “new United.”  They’ve done some interesting branding – the airline is called United, but the logo is Continental’s.

First Oficer Gough’s note to me was part of that branding.  And it reminded me of Tweet 65 in my career advice book Success Tweets.  “A good personal brand highlights your uniqueness.  Be unconventional.  Break rules.”  Let’s talk about breaking some rules when it comes to your personal brand.

I love the movies.  I was really pleased when I was asked to review a book called The Big Picture: Essential Lessons for the Movies. Authors Kevin Coupe and Michael Sansolo do a great job of discussing the life and career success ideas in over 200 movies.  This is a very thoughtful book.

Kevin and Michael make some great points about career success that pop up in some unlikely movies.  For example, they use the movie Babe to make the point that it’s important to be different – and break some rules — if you want to get recognized and create the life and career success you deserve.  They point out that Babe the pig doesn’t act like a pig.  He is friendly and mannerly – characteristics not usually associated with pigs.  That’s why he succeeds.  And that’s great personal branding and career advice.  Creating and nurturing your unique personal brand is the first step in creating positive personal impact – an important key to life and career success.

Here’s some of what Kevin and Michael have to say about Babe…

“Babe is a simple story, but it contains an important lesson.  Think of how many businesses have stuck to the way things always are and completely missed the opportunity to become something entirely new, bigger and better.

“MTV didn’t invent video or records, but pulled them together in an entirely new cable channel.  CBS, in contrast, owned a television network and a record company, but missed the chance.”

I experienced a rule-breaking moment a couple of years ago.  I was in a local bookstore looking for a book on fitness.  As you can imagine, there was no shortage.  As I opened various books to check them out, I found Tamba Mbawa’s business card in every one of them.  I purchased a book and took it home.  When I got there, I went to Tamba’s website to see what he is about.  Not surprisingly, Tamba is a personal trainer and fitness coach.

I thought this was a great example of breaking the rules and personal brand building.  Tamba spent the time to go to a local Barnes and Noble and place his card in every one of the fitness books they have on the shelf.  He was getting his name in front of a very targeted audience: people who purchase books on fitness.  Pretty cool idea in my book.  And one that is a perfect manifestation of what Kevin and Michael have to say about breaking the rules to get recognized for your uniqueness.

When I first started blogging, my dad read a few of my posts and said, “You’re giving away some of your best ideas.  You shouldn’t do that.  You need to be selling your advice, not giving it away.”  At the time, content-rich blogs ran counter to the rule of jealously guarding your proprietary information.  I told my dad that I’m happy when people read my career advice blog and find ideas they can put to use.  More power to them.  I also told him that people who find my ideas helpful are more likely to look to me for career advice when they run up against a problem they can’t solve on their own.  I was breaking a rule to build my brand.

Interestingly, giving away solid, useful information is the new rule.  Ask any Internet marketer or marketing guru.  They will all tell you to build a relationship and establish credibility with your target audience by providing them with useful information at no cost.  Funny how things change.

George Bernard Shaw is my favorite playwright.  There is nothing so good as a well-performed Bernard Shaw play.  He also had a couple of interesting things to say about breaking rules…

“All great truths start out as blasphemies.”

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

So go ahead, break a few rules.  Be a little unreasonable.  Be unconventional, make your brand uniquely you.

One last story.  Tim McKernan had one of the most unique personal brands I have come across.  He was The Barrel Man.  You might say that Tim was a superfan of the Denver Broncos.  For 30 years in all kinds of weather, he attended every Bronco home game wearing nothing but an orange barrel with a Broncos logo, a cowboy hat and boots.

He wore his costume for the first time in 1977.  He had a $10 bet with his brother.  He bet that the costume would get him on TV.  He won that one, and was on TV every time the Broncos were for the next 30 years.  John Madden always mentioned him when he was doing a game in Denver.

Tim’s unique brand got him inducted into the Visa Hall of Fans at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He passed away in 2009.  He was in the stands for both of the Broncos’ Super Bowl victories.

You don’t have to go to the lengths Tim McKernan did when building your brand.  But I encourage you to think like Tim.  Being a little outrageous, like wearing only a barrel to football games in December in Denver, can help you stand out from the crowd and get recognized.

Scott Gough was being unconventional when he sent me a handwritten note thanking me for my business.  I thought that was pretty cool.  His actions certainly reinforce the new United’s brand of being customer friendly.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Successful people build personal brands that are unique.  Breaking a few rules is one way of building a unique brand.  By breaking the rules, I don’t mean doing something illegal or unethical.  I mean thinking outside of the box and not being constrained by conventional wisdom.  In the movie “Babe,” Babe the pig succeeds because he doesn’t act like a pig.  He is friendly and mannerly – characteristics not usually associated with pigs.  What rules are holding you back from building a great personal brand?  How can you break them to demonstrate your uniqueness?  Follow the career advice in Tweet 65 in Success Tweets.  “A good personal brand highlights your uniqueness.  Be unconventional.  Break rules.”  Don’t do anything that will land you in jail, or get you fired.  But think outside the box, find ways to create a Cherry Garcia brand, not one which is plain vanilla.  Think of new ways to combine ideas.  An iPod after all, is nothing more than a hard drive with a set of headphones.  Figure out how you can become the iPod in your work team.  Create a brand that shows how unique and fascinating you really are.

That’s my career advice on building your personal brand by breaking a few rules.  What do you think?  Please share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily thoughts on life and career success.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, please download a free copy of my popular career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained.  One is 140 bits of career advice, all in 140 characters or less.  The other is a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened a membership site on September 1.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  To celebrate the grand opening, I’m giving away a new career advice book I’ve written called I Want YOU…To Succeed in Your Corporate Climb. You can find out about the membership site and get the career advice in I Want YOU… for free by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.


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