Basket_of_headaches Early in the history of Young Isaac,
I called three top competitors. They were running large, successful
firms. I wanted to ask them a few questions. The three were Matt Wilson of SBC Advertising, Nancy Kramer of Resource Interactive and Myron Leff of BSB/Leff & Squicciarini, which had recently merged with the national giant Backer Spielvogel Bates.

I wondered if they would give me, a small competitor, the time of
day. A delightful surprise: each of them opened their calendars to me.
All three meetings ran as long as I had questions. And they offered the
most sincere, frankest answers they could.

I’m still grateful for their professional kindness. It demonstrated that there is honor among advertising people.

At the time, I still couldn’t understand why they were so generous
with their time. Why would they help a fledgling upstart? A teacher
suggested: "Their motivation is not simply that they want to help you
solve your problems. They are also motivated because everyone has the
same problems. So they want to see how you, a smart person, are solving their problems." I think that’s right. And I think they were being simply kind.

The Second Best Lesson Learned
Like many businesspeople, I
thought that my biggest challenge was the size of my company. If we
were smaller, I wondered, we would have lower overhead and would have
more courage. If we were bigger, we could compete for bigger business.

So I asked Myron Leff, "Should Young Isaac get big or get small?

Myron taught me:

Right now you are holding a
basket of headaches. They are the basket of headaches that every small
business owner holds. I can tell that you have learned how to deal with
those headaches pretty well, because you are still here.

You are asking me if you can put that basket of headaches down and
walk away from it. You can. But the moment you drop that basket [he opens his left hand], you will find you are carrying another basket [he holds up his right hand, as if carrying a basket]. And this will be a basket of entirely different headaches."

The question isn’t, "Can I put down this basket of headaches?"

The question is, "Which basket of headaches would you rather carry?" Because you will always carry a basket of headaches.

To this day, this is excellent insight.

The best lesson learned?
Call the competitors you most admire. They know plenty.

They might be willing to share your headaches for an hour.