Learn From Leaders With Adam Najberg
Global Head of Content, Alibaba Group
Former Global Director of Communications, DJI
Former Digital Editor of Asia, The Wall Street Journal
A specialist in corporate communications, crisis public relations, messaging, content, IPOs, digital marketing, owned and paid social media strategy, operations and transformation. He has over 25 years in the news and digital-media business, and – as a polyglot – can wear multiple hats and work anywhere. He is also a podcast specialist, including edits, and can shoot and edit video, serving as EP on three documentaries.
Five Questions With Adam
Q1: How did you get where you are today?
Partly by luck and partly out of necessity.
I never really wanted to be anything else, except a baseball player for the New York Yankees, or first violinist for the New York Philharmonic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t good enough at either one to realistically get there.
But I always loved to write and tell stories, and that’s what I did— I was a storyteller and a journalist for 25 years, transitioned from news wire to newspaper to digital to video to storytelling and content.
Then reality set in: I was married, I had two children getting ready for university and I needed to be able to pay for it. So I found a really great job with a really great company in China—the world’s largest consumer drone company.
After a couple years there, I moved over to where I am right now. What I do is adjacent to what I used to do—communications and content are really sort of the flip side of journalism.
Q2: Something you’ve changed your mind about in your career
I used to call communications the dark side, and PR people were the devil’s spawn. For me, [PR] was always about spinning and borderline lying. But that is absolutely not the case.
You have some incredibly talented storytellers here, and they’re not just spinning. As a journalist, you’re taught to doubt everything you see around you. Counter to that is to make things as vivid and colorful and interesting as possible about what companies and individuals are doing.
Some of the best stories that I’ve seen and been able to tell have been on this side of the fence, as opposed to the other. On the PR side, you’re trying to build relationships and tell your stories in spite of the media, not always through it.
Q3: One habit that has the most impact on your life
Discipline. Founders are visionaries, but the ones who succeed work incredibly hard.
Everyone has ideas, but until you schedule time for it and follow through and make it happen, it will not happen. For me, I like to do my own writing. I would spend four nights a week from 10pm to midnight or 1am, and write 1500 to 2500 words four nights a week. Then, I would take one night to reflect on what I had written during the week. I would take two nights off to be with the family, and just chill, and clear my brain and go back to it. And I’ve written two books.
Q4: One piece of advice for entrepreneurs in your industry
Tell your own story in your own way, with full-throated explanations of what you have done to be successful.
You don’t need a Mullah necessarily to tell the market and the world who you are, what you do and why you’re doing it. Nobody can tell your story better than you can. You should take every opportunity to do that—to have your voice out there and your story out there and your legend out there without the media filter.
Q5: One important truth that few people agree with you on?
The luck factor—it’s not always being the smartest guy in the room that makes you the winner.
There’s only so much tangible out there that you can do to line up your own success. You follow all the rules and you could still be mediocre or fail.
There’s not always blind luck. The more people you know and the more people who know about you, the better networked you are in the world, the more that you’ve gotten your message out there, the better chance that some luck will happen for you.
What you have to do is you have to keep believing and trust and keep driving ahead, but accept the fact that sometimes things are just beyond your control and you need a little bit of luck.
Bonus: WHAT BOOKS DO YOU RECOMMEND FOUNDERS TO READ?
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
I read it when I was 20 years old. It just opened my eyes up about capitalism: the notion that there are a few people who are visionary in any society, and those are the ones who should be respected and revered for their innovation and ingenuity.
Then I lived life. I went through from age 22 into my 30s. I felt like if all the people who had as much as they have could share it, then we wouldn’t have poverty, we wouldn’t have blindness in a lot of cases, we wouldn’t have hunger, maybe we would have more peace.
When I was 40 years old, I read Atlas Shrugged again. It was not the same book I remembered! Everything was the same with the characters, but my perspective in reading it had completely changed. I was shocked at how solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short our lives were made to look like if you were not one of the few people who had a brilliant idea. It was this almost what I want to call ‘entrepreneurial elitism.’