I first heard about the Canvas Strategy while listening to Ryan Holiday‘s audiobook Ego is the Enemy. It’s a great strategy (not a tactic) that will skyrocket your prospects (in the future) and knowledge, particularly if you’re new to a field.
Here’s what it really means:
Find and make canvases for other people to paint on.
The Roman’s had a loose word for the concept: anteambulo and it meant a person who cleared the path in front of their patron. If you can do that successfully, you secure a quick and educational power position.
It’s a different mindset than making other people look good, an approach that tends to imply a lot of ass kissing and ceding credit. Instead it’s finding the direction someone already intended to head and help them pack, freeing them up to focus on their strengths. The canvas strategy involves actively finding outlets for other people – in fact, actually making them better rather than simply looking so.
And here’s where people get it all wrong and think the strategy is the same as kissing ass:
- Instead of clearing the path they put the other person a pedestal (some morons have them step on their head) and become numb “yes” (wo)men
- Instead of finding outlets for other people they focus on getting their foot in the door so they can volunteer their way to prestige, position and power
- The focus is inwards (self) than outwards (others) — create a valuable proposition for oneself than the other person
- Only caring about the impact such an opportunity will have on their resume and LinkedIn profile views than education in the truest sense
If you’re wondering if there’s a way to know if you’re kissing it up or actually applying the canvas strategy, here’s a simple test:
Would you be okay if you don’t ever get credit, recognition and even a note of thanks for the patron you’re investing your valuable time?
If the answer is a “HELL NO” you know you’re kissing ass for your own good. That said, I wouldn’t want you to associate yourself with someone who’s a thankless moron. Instead, find people who’re happy, positive and influential in their field. I know from experience that these are the people who would give you enough opportunities to spread your wings and grow.
Embracing the strategy requires that you adopt the mindset of an intern with just one core responsibility:
… finding the direction someone already intended to head and help them pack, freeing them up to focus on their strengths. The canvas strategy involves actively finding outlets for other people – in fact, actually making them better rather than simply looking so.
And if you think if you’ve got better things to do than be someone’s servant consider this:
1. You’re not as good or important as you think you are (that realization hit me like a ton of bricks)
2. You have an attitude
3. What you’ve learned in books and school is either outdated or wrong
Finally, keep in mind the 3 keys to this outstanding strategy.
1) Find new trains of thought to hand over for them to explore. Track down angles and contradictions and analogies that they can use. Ex: I was reading the biography of ______, I think you should look at it because there may be something you can do with the imagery.
2) Find outlets, people, associations, and connections. Cross wires to create new sparks. Ex: I know _________, and I think you two should talk. Have you thought about meeting ____?
3) Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas. Ex: You don’t need to do ___________ anymore, I have an idea for improving the process, let me try it so you can worry about something else.
I know this strategy work. I’ve tried it myself! During the early 2000s (when Ryan was probably a kid) I interned for a tech company for free. My purpose was to pick up the hardcore skills (computer hardware and networking) that will help me build credibility in the market (I was 17) while also helping the owner (a budding entrepreneur) teach communicative English.
I supported myself by working for Pizza Hut part time during the day. Was it worth it? Hell, yes! What I do now doesn’t have anything to do with computer hardware or networking but it served me well to grow into the person I am today.
So, the strategy works for the ones who make it work. Kissing ass may help you secure a position of power but only for a little while. You see, there’s always someone else doing exactly what you did to attain that power. People are power-hungry. That’s human nature I guess. The only difference that this person is single-mindedly focused on throwing you off your seat. And once you’re down you can’t possibly get back up unless you play dirty. Why? Your ego’s hurt and you never took the time to learn the process.
So, what’s the freaking point?
Yes, the strategy calls for hard work. Think of this as hustle that’s much nobler. It calls for lots of patience and your sweat equity. Are you up for it? I’m not sure but if you are stop reading this and find and make canvases for others to paint on.