I loved the scene in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities in which Judy explains to Campbell (aged 7) what Daddy does …

Judy: “Daddy doesn’t build roads or hospitals, and he doesn’t help build them, but he does handle the bonds for the people who raise the money.”
Campbell: “Bonds?”
Judy: “Yes. Just imagine that a bond is a slice of cake, and you didn’t bake the cake, but every time you hand somebody a slice of the cake a tiny little bit comes off, like a little crumb, and you can keep that.” Judy was smiling, and so was Campbell, who seemed to realize that this was a joke, a kind of fairy tale based on what her daddy did.
Campbell: “Little crumbs?” she said encouragingly.
Judy: “Yes. Or you have to imagine little crumbs, but a lot of little crumbs. If you pass around enough slices of cake, then pretty soon you have enough crumbs to make a gigantic cake.”

Now Sherman (the Master of The Universe) wasn’t too thrilled with this exchange. His rather testy exchange with his wife finishes with Judy saying:

“… (at least my work is) something real, something describable, something contributing to simple human satisfaction, no matter how meretricious and temporary; something you can at least explain to your children. I mean, at Pierce & Pierce, what on earth do you tell each other you do every day?”

Ouch! This all comes back to Positioning which I was musing on a while back. The phrase Mercedes Car in that piece generated gut responses varying from “silly, gas guzzling status symbol” to “beautiful, reliable and sets the standard.” An Hermès scarf was either “overpriced, middle-aged, suitable for label-junkies” or “opulent, elegant, fashionable and classic.”

The instant you describe yourself, you set off a cascade of images in the reader’s (or listener’s) head. You can’t know what the other person’s views are on Lawyers, Consultants, Surgeons, Cops, Journalists or Mercedes cars. So how do you ensure that their views (positive or negative) don’t mar your efforts in your working life?

Sam Goldwyn used to say that if you couldn’t write your idea for a movie on the back of a business card, you didn’t have a movie. Thus was born the Elevator Sales Pitch (“It’s Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman!” “Ghost meets The Manchurian Candidate!) Got an idea for a film in your head? Talked it through with your friends in the pub and they all think it’s going to be bigger than Titanic? Well, if you meet Steven Spielberg in a lift somewhere, I hope you can pitch it to him, fluently and coherently, in 30 seconds. Because that it all you will get.

And if you bump into Steve Jobs, Meg Whitman, Michael Dell or Fujio Cho, I sincerely hope that you have thoroughly thought through, and rehearsed, your positioning statement, your ‘exit story’ and the elevator sales pitch of exactly what you can do for them …