Every challenge is an opportunity, and I know that sounds like a cliché, but that’s where most new industries, or new companies, or new successes, come from. (It) is when someone picks a new challenge and says, “How do I do that differently than what other people are doing?” ’

— Jeff Haden,
Contributing editor,
Inc. magazine

Speaker reinvented himself,
wants papers to do the same

By Jess DeWitt
Bulletin Staff

Looking at old problems in new ways is one of the keys to being innovative, according to Jeff Haden, a freelance writer and contributing editor for Inc. magazine.

Haden will be a speaker at the New England Newspaper and Press Association winter convention, which is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 23, and Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel in South Boston.

He plans to make innovation the theme of his speech, because it has helped him navigate his way through numerous industries during his career. He has written for numerous publications, including Time magazine and Business Insider. He also has a book, “The Motivation Myth,” coming out this year.

Haden has spent his career thinking innovatively and wants to express how important it is to tackle problems with that mindset.

“Every challenge is an opportunity, and I know that sounds like a cliché, but that’s where most new industries, or new companies, or new successes, come from. (It) is when someone picks a new challenge and says, ‘How do I do that differently than what other people are doing?’ ” Haden said. “So the opportunities are there, and so my goal with it is to get people (to) take a step back and say, ‘You know (that) we can do this, we can figure some of this out, we can take ourselves to new places if we want to; we just have to try.”

Haden loves newspapers, and part of the reason he is looking forward to the convention is how many people in the newspaper industry he will get to speak with.

But he said those in the newspaper industry need to think more innovatively.

That same mindset guided Haden in turning a 20-year career in the manufacturing industry into a career as a freelance writer, a field in which he had no prior experience.

Haden worked his way through college. When he graduated, he applied for jobs at manufacturing plants. He was hired by one that opened in his town as a materials handler, or as he described it, “mostly just manual labor.”

“I worked my way up and became a supervisor, then a manager, and worked in all kinds of different operational and administrative type of roles, and eventually got a job somewhere else where I ran a plant, and really liked it,” Haden said.

Despite enjoying the job of running a plant, Haden eventually began looking for something new in his career, which prompted him to “reinvent” himself.

“I wanted to write, which meant I had to start at the bottom. I had no writing skills except what I had written for work, but that’s what I wanted to do,” Haden said.

The career change would require innovative thinking on Haden’s part, and he was able to find a way into the field. He began ghostwriting for people or “writing material that other people were putting their names on,” because that was all he could get paid to do at first.

“I had this background in business, management, and leadership, all of that experience,” Haden said. “I was writing in that area and my advantage was that the people I was writing for could talk to me shorthanded. They didn’t have to teach me anything. I had been there, done that, and probably messed it up one time along the way, so I understood.”

The mindset Haden had when becoming a writer is the same mindset he said newspapers should have when trying to adapt for the future.

“I really just took the strengths I had and applied them to something different, which is I think what any smart business and what the newspaper industry should be looking at,” he said. “We (newspapers) have things we have to improve and do differently, but also, what are our strengths? What do we do really well? And how do we apply that in a new way to the environment we have so that our business model continues?”

Haden thinks that could be simpler than people realize.

“That doesn’t mean the operation side. That just means informing people, sometimes it’s entertaining people, connecting with the community, whatever those things are that the newspaper people feel that they do really well, whatever those outcomes are. So then how do we just apply those strengths to the changing environment and to the media landscape?” Haden said. “They don’t have to become something brand new. They just have to take what they’re really good at and say, ‘OK, how do we apply that to the new media landscape?’ Because good stories will always be good stories.”

Being a successful product of innovative thinking, Haden wants to encourage more people to go about their careers with that mindset.

“I am a good example of how, if you’re willing to work hard and try, lots of things are possible. If an average guy like me can do that, then imagine what people who actually have talent (and) skill can do.” Haden joked.

Haden is Inc. Magazine’s most read columnist, and is a LinkedIn Influencer.

“That is the only time in my life that I will be on the same list with Bill Gates and Richard Branson and people like that,” Haden quipped.

Haden’s success is part of what inspired him to write “The Motivation Myth.”

“My book is basically about achieving really big goals and how you find the motivation to stay the course, how you persevere, how you actually set your goals and figure out what you want to achieve,” Haden said. “So if there are things you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t, here’s a way to do so.”

Haden will present a session before his speech on how to get a book published.

His speech is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23. His session on the book publishing process is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.