Tim Gunn from 'Project Runway' Shares the Secrets to 'Making It Work' at Work

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In Tim Gunn's recently released book, 'Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Lessons for Making it Work,' Gunn reveals stories of the fashion world's greatest divas and dirt on 'Project Runway' contestants and judges. The book outlines 18 rules for how to succeed in life and touches on the importance of good manners and hard work as a means for getting ahead. Throughout the book Gunn weaves sage advice on life and gives his readers plenty of career "don'ts."

Here are some of my favorite "Gunn-isms" coupled with career advice inspired by Gunn himself.


Make it Work

This has been Gunn's catchphrase on 'Project Runway' for years. It's his reminder to the designers that they need to find solutions to their fashion dilemmas before they run out of time in the episode's fashion challenge. In the book, Gunn recalls helping a contestant thread a sewing machine and getting called out by the producer for doing so. He realized he had to let the contestant struggle with the task in order to remain impartial and keep the competition fair. The contestant had to make it work without the help of others.

Career lesson

Not every work situation is perfect; sometimes you will be thrown into situations that seem overwhelming at first. Push through and try to embrace change rather than quitting. In other words, make it work.


The World Owes You Nothing

Gunn discusses the huge sense of entitlement that prevails in the fashion industry and shares some choice tidbits about designers behaving badly. He shares tales of a world-renowned designer making outlandish demands in a restaurant and another designer who is carried down five flights of stairs following a fashion show because she hates elevators.

Career lesson

Showing up at work doesn't mean you will be the employee selected for the next promotion. The notion that putting in the time leads to better positions and bigger bucks is generally a myth. Being at a certain professional level in an organization doesn't ensure that you will be there forever or that people will bend over backwards for you.


Take the High Road

Gunn reveals situations where 'Project Runway' contestants accuse each other of copying their designs. In the end, the contestants that take the high road and choose to concentrate on their work fare better than the designers who are busy pointing fingers.

Career lesson

If you are concerned that someone at work is stealing your ideas or taking advantage of the work relationship in some other way, take the high road. Keep your integrity and try to get out of the situation as soon as possible without burning bridges because you never know when you will need those bridges again.


Don't Abuse Your Power or Surrender It

Gunn has quite a bit to say about bad bosses and the impact they have had on him in his lifetime. He dishes on a top producer that made people work on a 120-degree set and a top TV personality who banned Diet Coke from the set of her show.

Career lesson

Bosses should be realistic regarding the demands they place on their employees, and they should be cognizant of the impact of poor working conditions. In addition, they need to be clear about expectations and rules so employees know when there is a performance issue. When expectations are not met there should be logical consequences.


Get Inspired if it Kills You

Gunn remembers working with design students who claimed they couldn't find inspiration for their designs. He says you can find design inspiration in everything -- movies, museums, books, theater, or even a quick glimpse outside your window.

Career lesson

If you lack inspiration for your work, there will always be others around you who are working hard and pushing themselves. As Gunn says, "If you don't keep up, it doesn't matter how advanced you were when the race started -- you are not going to win it."


Physical Comfort is Overrated

Gunn thinks that the concept of comfortable clothes, dress-down offices, and casual Fridays is totally overrated. He believes that if you are in clothes that are as comfortable as your pajamas, you can't be engaged in the world of work the way you need to be. He talks about mothers who have impeccably dressed children but take little to no care in dressing themselves. He notes, "If you see your family as a brand, are you not a brand ambassador?"

Career lesson

The way you choose to dress sends a message to others and it is an integral part of your professional brand. Remember that the next time you reach for a pair of sweatpants.


Use Technology; Don't Let it Use You

Gunn makes some great points about technology and how some people hide behind technology to take care of things that should be taken care of in person. His rules include, "You can promote an employee via e-mail, but you can't fire him," and "You can ask someone out by e-mail, but you can't break up with her."

Career lesson

Technology can be leveraged to help employees complete certain tasks smarter, faster, and more efficiently. But it is not the right medium for every task. Certain transactions require a personal touch. Your fingers can't always do the walking when you are trying to build meaningful and trusting relationships. Sometimes it's better to pick up the phone or meet face to face.


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