Here is the third and final installment in this video series which seeks to dig into the success of the world famous artist, Thomas Kinkaide. I hope you find it illuminating.
Here is the third and final installment in this video series which seeks to dig into the success of the world famous artist, Thomas Kinkaide. I hope you find it illuminating.
Success leaves clues.
For that reason, I've long been interested in studying individuals who have managed to make something of their lives and contribute value in this big complicated world. Whether it's historical figures or contemporary business celebrities, I never tire of digging into their lives and decisions to see what can be gleaned.
But one thing always brings me up short: the why behind the what.
It's one thing to read about a decision someone made, but it's another entirely to understand why they made that decision, and just how they knew to make that particular choice.
The question I often find myself asking is, "How did they know to do THAT!?"
Recently, I was reading about the Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, and how he pushed the concept of Whispernet through his organization so that when they released the Kindle e-reader, the device would be instantly connected anywhere and ready to immediately download a new book purchase. Only through much pain and expense was Bezos able to make this happen. How, I wondered, did he know to press so hard for its implementation, when it appears that nearly his whole staff was opposed to the idea? With everyone against his revolutionary concept, which some warned could swamp the entire company, Bezos mercilessly forced it through.
For wouldn't you know it, Whispernet and the possibility of instant book purchases was the very idea that broke the dam of resistance on the part of the big publishers and convinced them to invest the money required to digitize large quantities of their physically published book titles.
Bezos had made the right choice. He's a smart guy, brilliant really, and that's just how things work. Super intelligent egg-head types make fantastic decisions and that's why they win.
Not so fast.
Because if you study further, with a more scrutinizing eye, you'll quickly discover that the brilliant people of the world are no more clairvoyant than the rest of us. In fact, they don't see around corners any better than anyone else. What you really find out is that they don't predict the future as much as they create it.
Decision making, while important, is not the key. Instead, it's the mindset they're in when they make the decisions that counts. Because, and here's an important point: it's not so much that we make the right decisions, but rather that we make decisions and then work to make them right.
This requires the right mindset, what we'll call the "Mindset of a Champion."
Where does this mindset come from?
I was given a clue to this answer in an interview I read of one of Jeff Bezos's high school girlfriends. In it she stated that the reason Bezos was building such a huge company wasn't for any of the reasons Wall Street was measuring, but rather for the purpose of "getting to outer space."
Yep, apparently Jeff Bezos has had the dream since boyhood of exploring outer space and even colonizing Mars. His purpose seems to be way beyond selling books, launching a successful startup, or dominating the internet. Behind all of his successes (which have eclipsed the mere sale of books, by the way, including big data and cloud computing, and now involves even the concept of drones delivering packages to individual addresses), lies an enormously outsized dream to do what no one has done before.
And here lies the real key to his success.
It's not Bezos's poignat decision making per se, but rather what lies behind those decisions. It's the Mindset of a Champion, guided and driven by an over-arching dream and vision so big that most people can't even relate.
This dream evokes a passion, and that passion drives the decisions, good or bad, so that even if a decision isn't exactly the "right" one, it is quickly learned from and immediately used to inform the next decision to be made.
In this way we can see how it works for the wildly successful. They are visionaries and dreamers and feel the magnetic pull of what should be, so strongly, that the passion pushes them through all manner of proper and improper choices, each one course-correcting and aiming ever more effectively at the ultimate target.
This way of living could be no more different from the life of the "average" person who occupies the days of his or her life with television, sports, earning a basic wage, and living for the weekend. The Jeff Bezos's of the world don't live for the weekend, they're preparing for the world's end. The scope is so different it's nearly incomprehensible.
And so we see the real secret of outlandish success: a powerful vision of what can and should be.
This provides the passion . . .
that drives the decisions . . .
that makes those decisions right . . .
And by the way, Bezos's space company Blue Origin is already well on its way toward accomplishing his dream of "getting to outer space!"
Rock on, Jeff!
Author Paul Johnson wrote, “How do we recognize the heroes and heroines of today?
First, by absolute independence of mind, which springs from the ability to think everything through for yourself, and to treat whatever is the current consensus on any issue with skepticism.
Second, having made up your mind independently, to act – resolutely and consistently.
Third, to ignore or reject everything the media throws at you, provided you remain convinced you are doing right.
Finally, to act with personal courage at all times, regardless of consequences to yourself.”
Freedom means different things to different people. Just hearing the word can evoke images of Americana, political rallies, partisanship, hotly debated issues, and harsh feelings. It can also call up warm stirrings of apple pie and Fourth of July celebrations. But I believe the concept of freedom is well embodied in Paul Johnson’s quote above. For what is freedom if it is not felt at the individual level? And in exercising those four traits any individual would be living at a very high level of freedom indeed. But even more than how freedom is received, those four traits of a hero may be a huge key to how freedom is preserved. I would suggest that free societies can only result from, and be maintained by, such people.
Not everyone, though, will be such a person. From Sturgeon’s Law (as recently written about in Orrin Woodward and Oliver DeMille’s latest best seller Leadershift), we know not to expect more than maybe 10%. As Peter Shift said in a recent radio interview with Oliver DeMille, “that may even be very optimistic.” But we don’t need everyone. We only need some . . .
Some who will think independently and decide on real issues for themselves.
Some who will act resolutely and consistently with those thoughts.
Some who will ignore and reject the “official story” and the programming of the agenda-laden media.
And finally, some who will act with personal courage regardless of the cost.
Freedom allows this type of living, but it also requires it.
Will you be a hero?
(This article kicks off a planned series of installments to be taken from a talk I gave on a recent book signing tour with Orrin Woodward through the central United States. Of course, this good intention could be thwarted by any number of distractions, including but not limited to national emergencies, flash flood conditions at Lake Gaston, manuscript publication deadlines, leadership conference preparation, and possibly even lunch. The reader’s patience, as always, is a necessary quality for participation in this blog, and of course, is greatly appreciated.)
In A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation, I wrote about the accidental joy that resulted from poor Internet and cell phone connections. "Going dark" electronically was one of the biggest blessings of our "radical sabbatical."
This topic seems to be gaining more and more momentum, as people everywhere are waking up to the danger of non-stop connection. Just because technology can do something doesn't necessarily mean it should - at least - not all the time.
In strategy + business, a recent article by professor Henry Mintzberg and Dean Peter Todd considers the concept from the perspective of effective management. One of the most poignant excerpts from the article is:
Indeed, managers who are in touch only through their keyboard are out of touch with the vast world beyond it. They risk substituting breadth for depth. Recent research shows that we may have more connections today, but fewer relationships.
Here is the article, with some questions for you below:
Do you ever disconnect, even for just a few minutes? Think about the last time you used your “off button.” Was it at home over the weekend? On vacation? Or were you at the office? BlackBerrys, iPhones, Androids, iPads, and all their digital relatives are transforming our lives — for better and for worse. They are also changing the nature of how and when (and where) work gets done.
This new reality has profound implications for management, although studies on the topic have been surprisingly limited. We know that managers at all levels spend at least half their time collecting, receiving, and disseminating information. New technologies have extended the speed and breadth of this communication across vast distances. Yet studies going back a half century and more (long before e-mail) have made it clear that managing is characterized by high levels of variety, brevity, fragmentation, and, perhaps most significantly, interruption. Often to managers’ detriment, their attention is frequently diverted from one activity to another in their attempts to reconcile conflicting demands. The first of these studies, carried out by Sune Carlson and involving managing directors in Sweden in the late 1940s ― when the first computer was developed ― found that managers were inundated with reports. If they only knew what was to come.
Mobile computing seems to help managers cope with these distractions effectively. Smartphones, for instance, allow them to attend to the variety of demands on their time and leverage brief moments between interruptions to complete minor tasks. But new technologies can also have unintended negative and harassing effects; managers need to understand the dangers of an overreliance on electronic communication.
(Click here for the rest of the article).
Thank you to strategy + business for contacting me with this article.
Have you noticed an increase in electronic interruption in your life over the past ten years or so?
Do you notice an erosion of your creativity and clarity when inundated with electronic connections?
How do you control the "urgent" vs. the "important?"
Thanks for reading!
Just the other day, my wife Terri was in a place where for no apparent reason she was forced to take a new number and begin her wait anew, without any explanation or apology. When she finally got to the counter she was greeted with an artificial urn labeled, “Ashes of Trouble Customers.” Nice. (Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, it was actually a government office and not a bona fide business, but we’ll leave that huge topic for a future post.)
Every now and then, however, someone surprises us. When it happens, it’s as refreshing as the sunshine after a cold rain.
Observe Exhibit A: our family cocoon packed into a small minivan traveling sleepily through rush hour traffic in Rome. Scooters zip by on all sides, cars dart in and out, horns blare, and pedestrians play chicken with cars by avoiding eye contact. After three hours of hazard-avoidance, our quota is used up and we collide noisily with a passing scooter (see previous post for details). Since the incident occurred on a busy street directly in front of our destination hotel, I suggested Terri take our kids inside to safety. Within moments, I became vaguely aware of hotel employees in black uniforms extracting the baggage from our damaged vehicle. Next I looked up to see one of them bringing me a bottle of water with two fancy drinking glasses. Soon, the general manager of the hotel was standing next to me, comforting me, advising me, and reassuring me that he would provide assistance to help my with any language barrier issues.
After several hours of cleanup and paperwork, we were ushered to the hotel’s courtyard where our children were comfortably seated and being pampered by the hotel staff. We were offered drinks and informed that we had already been checked into our rooms. As a final exclamation point, I was informed that the hotel would additionally be changing my flat tire for me. “Prego, prego, we insist!” I was told.
The hotel in question? The Hotel Forty Seven. The general manager? Paolo Dalle Vacche. The employee who brought me the water and took care of my children? Piero Galli. The man who changed my tire? Valentino. I mention them all here because they deserve worldwide recognition for putting into implementation what most people only talk about – world-class customer service. Thank you gentlemen! Grazie mille!
So, do you think I’ll stay at the Forty Seven upon my next visit to Rome? Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.
When it comes to you and what you do for a living, here are a couple things to think about when attempting to provide true customer service:
This list is by no means exhaustive, but you get the idea. Can you imagine what the world would be like if companies absorbed just these five lessons deeply into their operating psyche?
All of this makes me wonder why more companies don’t get it - why they don’t truly implement the high-sounding platitudes and pronouncements that litter their flashy brochures and walls.
I have two questions for you, dear readers:
(Please share your responses in the comment section below. I want to hear them!)
Thanks for participating!
I am excited to introduce the following article contributed exclusively to readers of this blog by Jason Monaghan from the University of Notre Dame Executive Online Education program. For a look at the ad in question, click here.
Every year when I watch the Super Bowl, it amazes me how creative organizations can be in delivering their message. One of the best ads this year (in my humble opinion) is the VW Ad featuring a dog who yearns to experience the new VW Bug. The level of creativity is startling – especially given the success of their ad from last year – and it led me to think about how an effective leadership team must be just as creative on a daily basis.
Here are a few takeaways I thought of from one of 2012’s top Super Bowl commercial contenders:
Every “old dog” has the chance to learn new tricks. Truly effective leaders are constantly courting change. What changes they can't find, they invent, and they stick to their vision no matter what. As soon as you resist change because it would involve giving up “what you know,” you are stifling the chance for development.
Times change – be ready. Be prepared to adjust to opportunities as they emerge. Whether that means staying in shape physically or emotionally, or even pursuing extra education – like a leadership certification or an advanced degree – being in prime shape is critical. Who do you want to be, the overweight dog that can't get through the door once opportunity comes knocking, or the one who is lean and mean, ready to chase that new opportunity?
Take a risk. Effective leadership means constantly striving and reaching for new angles. VW had arguably the best Super Bowl ad in 2011 – and they built upon that legacy. The team for this year also knew the smart thing was not doing the “same old, same old.” Instead, they are aiming for new heights by creating a new memorable commercial experience while leveraging their success from last year.
Watch carefully and apply. Be creative in your approach and watch what resonates with your team, clients and customers. VW recognizes the trend in reality television has a few strong threads that resonate with the American audience, and one of them is the life transformation from shows like NBC’s The Biggest Loser. They built this into the new direction for this year’s ad while tying into their former success at the end – kind of like getting two ads for one. Don't be afraid to try a new tactic if you think it will appeal to your audience or team. Your leadership and willingness to try could create an entirely new trend, rather than responding to those already in the marketplace.
The “force” is a creative, visionary skill, not a coercive tool. The last scene where the little Darth Vader reacts to criticism is definitely not the way to respond to dissention. Don't use the “force” to force people to agree. Surround yourself with those who share your passion and your vision and let their ideas and opinions be the force that drives you. Leaders can create an empire by fostering an environment that readily accepts change, new ideas and trust.
Even with the fun and excitement of the Super Bowl this weekend, there are serious leadership lessons to be learned. Excellence in leadership means that change is part of the daily pursuit of organizations who are striving to stay relevant. VW accomplishes this by taking its own twist on the “force” of business.
This guest post was provided by Jason Monaghan with University of Notre Dame Executive Online Education. Jason works with the faculty and staff at Notre Dame Online to develop skill sets for the leaders of tomorrow in Negotiations, Leadership and Management and Business Administration.
As a father I am constantly on the lookout for lessons, stories, experiences, and role models that will be edifying for the development of my children. Several years ago, while he was still a surprising sensation at the University of Florida, Tim Tebow came onto my radar screen. There was something attractive about his relentless drive for excellence, his incredible work ethic, his will to win, and his unflappable attitude. I also appreciated his testimony as a Christian.
Watching Tim Tebow go from being the youngest winner of the Heisman Trophy to a number 1 draft pick in the NFL was a source of excitement for my young boys. I felt comfortable allowing them to watch his interviews, read his book, and listen in to his exploits as he transitioned into the professional ranks. Tim Tebow, a home schooled missionary's kid who preaches at prisons and responds openly and honestly to crass questions from interviewers and critics alike, seemed the perfect role model for my children.
But something was amiss.
As Tebow put on his NFL cleats a disturbing chatter seemed to grow around him. It seemed that the football "experts" were breaking their necks trying to see who could be more critical of young Tebow and his abilities. They railed against his throwing motion. They railed against his accuracy. They laughed at Josh McDaniels, the then NFL head coach of the Denver Broncos who drafted Tebow in the first round. And they even poked fun at his faith and his purity. My children were learning hard lessons from this, but I guess that's what role models are for.
"Why are they saying so many negative things about him, Dad?"
"Those people sure are being mean to him."
And on it went.
Then nearly a year went by before he got his real shot. There were flashes of excitement in a couple starts his first season, but Tebow didn't win the starting job and was sitting on the bench as the first five games of his second professional season rolled by. Finally, however, Tebow had waited patiently and prepared in obscurity long enough. His opportunity arrived, and just five games into the 2011 regular season, with the Broncos languishing at 1 and 4, Tebow was given his chance.
But nothing is that easy, not even in fairy tales. Tebow's play seemed to justify the claims of the critics. He missed wide-open receivers. He overthrew easy passes. He fumbled. He got sacked in the backfield. He rolled up terrible statistics the likes of which no NFL quarterback could expect to post and still retain his job. All the while the critics howled with their "I told you so's." However, one thing Tebow did was win. In fact, his whole team seemed to start playing better. The defense stepped up to an unbelievable level. Receivers started making stupendous catches. Running backs started nearly defying gravity. And Tebow himself seemed to come alive when the pressure was the greatest and pull victory out of the jaws of defeat - several times.
I am writing this article a bit early. Althought Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos have won four out of the last five games, anything could still happen and they could end up at the bottom of their division. Their near-miss wins could easily start turning to losses, and if that happens, I have no doubt whatsoever the critics will have a field day once again.
None of that matters, however, because Tebow has already proven something extremely valuable, namely, that while people talk about lack of skill they should never underestimate the power of will. What Tim Tebow brings is leadership. He has that special ability to energize a team of players to each perform at their very own personal best. He inspires, instills confidence, and makes those around him believe that anything can happen if they just have faith. While the statistics bemoan his performance, Tebow proves again and again that there are some components in victory that can't be measured. There are intangibles to greatness that come from deep within, that defy the odds and mystify prognosticators, and that just simply can't be contained.
The will to win matters.
Critics, however, don't matter.
Tebow has shown all this and more. I personally hope he keeps on winning in his unconventional way, in front of the NFL experts who so haughtily claimed "That's not the way it's done here." The world needs to understand that unconventional doesn't mean wrong, inadequate, or below grade. Unconventional just may mean revolutionary.
They said Tim Tebow wasn't ready for the NFL.
Perhaps the NFL wasn't ready for Tim Tebow.
My business partner and co-author Orrin Woodward and I, along with the other founders of LIFE, are embarking on a business journey in which we seek to follow correct principles, emulate successful leaders, and make a lasting difference in the lives of people. One leader to whom we've looked, and whose professional life we've admired, is Steve Jobs.
Orrin and Laurie Woodward and I were landing in Newark, New Jersey yesterday on a flight home from overseas when we got the word about Jobs' passing. It immediately caused me to do a mental mini-review of his life.
Steve Jobs literally revolutionized four industries:
1. computer industry - was initially involved in bringing personal computing to the masses, but was much more effective in making it user friendly and "cool" in the second phase of his professional life
2. music industry - through the innovation of iTunes, which solved the "music download" controversy
3. movie industry - through the successful incubation and establishment of PIXAR, and the rehabilitation of Disney
4. telecommunications industry - through the widespread popularity of the iPhone and iPad
Steve Jobs had that rare combination of business savvy (early bursts of it, but much more effective in his later, more mature years) and creative genius. In many ways, I place him in the same category as Walt Disney, who also combined creative genius with a sense for what would work economically. Jobs' creativity, vision, steadfastness to a central focus, and the ability to lead and inspire his troops to fulfill and implement the above, are worthy of study by anyone seeking business greatness. Let us also not forget that Jobs was a master salesman. He had a way of connecting with "his" audience, and they in turn connected with the rest of us.
As I sit here at my desk in my early morning "jet-laggedness," pondering the many wonderful people in my life, and considering the LIFE business journey we are about to take together, I give a hearty salute to the creative genius of Steve Jobs. May a little of his verve find its way into our venture, and may his ability to build a productive culture of enthusiastic teammates and customers be our example.
"There is no reason not to follow your heart. Stay hungry. Stay foolish."
Thank you, Steve Jobs.
(written on a Mac, of course)
Let me start with a confession: I cried during Toy Story 3 - twice! Call me a softy (or an idiot), but those little cartoon characters and their situation just pulled hard at the old tear ducts. Just to put things into perspective, the last movie to affect me that way was The Champ back when I was ten years old.
Pixar Corporation, the organization of geniuses behind not only the blockbuster Toy Story series, but a string of record breakers including Finding Nemo, Cars, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Up, is a bit of a favorite subject for me. I love art, creativity, design, and movies. I also love business. Pixar is a beautiful combination of the two. And just like any success story, Pixar's is infinitely interesting.
The Birth of a Dream
The life of one man in particular at Pixar, John Lasseter, is inspirational and instructive (as are others, to be sure). As a child, Lasseter loved cartoons. In high school he discovered a book on animation that changed his life by giving him a dream. He decided to pursue the making of cartoons as a career. More specifically, he wanted to become an animator at Disney.
Still only a high school student, Lasseter sent drawings to Disney Studios. They recognized his talent (and pluck) and invited him in for a tour. During that visit the professionals at Disney encouraged Lasseter to pursue a formal education in art.
Lasseter chose to attend CalArts, the art school founded by Walt Disney years before. In a scenario of perfect timing, Lasseter came of age to attend the institute just as it was launching a program in animation. Lasseter was its second enrollee.
Gaining Experience and Finding Mentors
Lasseter became the summer assistant to the Donald Duck cartoon director Jack Hannah. According to authors Capodagli and Jackson, it was during this time that "John became a master of creative teaming, sharing story and project ideas, and playing critical evaluator with fellow students - a gift that would ultimately help him become a professional animator and inspirational leader." Lasseter also gained experience working directly with three of the original nine Disney animators.
Running into Roadblocks
Eventually Lasseter hired on full-time as a Disney animator. To all outward appearances his dream had come true. However, Lasseter was not only a talented artist, but an extremely creative visionary. He could clearly see that computers would play an increasing role in animation but ran up against strong reluctance on the part of Disney corporate staff. Most of the experienced animators saw computers as a threat that would render their jobs obsolete.
A Closed Door
Incredibly, after preparing only the artwork for a short computer animated film to demonstrate the possibilities of the technology, Disney let Lasseter go, telling him, "Your project is now complete, so your employment with the Disney Studios is now terminated."
Turning Obstacles Into Opportunity
Disney may have told him that his project was now complete, but his career was far from it. A small, crack team of computer specialists at Lucas-film Computer Division (founded by George Lucas of Star Wars fame) knew of Lasseter and hired him to help with their computer animation software development. It was there that Lasseter would team up with Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith, as well as a small band of others, who shared his dream of computer animation.
Progress and Development
Some time thereafter co-founder of Apple Computer Steve Jobs, a bit down on his luck and struggling to make his new company NExt Computer succeed, was able to acquire the Lucas-film Computer Division in a fire sale (actually a divorce sale). The little group renamed itself Pixar and began producing small computer-animated films to demonstrate the value of the software they had produced. Eventually they realized (or at least got Jobs to realize) their real product was the films they could produce, and not the software.
Dancing with Destiny
This is how Toy Story, the world's first fully computer-generated feature film, was born. Its creativity, artistic beauty, depth of characters, and worldwide inter-generational appeal won it critical, as well as financial, acclaim. Its development was not without bumps and struggles, especially with the partnership with Disney to produce and market the film, but the collaboration, leadership, and creative genius of John Lasseter had finally broken through to the rest of the outside world. Toy Story grossed $29 million in its first weekend (nearly matching the entire production cost of the movie) and by early 2009 had grossed $361 million worldwide.
The Power of Productive Partnership
Lasseter certainly didn't make his dreams come true in a vacuum. For that he needed to find the right people; those who shared his vision, would collaborate productively, and had the environment and the resources to back the pursuit of his dream. George Lucas, Alvy Ray Smith, Steve Jobs, and many others all played key rolls, as well as hundreds of writers, artists, directors, and programmers, but no one perhaps was as important as Ed Catmull. As Capodagli and Jackson summarized, "For twenty-five years, Catmull and Lasseter have worked side by side in a collegiate manner that is reminiscent of the partnership between Walt Disney and his brother Roy."
Leaving a Legacy
In a telling comment by Ed Catmull, he said, "When we finished Toy Story . . . my new goal became, with John [Lasseter], to build a studio that had the depth, robustness, and the will to keep searching for the hard truths that preserve the confluence of forces necessary to create magic . . . We've had the good fortune to expand that goal to include the revival of Disney Animation Studios . . . . But the ultimate test of whether John and I have achieved our goals is if Pixar and Disney are still producing animated films that touch the world culture in a positive way long after we are gone."
And What About Us?
From an early age John Lasseter harnessed his talents and sent them marching in the direction of his dreams. No success story follows a straight up trajectory, however, and Lasseter's is no exception. He had a long term vision of where his industry could go and stayed true to that vision through many shifts in the pathway - even when being fired from his "dream job." Lasseter has that unique ability to fall in love with the destination while remaining flexible regarding the route to its attainment.
Another big component of his continued success is his ability to work with others in productive, collaborative ways. This is not as common as we might wish in our world of dogmatic, false, and uninspiring "leaders."
Perhaps the biggest thing we can take from Lasseter's example is the comprehensive package our abilities, once diligently developed and continually applied, present to the desires of our hearts. When we align our abilities in the direction of our dreams, and then apply a little pluck, a lot of perseverance, and a ton of partnership, we too just might end up doing something great - such as creating movies that make grown men cry!