The Anti-Hedge

 “Research suggests that once a musician had enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” – Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

Malcom Gladwell’s quote above aptly links meaningful levels of achievement with substantial hard work. There simply is no other formula for achievement, nor shortcuts to differentiation.  No individual who has made a mark on our history or found themselves on the front cover of some magazine has fallen backward into that position of renown or influence. Albeit an icon for many, especially us runners, Forrest Gump, falling backward into renown works in Hollywood and fairy tales, but it only works there. Hard work, razor-honed talent, and an incessant commitment to work is the key. Like it or not, prodigious work is the compulsory initial step.

Several years ago, I sat down over coffee with a man I respect. In this conversation over exorbitantly priced coffee and desserts I cannot pronounce, he stated, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I care about this man, so I smiled and acknowledged his statement. The thought that came to my mind was, “Hey Forrest, life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get, but rest assured, what drops in your in your lap will almost always require a napkin.” But judiciousness and civilized deportment won the day, and I took another sip of my overpriced coffee and bit my tongue in the name of brotherhood.

Let’s all get honest and make a collective admission here. Mere mortals and yours truly, would often rather sit down on a warm Sunday afternoon and take in the sun, catch a game, or even take a nap. In fact, I have personally learned to use sophisticated words and philosophies to excuse and justify my enjoyment of the “good life.” Nevertheless, you allow me to pursue a dream or a goal and this Sunday afternoon sloth transforms into a relentless, workaholic, crazy man. Is it the hard work that creates this internal burn and passion? Not a chance. But the vision unmistakably does. Steve Jobs, Founder, CEO, and the previous generation’s greatest visionary nailed it when he said, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” A simple but irrefutable truth that if grasped, will utterly transform how you approach life.

We all intuitively understand that there is nothing more dangerous or intimidating than backing someone into a corner or pushing them to “a point of no return.” Energies, focus, and commitment previously laid dormant, ignites into an unbendable resolve that is simply unstoppable. Take for example, Julius Caesar. In 49 BC, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, marched into Italy and violated nearly every code that had been established by the Roman Senate to protect their authority and rule. Army’s had to be disbanded before entering Italy. For whatever reason, Julius Caesar decided to cross the invisible line of treason and its grounds for execution and standing on the edge of the Rubicon, stated, “Alea iacta est”, “the die is cast.” At the edge of the Rubicon, the point of return was cast, and both figuratively and literally, he prepared his men for a battle they simply could not lose. Why? Because he had to win, there was simply no alternative. Had he marched his men into Italy and been deterred, he would have been executed or at best, arrested. The Rubicon was Julius Caesar’s point of no return, and he played it masterfully.

In 1519, Hernando Cortes, packed up his gear, boarded a ship and led an armada to the shores of Veracruz, Mexico with the intent of expanding the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The environment was harsh, riddled with disease, and to make matters worse, a committed native opposition who had found themselves backed into a corner, committed to holding their homeland. Suffice it to say, the prospects for Cortes did not look bright. Morale among his men was low and more than a handful were intent on leaving the island. Knowing the prospects of success, Cortes did what any normal person would do [insert sarcasm here], he destroyed the ships and in doing so, eliminated all hope of escape or returning home. Confronting the overwhelming odds and the psyche of his men, he did the only logical thing possible; he eliminated any alternative to victory. Retreat and a safe passage home were no longer viable. In ordering the destruction of the ships, he backed his men into a corner, and they somehow found the resolve and focus to finish the mission.

The simple message of these tales of conquest is simple. Our beliefs regarding what is possible, dictate what is possible. Nothing more, nothing less. Your own visions or the visions of the organization must be more than compelling enough, as well as its consequences for failure, to push people (or yourself) into the corner and create an outcome. But for most mere mortals, the fact of the matter is that we are not lazy, inept, or incompetent…. We are simply too fearful of failure and lack the courage to “go all in.” It is called timidity, it’s the ride of the coward, and that my friends, is why you are not living the life or leading the organization you know is possible. Impact and influence first begin with the ability to simply say, “Alea iacta es” – The die is cast, now go burn the ships. Until that call is made, cash it in, leave the table and pass on the torch to someone who is.

 

 

 

Kaizen Or Habits of the Has Been

“An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.
We can never free ourselves from habits. The human being is a creature of habit.” – Steven Pressfield. “Turning Pro”

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One spring Sunday in early 2002, I watched Tiger Woods absolutely dominate his field of competitors on Augusta National Golf Club, home to the annual golf tournament, the “Masters.” Following yet another victory, a reporter asked Tiger a question around how he maintains such a high level of performance and dominance. His answer was simple and rather nonchalant given what he had just accomplished, winning his third Masters since 1997. “I just try to improve 1% every day.” In terms of context, at the same time, I was developing a corporate change and innovation model for my doctoral dissertation and wrestling with why corporate change failures continued to top 70% and 90% failure rates for initiatives requiring cultural changes. I had chosen to be lazy and watch golf instead of working on my dissertation. I should chalk the discovery up to laziness; I had my eureka moment. I sat up in my recliner and said, “That’s it.” My personal Holy Grail had been discovered, and only a couple of my fellow nerds would have given a rip – so I did not share it with anyone. So, I decided to relish in my discovery, take a nap, and put my dissertation off for yet another day.

Evidently, Tiger’s strategy worked, at 2017, he has won 14 major championships, only second to Jack Nicklaus’s 18, 79 PGA Tour events, only second to Sam Snead’s 82 wins. Despite his recent decline, some sports writers claim he is the greatest golfer that has ever lived. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Little strokes fell great oaks.” While I highly suspect he was not referring to golf, Ben was precisely correct. Little things done every day eventually culminates into radical advancement.

The origins of incremental improvements, albeit the law of nature and life, did not find its prominence until the Japanese integrated the idea into their philosophy of Kaizen. The Kaizen philosophy, roughly translated as “change for the better” or “continuous improvement” was introduced by and large by American business management theorists  in the rebuilding of Japan’s business infrastructures decimated in the Second World War.

Kaizen found prominence in Toyota and lost notoriety outside of Japan until Toyota began dominating the auto industry and drove American theorists to begin to reassess this old philosophy when the American ideology of radical improvement began to crumble. In short, the philosophy of Kaizen hinges upon small, incremental, never-ending improvement of anything. It is a philosophy of mastery that never ends as perfection cannot be achieved. George Leonard, a fifth-degree black belt in Aikido, summed up the spirit of Kaizen in his 1992 book, “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment” with, “We fail to realize that mastery is not about perfection. It is about a process, a journey. The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives.” Leonard understood the notion of Kaizen exceptionally well as mastering Aikido takes decades of consistent training and development.

The key to mastery is very small improvements each and every day that will begin take form gradually, and over time, gradual improvements begin to compound on one another, and you eventually get radical change without the resistance normally associated with significant changes or new endeavors.

In its simplest form, habits, done daily incorporates the genius of Kaizen into tangible, practical application. As Steven Pressfield so insightfully forwarded, “Amateurs have amateur habits. Professionals have professional habits.” As with all things, the choice is yours. So choose wisely…your ultimate outcome and impact will hinge upon it.

Misery and the Lesson of the Phoenix 

“Sooner of later we all go through a crucible, most believe there are two types of people that go into a crucible.  The ones who grow stronger from the experience and survive it, and the ones who die. But there is a third type, the ones who love to learn the fire. Who stay in their crucible because it is easier to endure the pain because it is all you know anymore. “ —Sebastion Blood in Arrow

Paulo Coelho’s 1998 novel, “Veronika Decides to Die” centers on a Slovenian woman in her mid-twenties that appears to have all any young lady would desire: She is immensely beautiful, successfully employed, and the prospects of a fruitful and happy life were hers. Even so, she makes the decision to end her own life. She is unsuccessful and instead wakes up in a mental hospital. Veronika encounters Dr. Igor, and her exodus begins.

Dr. Igor is conducting experiments on patients where they are told they only have a short time to live and looking at the prospects of death, Igor “shocks” patients back to life. Veronika unknowingly becomes one of his test cases.  During this process, she encounters an individual ravaged with panic attacks, another with severe clinical depression, and yet another with schizophrenia. The interface and relationships with these people lead to a resuscitation for Veronika. She awakens to a new world where she realizes she no longer has anything to prove, no pressure to perform, no overwhelming sense of judgment – she had attempted to take her own life, woke up locked away in a mental institution and ironically, finally came alive. Misery became her way out.

What is it about the prospect of losing our own lives, the crushing trials that increase the perceived value of life as a whole? The crushing leads to purity and in the purity, life emerges for what it was intended to be. Little wonder that Pierre Corneille wrote, “When there is no peril in the fight there is no glory in the triumph.” Anything worth having is difficult and thus, worth fighting for. Partly because of its value, but perhaps, partly because we refuse to run back into the crucible where it was formed in the first place.

Like it or not, misery is a highly skilled and unsympathetic tutor

Aeschylus, an author of many of the famous Greek tragedies writes, “Wisdom alone comes from suffering.” He also expands this, “Out of suffering arises learning; out of learning, knowledge. We may say of pain that we have grasped it only when we know it not only in itself but in what proceeds from it. As so many other things, pain too is known only by its fruits.” Aeschylus made a living writing Greek tragedies and clearly had a firm enough grasp of its virtues to make his mark on history (as well as pay his mortgage). The Greeks understood the crucible well. They had a notion of regeneration and rebirth centered around a persistently stubborn bird known only as the “Phoenix” – In the myth, the Phoenix plummets to the earth and is incinerated only to rise from the ashes renewed and equipped to live out another life cycle.

Today, understanding the razor’s margin between failure and the ability to rise renewed is a significant and grave consideration for individuals looking to differentiate themselves. Actually, the life we long to live is just on the other side of misery and trial. The story of the Phoenix provides a lesson all individuals must understand if they ever intend to climb out. The lesson is not only instructive, but it is also universal. The relative rise of this winged and interminable creature provided a model of longing in the ancient world. Even Shakespeare incorporates the story of the Phoenix into his Henry VII. Pessimists and small-minded individuals may contend the Phoenix was mythology because nothing rises from the ashes, I tend to think the construct has lasted because we intuitively know the longing to overcome persists despite its distress. Greek tragedies and mythology through the centuries have been instructive – to understand the human experience is to begin to understand the stories and experiences the Greeks were attempting to illustrate in their mythology. The lesson of the Phoenix is simple, no one and nothing in nature is immune from its touch. The universal nature of the value of trials transcends history, geography, species, age, the poor and the affluent.

Like the Phoenix, Veronika under the tutelage of a wise physician, has little left to lose and eventually rises….renewed (and better for have taken the fall).  If the ancient Greeks, birds, tragedies or mental illness doesn’t turn your crank, maybe something more modern will. Vince Lombardi, the head football coach of the Green Bay Packers perhaps had a little something for mythology or tragedies as he was known for his famous saying, It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” Or perhaps Muhammed Ali had a similar affinity for tales of birds, “You don’t lose if you get knocked down, you lose if you stay down.”

The question may remain as to why this understanding is so pivotal in the creation of differentiation and the distinction between the world-class and the average. Akin to gold and silver, the highest levels of purity can only be extracted through fire-assay, the process of using extreme temperatures to separate the precious metal from the slack or waste; it is required to cultivate its inimitable value. Without it, its potential value will never come to full fruition.

After working with nearly a thousand leaders and studying the characteristics of the champions, I have learned that what makes the world-class so rare is their unnatural, almost assured willingness to walk into the fire and persist there. Their secrets are less the ones hidden on the walls of some ancient cave or some guru, they are the people who are willing to do what others will not do and in the process, learn to love the fire. Perhaps, this is why Emerson once wrote, “God will not have his work manifest by cowards.”

The Goal of Misery

WARRIOR

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. 

Khalil Gibran

In order to understand the nature and character of the warrior, all one needs to do is observe their scars and discern the nature of the furnace in which they were forged or within the crucible where they were hardened. Only then will you know all that is required to contend with them.

Mahatma Gandhi’s life is a template for the crucible, a prototype for the value of the “ordeal” and the “near-breaking” that precedes greatness. Gandhi grew up a timid, shy child and went on to non-violently oppose the British empire. His indelible mark on India will remain within the annals of India’s story and his chief role in turning back England’s encroachment on India. One quote of Gandhi’s provides all the answers we need to know. He once stated, “I Love Storms.”  Perhaps he really did love the storms. What we do know is that he certainly became “the storm.” How else does a shy, reticent boy defy an empire like Great Britain?

If you want to understand the psychological DNA behind the greats, you need to look no further than their story, their wounds, and grasp the origin of their scars. Suffering, strain, and testing are achievement’s compulsory application. You cannot have one without the other.  Soldiers will not unconditionally follow an untested commander into battle until they know he has been through the fire.  Why is this? The fact of the matter is that we were actually built for suffering, misery, and setbacks. The mind and body were designed to harden as a result of trauma – the body responds with resiliency and strength as a direct outcome. Muscles are built through micro-tears and broken bones are stronger than their unbroken counterparts. Nature is no different, trees grow stronger in wind. J. Willard Marriott, founder of Marriott Hotels once uttered, “Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.”

Little wonder that one of Gandhi’s pupils, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, ” Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” The context of King’s statement was justice, but the process is the same – it is ubiquitous in humans and in nature.

A further example, take Earl Nightingale and his experience at the Great Barrier Reef.  The Great Barrier Reef stretches nearly 1800 miles from New Guinea to Australia. Noticing that the coral polyps on the inside of the reef, where the sea was tranquil and quiet in the lagoon, appeared pale and lifeless… while the coral on the outside of the reef, subject to the surge of the tide and power of the waves, were bright and vibrant with splendid colors and flowing growth… Earl Nightingale asked why this was so. ‘It’s very simple,’ came the reply, ‘the coral on the lagoon-side dies rapidly with no challenge for growth and survival… while the coral facing the surge and power of the open sea, thrives and multiplies because it is challenged and tested every day. And so it is with every living organism on earth.’”

Want to live a life that matters? Run into the storm…the rewards will be abundant.

 

Leadership & The Self-Absorbed

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On July 14, 1789, French laborers, farmhands, and citizens along with members of the French guard stormed and overtook the power core of the monarchy. In a rapid and aggressive advance, the citizens of France stormed the Bastille, demanded their rights and began the process of winning back their dignity. This rag-tag band of revolutionaries was driven by a deprivation fomented by not only an insatiability and desperation brought on by starvation but by a blood lust to bring down King Louis XVI of France. The citizens of France, empowered by rage and emboldened by wrongs, set their sights on justice.  And in that process, enflamed an engine and ignited the French Revolution; a societal upheaval that would not end without the head of the monarch.

What started at the Bastille, finally ended on December 11, 1792, with an indictment on the king. “Louis, the French people accuses you of having committed a multitude of crimes in order to establish your tyranny by destroying its liberty.” Concluding the somber, royal denunciation of the king’s influence, historian E.L. Higgins recounts the turn of the events, “the executioners seized him, the knife struck him, his head fell at fifteen minutes after ten. The executioners seized it by the hair, and showed it to the multitude, whose cries of ‘Long live the Republic!’ resounded to the very bosom of the Convention.”

No more than a month later, in the Proclamation of the Convention to the French people, tyranny’s end came simply, “Citizens, the tyrant is no more” a proclamation that reverberated through the streets of France. The leader lost his head, his followers laid down their weapons and recaptured their dignity and etched a small lesson in history’s annals; the tale of a followership who took down a king.

Humpty dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty dumpty had a great fall;

Threescore men and threescore more,

Could not place Humpty as he was before.

Howard Zinn, an American historian, author, and social activist writes, “The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.” Zinn strikes at the heart of the leadership problem, its followership and their ability to reveal a leader’s core and misappropriation of its power.   Zinn’s insight begs the question of where are the leaders who don’t oppress, but rather beckon followership by their leadership qualities? We know there are hordes of “actors” posing as leaders but what about leaders who we can trust.

I was recently asked by an executive in oil, “How do you pick future leaders?” I said, “There are dozens of factors, but if I had to say one thing, look for the guys who can step out of the center or limelight and still influence…there you will find your future executives. He asked, “why?” “Because if history has proven anything, it is that given enough time, individuals will not tolerate being discarded. True leaders understand this rather unbecoming trait of us all and are willing to elevate their people and ‘serve’ this need in order to transform both the individual as well as the organization.” The level of a leader’s self-absorption is directly correlated to their ability to influence a following.

The root of almost every toxic and impotent leader is their inability to place their follower’s needs above their own.  We have wrestled with this notion for well over 2,000 years and yet we remain almost solely inept in leading from a place of sufficiency in order to allow our followers to flourish. Our exaggerated self-worth repels longevity, followership, and an ability to influence a mass that are equally unable to see beyond their own self-interests…therefore, revolt lies just below the surface. We can either change humanity or accept the responsibility of true leadership [You matter when your people do].

 

The Simple and Undeniable Prerequisite to Exceptional Achievement

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Inspiration is for amateurs  -Chuck Close

The actor, producer, rapper, songwriter Will Smith, in an interview with Tavis Smiley responding to a question to what he attributes his success:

“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right? You’re not going to out-work me. It’s such a simple, basic concept. The guy who is willing to hustle the most is going to be the guy that just gets that loose ball. The majority of people who aren’t getting the places they want or aren’t achieving the things that they want in this business is strictly based on hustle. It’s strictly based on being out-worked; it’s strictly based on missing crucial opportunities. I say all the time if you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready.”

With that kind of philosophy, it is little surprise Smith was ranked by Forbes as the “most bankable star” in the world. Moreover, according to Fantasy Moguls, Will Smith is the only actor who has had eight CONSECUTIVE films gross over $100 million domestically and eleven CONSECUTIVE films over $150 million internationally. Luck? Hardly. We get the results we earn.

Rick Pitino once said, “Never let anyone out work you or out hustle you. Ever.” Pitino is the only men’s basketball coach in history to lead two universities to a NCAA Championship. He is also the only coach to lead three different universities to a Final Four in four different decades.  A coincidence? Try again. The seeds we plant today bloom tomorrow.

Woody Hayes, head football coach at Ohio State from 1951–1978 once said, “They may outsmart me, or be luckier, but they can’t outwork me.” Hayes won 5 national championships at Ohio State in 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, and in 1970. Fluke? Not a chance. Exceptional achievements require an exceptional work ethic, only one other man in history has been better than Hayes. Coach Bear Bryant…He reached 6 national championships at his time in Alabama. Once again, the theme is clear, he was quoted as saying,  “I’m no miracle man. I guarantee nothing but hard work” and “There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and guts between dreams and success.”

There is no excuse for laziness, apathy, good enough, complacency or even contentment when an individual has aspirations that surpass the bare minimum. 

Justifying Losing

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“Winners and losers are self-determined. But only the winners are willing to admit it.” – John Wooden 

John Wooden, the man above won ten national championships in twelve years at UCLA. An extraordinary accomplishment that falls on the deaf ears of the blue blooded sophisticates and is too quickly dismissed because the achievement occurred on the hardwood and not within the confines of Wall Street or the ivory towers of the academy. I see it every day with corporate clients, they shelve the philosophies of individuals like Wooden, Saban, Lombardi, and Coach K who have “DONE IT” and dismiss them as “meatheads” then bow to the advice and wisdom of so called sages that sit in a quaint office and write theory on how to lead. These so called “sages”scribe theories because they are unable to write “experiences.” Call me a simpleton, but I’ll place my leadership bets on an individual who has done it (and failed) over the one that can wax eloquently on a topic and has mastered the art of grammar.

Both winners and losers are at the mercy of self-determination….  it is an irrefutable law.

Friedrich Nietzsche, another one of those “did more thinking than doing” guys, stated “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”  Despite the veracity of Nietzsche’s now famous quip, the probability of experiencing anything that affords us this opportunity to experience the positive outcomes of near-death experiences don’t readily present themselves unless we artificially push ourselves to determine what is possible and flirt with our own unprecedented limits. Who does this? The one-percenters and world class do and they do so habitually.

Like it or not, one of the overarching characteristics of the world class is their incessant and insatiable drive for perfection. We fully comprehend the irrationality of absolute perfection, the world class pursue it anyway. Flawless execution requires a committed compulsion; a price that only a small number of individuals are willing to pay. It is the reason the top 1% in music, sports, business, politics, and in life are called the “one percenters.”  Our desires, our visions, dictate our daily habits and we calibrate our expectations accordingly. No wonder, Jerry Rice said, “Today I will do what others will not do so tomorrow I can do what others cannot do.”

Good and bad decisions, high and low standards, lofty or dismal expectations, healthy, unhealthy, disciplined or undisciplined…Every one of these small decisions require a price and generate a consequence. The simple question is not whether you will pay a price, it is simply just a matter of when. 

Divergent

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 “For non-conformity the world whips you with its displeasure.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Over the course of many weeks, I watched Eden, my then 12-year old daughter, absolutely devour the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. Every week or so, I would see another book in the series on her nightstand (or on the floor,  or in my car, or in the bathroom, or in my luggage, or in my toolbox, or in the refrigerator). You get the point.

Of course, I assumed that surely these were salacious books filled with teen romance and everything I did not want my daughter consuming at such a young and impressionable age. Being the father and fulfilling the “dad” role, I asked about the books and the plot line and she said, “Dad, these books are amazing! The story takes place in post-apocalyptic Chicago and there are five clans or classes that society forces people into based upon their disposition or what they care for.” Intrigued, I probed for more information. “This is how ‘the bad guys’ control the masses and organize life.” Attempting to curry favor with the munchkin, I told her, “it sounds like junior high.” She laughed (I patted myself on the back) and continued on with her rather robust and painfully detailed description. I asked her about the five clans or classes. She rattled them off like a professor who had been immersed in a subject for the better part of his or her existence. It went a little something like this:

“You have Abnegation, they are the givers, the individuals who are selfless and care for others; kind of like mom and Nana. They are the humanitarians.

You have Dauntless, they are the brave warriors, the fighters, the soldiers.

Then you have the Erudite, they are the brains, the really smart people, kind of like you dad. (I thought “kind of?”, but I digress).

Then you have Candor, this is the faction that is extremely honest and will tell you exactly what they think, kind of like Pops.

And then finally, you have Amity, this faction are the peaceable ones, individuals who love peace.

And then there is this girl named “Tris”, she is Divergent.” I braced myself for the other shoe to fall, and thought to myself while imagining burning these books, ‘Yes, Tris is the rebellious girl who smokes dope, has a tattoo of a dragon on her back, carries a pack of filterless Camels rolled up in her sleeve, drives a Harley, and has five children as a teenager that each fit into one of these categories. But instead, restraint carried the day and I said, “Ok, go on.” “Tris is Divergent, she doesn’t fit in any of these factions because she thinks independently and if found out, she will be killed.”

As you can imagine, I was quite relieved. I then asked, “Why would they kill her?”  Eden looked at me like I had just asked her what a cow was and she stated, “Because independence or not fitting in to one of the factions will disrupt the structure and control of the ruling class. If people don’t follow the rules and conform to their role, society will break apart.” I thought to myself, the stories change for each individual generation, but the plot line always remains the same.

I immediately recalled Don Miguel Ruiz’s statement, “Children are domesticated the same way that we domesticate a dog, a cat, or any other animal. In order to teach a dog we punish the dog and we give it rewards. We train our children whom we love so much the same way that we train any domesticated animal: with a system of punishment and reward. We are told, ‘You’re a good boy,’ or ‘You’re a good girl,’ when we do what Mom and Dad want us to do. When we don’t, we are a ‘bad girl’ or a ‘bad boy.” I kissed Eden goodnight and mentally thanked Veronica Roth for writing these books and perpetuating the lesson that conformity and socialized expectations rob an individual of their uniqueness and ultimately their contribution.

I went back to my bedroom and looked up the series and located the movie tagline, “What makes you different, makes you dangerous.” Not too many weeks later, Eden and I sat in a movie theater filled with nothing but young people, frustrated I didn’t get there earlier to get a better seat.

What makes you different, does not actually make you dangerous, it is the road to differentiation, being a maverick, and making a dent in history. I hope my daughter learned the importance of this lesson. I hope I do too.

Mavericks: The World is Theirs

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George Bernard Shaw once said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” It should also be noted he once purportedly said, “If you’re going to tell people the truth you better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.” I like Mr. Shaw, I also suspect his mouth got him into trouble on more than a rare occasion. Perhaps he was a delinquent, perhaps he was not a rule follower, but I digress. One point for Shaw.

It is bewildering to me how a strong citation like Shaw’s generates applause, admiration, and a personal reminder of what could be…..until you work with them or attempt to manage, parent, or coach them. Then this unreasonable person becomes a problem child, a juvenile delinquent, or the first on the list in Acme company’s annual reduction in force solely because he or she is “difficult.”

We appreciate the “unreasonable” and the mavericks but they make us uneasy if we are not calling the shots. We applaud the “all in”, dissident versions of Scotland’s William Wallace, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther, Galileo, Richard Branson. In fact, the United States of America was built by these types of dissidents and nonconformists.  We applaud and honor individuals like George Washington and Christopher Columbus but we tend to do everything in our power to bring them under control when they have more common names like Tom, Jane, Mary, Bob, and Mark. Small, narrow-minded, ordinary-obsessed leaders attempt to make Tom, Jane, and Bob like themselves, while great leaders pay their narrow-minded colleagues little mind and foster the maverick within Tom, Jane, and Bob.

I am very proud to reveal that I am friends with the youngest streaker in Oklahoma. She told me we were friends (and I’ll proudly accept that designation). This little friend of mine is my wife’s closest friend’s daughter. Imagine a pint-sized shrimp with a gargantuan personality, a colossal presence, curly blond hair, piercing blue eyes and a laugh that at times is contagious and others, baleful. Her middle name is “Kate” and her first name, well we shall just leave it with, it rings nicely with “Kate.” Miss Kate is a maverick, and I really like this about her. Not too many years ago, Miss Kate walked up to her Kindergarten teacher, paused, look at the knees of her teacher, then looked up, flexed her bicep, then kissed it and walked on. Soldiers have salutes, golfers have their fist pumps, and football players have their signature moves in the end zone… Miss Kate’s signature; the bicep kiss.

She is not a rule follower, a conformist, or an individual that will stale in her life’s journey. You may be perturbed, annoyed, or perplexed by this type of behavior, but you cannot help but appreciate her resolve and audacity. You might ask, “Who does this?” The maverick does.

My little friend, Kate, is going to make her mark in this world. Of course, this will depend on growing out of her penchant for “running free”, but I suspect she’ll figure it out through loss of interest or a successful attempt to change the laws. Count on it.

Here’s what I also know about “Kate the Runner”, she sings the anthem of the maverick. Although she does not yet know it, she is already harmonizing with a tribe she has not yet met.

Miss Kate allow me to introduce you to your tribe:

  • Their anthem is typically sung to an audience of one or two.
  • They will do things their way, in their time and the world will be better for it.
  • Their thinking will be considered naive, irrational, crazy, or even dangerous.
  • They are not fearless, they fear normal, complacency, nominal, lack of progress and are petrified in settling in for a long life of normal because “that is just the way it is.”
  • They will say, “That’s the way it WAS” in response to “that’s just the way it is.”
  • Until they “bloom”, the unfortunate reality for most mavericks is banishment from the “herd” made up of rule followers and norm makers.
  • A large cross section of the population will follow these mavericks simply because they are fearless and will trade in their own ambitions and desires because they cannot imagine what it would be like to break a rule, frustrate a boss, or mock the naysayers who cannot imagine anything so out of the ordinary.
  • Your counterparts in history changed the world
  • Like Bodhi’s gang in “‪Point Break”, special operations members, street gangs, and Baptists who dance, mavericks run in packs, not solely for the social aspect, or common interests, but for the ongoing reminder they are not alone.
  • They are change agents, thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs and ostracized until they impress the critics with results that cannot be denied.
  • The world is theirs.
  • They will rewrite the history books.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Well behaved women rarely make history” – Thinking I might buy one for Miss Kate’s bicycle.

The Lion Does Not Lose Sleep Over the Opinions of Sheep

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To my graduating students, as you leave the confines of the cossetted and embark on what lies ahead, I wanted to intrude on you one more time and give one final lecture. Here it is, “The Lion Does Not Lose Sleep Over the Opinions of Sheep.” This concludes the lecture.

If you are still here, I should inform you that I borrowed the aforementioned quote. Lest I violate my own standard and plagiarize this phenomenal quote, the author is unfortunately unknown. An original idea goes a little something like this, “You are never more powerful than when you are fearless.”

Fear and courage, fortitude or fragility…The last test you must pass before you step into the life that you are not only capable of achieving, but the one you desire requires you to pass this test. If you fail, I almost guarantee you will find yourself in the middle of a life you neither planned nor desired. It is almost a law.

Fear manifests itself in nearly every facet of life from: Will you find the right mate? Will you fail if you try? Or will you end up hesitating when that pivotal moment taps you on the shoulder and you opt for the safe and conventional? From Christ to Charlemagne, Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, or from Columbus to Cortez, the world is reserved for the audacious.

Stephen Kotler in his book, “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance” writes “When risk is a challenge, fear becomes a compass—literally pointing people in the direction they need to go next.”

Go boldly or don’t go at all

You will be missed