Get Lost. Become Famous.

Greetings. We should all be as lucky as Christopher Columbus. First, Spain’s king and queen gave him three super awesome ships, a trained crew, a bunch of stuff that could be traded, and what he thought was a totally accurate map of how to get to India. Second, he got lost, landed in a far off land that he was given credit for discovering even though it had been inhabited for over 15,000 years. Third, he is so famous that he had a holiday, the capital of Ohio, and the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization named after him.

Columbus_Really_Discover_America_SF_still_624x352

Nailed it!!!

And while it might take a bit of skill and more than a bit of luck to replicate his accomplishments, there are a few basic lessons that we can all learn from Chris and his exploits…

A.  It is important to have a compelling story.

B.  It is essential to not be crushed by initial rejections.

C.  It helps to eventually find really rich investors.

D.  It is wise to view maps and GPS directions with some skepticism.

E.  We often make our greatest discoveries when we get lost.

F.  All of the above.

 

Columbus Map

(His actual map. Seems pretty straightforward to me.)

In fact, most great discoveries occur when we decide to take the road less traveled. Or when we simply get lost and have the wisdom and courage to pay attention to what we find.

And that is why Columbus Day is way more important than most of us imagine. Sure it’s a day off for some of us that recalls an interesting chapter in the history of the western hemisphere. But it is also a day to pause and think about our own potential to set out in search of what we already know and end up in a place we never envisioned filled with new ideas, insights, people, perspectives, and opportunities.

We win in business and in life when we set sail with an imperfect map and a very open mind.

Cheers!

A “Collection of Opportunities”

Greetings. It’s the end of August and the start of a new school year. While I’m not sure where the summer went, I am very excited about the year ahead as our middle daughter Carly has started her freshman year at Beloit College in Wisconsin and our son Noah is starting 10th grade at a new high school that should be a better fit for his talents and approach to learning. And while I can think of many lessons from the first few days of school, I keep coming back to five words the President of Beloit said in welcoming the first-year students and their parents to campus a little more than a week ago…

Colleges are collections of opportunities.”

A simple and important notion about all of the possibilities that await students, faculty, staff, (and even families) in an environment filled with so many opportunities to explore, connect, learn, and grow. Some of those opportunities and possibilities are clear the moment you arrive on campus…a fun and engaging freshman seminar on a new and inspiring subject, a first meeting with your academic advisor, a poster in the atrium of the new science center announcing an awesome upcoming event, a chance to audition for the Fall musical, the prospect of making new friends from almost every corner of the U.S. and the world, work study postings that align with a possible major or a personal interest, a visit to the local farmer’s market, and the start to becoming a more independent person 800 miles away from constant guidance (or input) of well-intentioned parents.

There are also opportunities and possibilities that will become clearer as the semester and four years unfold…new and surprising relationships, favorite professors, the most awesome places to study or hang out, sparks generated by reading a new book or wrestling with a compelling question, a world of options for study abroad, and volunteer positions in the community that provide a chance to make a difference and even a bit of a reality check on an envisioned career.

beloit college-photo_17455.

Yes, colleges are “collections of opportunities,” and the young people who approach their time on and off campus with a sense of curiosity, wonder, openness, and humility are likely to be the beneficiaries of a remarkable gift.

But I would be remiss if I failed to suggest that colleges are not the only collections of opportunities we are fortunate enough to encounter. Or that our best chances to be inspired and stretch beyond our comfort zones can’t occur in our work and the rest of our lives. In fact, all of our companies and organizations would also be much more successful if they viewed their mission as providing a “collection of opportunities” for all of their customers and employees. Opportunities to explore, connect, learn, and grow. Opportunities to ask and answer important questions, take greater initiative, create and gain greater value, make more of a contribution, and even re-imagine what is possible. Opportunities to innovate and collaborate in new ways. Opportunities to be different and to make a compelling difference.

But in order to realize this mission we have to believe that, just like college students, all of us and all of our organizations are continually a work in progress in a world filled with opportunities. So why not think about how to bring the spirit and sense of possibilities of starting college into your workplace. It might be a great way to unlock the real genius in all of your colleagues.

We win in business and in life when we see the opportunities around us as a remarkable gift and college as simply one of the best starting points for capturing them.

Cheers!

The Power of Resolutions

Greetings. It’s the end of a very interesting year and time once again to make a bunch of resolutions that I’m not likely to keep. Resolutions that I know are really good for me but are likely to fall by the wayside in the press of a world filled with day-to-day responsibilities, pressing concerns, and new opportunities to learn, grow, and get over-extended. But at least I’ll begin the new year with a relatively clean slate and a renewed determination to eat less, go to the gym more often, get more rest, avoid unnecessary stress, spend less time in front of a computer screen, send fewer emails and have more real conversations, put my iPhone away when other people are around, be as nice as I can be 99.5% of the time, attend more social events, get involved in more causes I believe in, and make a conscious effort to connect with more strangers. I’m probably missing a bunch of things, but we’ll start with these.

I’m guessing that most of you are also likely to make your own resolutions. And I wish you good fortune as you work on the ones that really matter. And while I won’t ask what’s on your list, I’m hoping it includes a real commitment to connect with, learn from, and understand, people who are very different than you as a key to your business, civic, and personal success. After all, it’s the best way to stretch our own thinking and reach our full potential.

And if you’d like a bit more guidance on how to make this happen in the year ahead, I’d be honored if you found the time to read “The Necessity of Strangers.” I’d also be honored if you were willing to read it in an area of high visibility…where the likelihood of meeting an inspiring stranger is increased.

But most importantly, realize that there is real power in the act of making resolutions and beginning each year with a renewed commitment to do better, work smarter, care more deeply, and be more curious and open to the world around us.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

7,000,000,000 Possibilities

Greetings.  Earlier this week the 7 billionth inhabitant arrived on the planet in India, the Philippines, Egypt, Brazil, Nigeria, Europe, North America or in one of more than 230 other countries.  We can only hope that she arrived into the joyful embrace of family and friends, and into a world that will welcome him with open arms and a chance to reach the remarkable potential that lies hidden in all of us. In a world filled with great challenges but limitless possibilities.  

Yet to read the mainstream media leaves one with a most compelling sense of the problems brought on by each and every new arrival…

  • How will we feed 7,000,000,000 people?
  • How will we shelter them?
  • How will we educate them?
  • How will we protect them from disease so they can live long and healthy lives?
  • How will we protect the environment with so many people competing for its resources and polluting its air, land and water?
  • How will we create economic opportunity for everyone or, even better, create a world in which they can take their own entrepreneurial initiative to create economic opportunity for themselves and others?
  • And how will we create a world in which everyone's rights are respected and protected?

All legitimate questions–especially at a time when we face so many challenging economic, political and social concerns.

But there is another way to look at the arrival of the 7 billionth person…

As the next Leonardo DaVinci, or Albert Einstein, or Madame Curie, or Ibn Batuta, or George Washington Carver, or Steve Jobs.

As the next great innovator, or great scientist, or great educator.

As the person who will find a cure for the world's most intractable diseases.  

Or unlock the key to creating clean and abundant energy.  

Or build the world's next great company.  

Or figure out a new way to grow more food, or create more sustainable neighborhoods, or reinvent mobility, or break down the barriers that separate nations.

Baby-winter-clothes-india-460x250

7 billion possibilities in a world of challenges…and opportunities.

Cheers!

Meeting of the Minds

Greetings.  We all know that Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931) was a very clever and enlightening fellow.  Scientist, inventor, serial entrepreneur, and businessperson, his work would change the way people live around the world and, in the process, help to launch several entirely new industries.  Holder of 1,093 U.S. patents, his inventions include the incandescent electric light bulb, the dictaphone, the motion picture camera, the mimeograph, the first phonograph, the first storage battery for an electric car (making him only slightly ahead of his time or ours), the first silent film, the first practical centralized electric power system, the first stock ticker, the first mechanical vote counter, and the first industrial research and development center.  Not bad for a guy with ADHD who began his career as a humble telegraph operator.  

But fewer of us probably know about Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630), the German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer who is most famous for inventing an improved version of the refracting telescope and his work in the field of optics.  A contemporary of Galileo and a leading figure in the "scientific revolution," Kepler created a set of laws about the movement of planets that provided a foundation for Newton's theory of gravity and the rather humorous smashing of countless apples in an effort to recreate this great moment in science.  He himself was an expansive and integrative thinker building on the work of such varied geniuses as Aristotle, Copernicus, and even God.   

So it must have been my good fortune to encounter both of these gentleman on a recent visit downtown…because the odds of meeting two such renowned people at the same time (especially two people who lived roughly 300 years apart) are pretty slim.  Or, as the baby on the E-Trade commercials likes to say:  "About the same as the odds of being mauled by a polar bear and a regular bear on the same day."  But there they were, comparing notes on philosophy and the nature of the scientific process and imagining how they would be received in the current day.  Which leads me to an interesting idea for sparking your company's collective curiosity and innovative thinking about a problem or opportunity that really matters…

Why not find one or two people from history whom you truly admire and invite them to help you think about the challenge you're trying to solve?  Then do a bit of homework to understand their life, world, and work in order to imagine how they might have addressed the issue at hand.  What insight would they have as a leading thinker from another day?  What approaches might they have followed?  How would they have overcome the key barriers you face in bringing fresh solutions to bear?  

We create a culture of curiosity when we are open to learning from different places, people, and times. 

Edison 2
We win in business when we unlock the genius in everyone around us. And when we ask ourselves to look at problems and opportunities we face with the impatience of the world's greatest inventor and the eye of a 400-year-old German astronomer. 

Cheers!