Steve Jobs

Greetings.  I've written a few times about the genius of Apple–a genius driven in large part by the vision of Steve Jobs.  His passing yesterday was cause for sadness among all of us who have ever benefitted from his remarkable ability to imagine a different world in which people are far more connected, engaged, entertained and knowledgeable.  In the days and weeks ahead there will likely be many tributes to his brilliance.  And many opportunities for all of us to think about how to apply his insight and passion to the lives of our companies and organizations.  Insight and passion that can be a powerful spark to our own creativity and a fitting honor to his legacy.

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So next time you use your iPhone, iPad, Mac or visit the iTunes store or an Apple retail location, pause for a moment to think about the real magic of this company and the person behind it.  

Magic that you can bring to the customers you serve.

“Unusual” Business Gurus

Greetings.  I'm sometimes asked during presentations and workshops to identify one or two business leaders who are great role models for success in today's uncertain economy.  People who have led companies to the top of their industries by combining compelling vision, a passion for innovation, a powerful understanding of the current and future market, a commitment to bringing out the best in people, and a keen eye for the bottom-line.  And I gladly name some leaders I've had the privilege to work with and others I've only read about.  But I also suggest some "unusual" business gurus from earlier times who offer important lessons for all of us today.   

So let me call your attention to one remarkable leader in particular.  A young man who literally revolutionized the world of commerce simply by being curious about people, places, markets, and ideas that were far beyond his sight.  More curious, it seemed, than any of his contemporaries.  A young man born into a prosperous and influential family of businesspeople in the most influential business "center" of his time.  A young man who never finished college–in fact, he never started college–but instead hitched a ride on an uncertain journey to a vast and distant land.  And, in doing so, he would leave an incredible legacy (and also one day have a popular swimming pool game named after him).  I'm not talking about Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates, or Jack Welch, or any other famous and widely-quoted business leader of today.  I'm much more in awe of the genius of Marco Polo!

In 1271, at the age of seventeen, Marco joined his father and uncle on an amazing trip.  Seeking new business opportunities they set sail from their home in Venice to the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea.  From there they joined the southern branch of the Silk Road, heading to China through Khotan, and then to the court of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan.  It would take them three years to reach what is now Beijing, along a "road" that had seen its share of traders over many centuries.  In Roman times, caravans headed to China carrying gold and other precious metals, as well as precious stones, ivory, and glass.  Traveling in the opposite direction were furs, ceramics, jade, bronze, iron, exotic plants and animals never before seen in the west, and silk–thought by many westerners to be the most exotic discovery that came from Asia.

But as important as all these commodities were, the most important "goods" that traveled on the Silk Road were probably ideas about math, science, business, medicine, the workings of societies and governments, and even religion.  And it was this knowledge that Marco would eventually capture in a book about his 20-year stay called simply The Travels of Marco Polo.  It was the first written document about China and the east to appear in Europe and, while many Europeans were skeptical of his "discoveries," it would eventually inspire a new generation to learn more about the people, geography, culture, customs, products, and inventions of these remarkable lands.  And, it would also spark a new era of curiosity as the driver of economic activity.  

Marco Polo
We change the course of business and history by being curious about the world beyond our immediate grasp.  And in doing this, unlocking not only new opportunities but our own potential.  What are you doing to unlock and capitalize on a world of ideas?  Maybe it's time for a new journey of discovery.

Cheers!