Outlier solutions are absurd or too simple. That’s why they work.

(This article previously appeared in Chief Executive Magazine)

“As we know, surprises come in three varieties according to former Secretary of Defense: the known knowns — things we know we know; the known unknowns — things we know we do not know; and the unknown unknowns — things we do not know we do not know.”

— Donald Rumsfeld

If you draw your three circles of competence, the things you do not know that you do not know are at the heart of big disasters, nuclear reactor meltdowns, unintended wars, surprise terror attacks, and lastly, pandemics. …


“Until philosophers are kings and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, cities will never have rest from evil.” –Plato

George Floyd

On May 25, 2020, a day that became a dividing line for people across America, an amiable 46-year-old African American walked into a convenience store around 8 p.m. and politely asked for a pack of cigarettes. George Floyd had recently lost his job and was recovering from Covid, explaining why he paid with a $20 counterfeit bill. As he tore open the pack, he could not have known he was living on borrowed time, and the last chapter of his unhappy life was about to end. The only thing standing between him and death was a rendezvous in the parking…


“Knowledge of the past is the only foundation we have from which to peer and try to measure the future.”

Winston Churchill official photo by Yousef Karsh (from author’s collection)

On February 26, 1946, Winston Churchill raised his tiny 5'6" frame to the podium. He looked at the audience of 17,500 students seated in the brilliant light and remarked with that memorable lisp, “I have enjoyed my stay in your genial sunshine, and it has done me a lot of good.” He recently arrived in Florida refreshed and rested after a crushing defeat in Britain’s first postwar election. It didn’t affect his warm and cheerful disposition, yet his message was as foreboding as one he would deliver in Fulton, Missouri warning that an “Iron Curtain” was about to fall over…


“Until philosophers are kings and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, cities will never have rest from evil.” –Plato

George Floyd

On May 25, 2020, a day that became a dividing line for people across America, an amiable 46-year-old African American walked into a convenience store around 8 p.m. and politely asked for a pack of cigarettes. George Floyd had recently lost his job and was recovering from Covid, explaining why he paid with a $20 counterfeit bill. As he tore open the pack, he could not have known he was living on borrowed time, and the last chapter of his unhappy life was about to end. The only thing standing between him and death was a rendezvous in the parking…


One fatal mistake after 100 brilliant decisions still amounts to zero.

Cole Porter Photograph by Horst P. Horst

“Times have changed. In olden days, a glimpse of stocking Was looked on as something shocking, But now, God knows, Anything goes. If driving fast cars you like, If bare limbs you like, If Mae West you like, Or me undressed you like, Why, nobody will oppose. Anything goes.”

— Cole Porter, 1934 musical

Our research uncovered a phenomenon that happens to astonishingly successful people and, ironically, to those at the bottom of the pile. In both instances, it reflects an attitude that the rules don’t apply, at least not to them. …


“I owe much. I possess nothing. I leave the rest to the poor.” — Rabelais

The best things in life come in sevens like Snow White’s dwarfs or the colors of the rainbow. Unfortunately, so do the worst like rolling a seven the first toss in craps or the biblical concept of sin. You can count them: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. My old editor at Forbes, Jim Michaels, whom Warren Buffett said was the best of any magazine, told me what people enjoy most is reading about are the seven deadly sins. …


Dream Teams Start With People Who Care About You

The second layer is Relationships, all kinds beginning with parents, family, friends, associations, co-workers, colleagues, teammates. How you choose those relationships is as important as the quality of the connection. I like to think of former Bear Stearns’ CEO Ace Greenberg who would say he hires only the best, called PSD or Poor, Smart, with Desire to get rich. Greenberg believed we misunderstand being rich, which is good and don’t distinguish it from greed, which isn’t. He believed the qualities that made for great success were not always recognized by fancy pedigrees, once quipping that “Our first desire is to…


If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he begins with doubts, he shall end in certainties.

— Sir Francis Bacon, 1626

It is a careless author that does not check the rearview mirror. In our case, the five guiding principles sounded a wee bit familiar and it turns out they have a venerable heritage.

In our study of extraordinary lives, we discovered an ancient scientific decision-making method that was invented by Sir Francis Bacon in the 16th century. It led the Elizabethans to light up the English Renaissance and predicted the industrial revolution…


Outlier solutions are absurd or too simple. That’s why they work.

(This article previously appeared in Chief Executive Magazine)

“As we know, phenomena come in three varieties according to former Secretary of Defense, known knowns, things we know we know. Known unknowns, things we do not know. And unknown unknowns, things we did not know we did not know.”

— Donald Rumsfeld

(Author’s Note: The latter is primarily used to describe what your children do when you are not around. Also known as cognitive bias.)

If you draw your circles of competence, the things you do not know that you do not know are at the heart of the big disasters…


It’s Never Too Late To Shift Gears

How humble upbringing and a freak accident inspired Olympian Michael Phelps.

When we think about the enormous challenges facing leaders today, things like disruptive technology and geopolitical hysteria come to mind. We expect our leaders to rise to the occasion, and when they do, we celebrate and praise them.

But is that the “end of the story”?

In fact, by simply adding up the highlights of a leader’s life, have we really learned how to translate their unique talent into winning in our own lives? …

Jeff Cunningham

Professor of Leadership. Extraordinary Lives Project. Author “Be Somebody” (2021); 2019 Telly Award IconicVoices.tv; ex-publisher Forbes

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