Sidebar: Resilience

Rest Inspires The Best

When you see a fork in the road take it. — Yogi Berra

The man next to me looked like he had been a professional boxer. His name was Richard Armitage and he was the Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan administration. Since being out of office he began a consulting firm that grew to a very considerable size and was making a great deal of money. I said to him he must be thrilled to be out of office. He looked at me and said are you kidding, “I just want to get back in the game.” The reason he was so fired up was that he had retreated for a while, reflected on what he loved and what he wanted to be. Recharge to renew we call it. Or disconnect to reconnect.

By the way, he was a former boxer.

Every sweepstake contest begins the same way, “enter your chance to win.” If only life had a slogan. We should remember that whatever fork we take, it will likely be one that is consequential and that we can’t easily retrace.

The ability to change from ordinary to extraordinary is not unlike a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. It isn’t magic. The insect is bathed in a soup of legs and thorax, which turn into nature’s most beautiful creature.

Herbert Lorenz, a meteorologist who discovered that rounding off numbers in a calculation changed the result dramatically, coined the term “butterfly effect.” It refers to small changes that have huge implications. Ir relates directly to the stories you are about to read. When we take chances on the kind of things that may seem small now, we are improving huge outcomes down the road.

The well-known analogy derived from chaos theory suggests a tornado occurring in one part of the world occurred because of a butterfly flapping its wings in another. Small changes produce large impacts. How else can we explain Mae Clark telling ten-year-old Reatha to grow up “be somebody,” from which the book’s title is taken? When Mike Bezos adopted his four-year-old, abandoned Jeff Jorgensen became adopted Jeff Bezos it is the butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect helps us understand why an early opportunity can have an astounding effect on a later stage of life. When Warren Buffett invested in Citizens Services with his sister, he fell in love with the way people create impact through business. That was the inspiration for buying a business and running it, as he does Berkshire Hathaway.

The butterfly was a good analogy as ordinary people are caterpillars. They crawl around eating everything ins right. They don’t look like winners when young, and that is why so many people feel they don’t stand a chance.

If Warren Buffett is right, the butterfly effect works. He says we all get five or six life-changing opportunities. If we are alert to possibilities, we won’t miss them.

Stay On Course

Atlas by Lee Lawrie (Rockefeller Center archives)

“The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose” ―Charles Dickens

Atlas Smiled

In New York’s Rockefeller Center off Fifth Avenue, you will find a symbol of confidence, the statue of Atlas that attests to the power of those who defy adversity. The statue was by Lee Lawrie and commissioned by the Rockefeller family. The sculpture stands in front of 30 Rockefeller Center just as it appears in the opener of the popular television show.

Many know Atlas from Ayn Rand’s epic novel, Atlas Shrugged. The Greek Titan was punished for helping humankind. His penalty was to carry the world on his shoulders for eternity. It was the punishment to the defiant Titan for challenging power. In our view, Atlas isn’t shrugging, he is smiling.

Like Atlas, our subjects have an inner compass that points in the right direction even when alarms go off. General Petraeus stood up to President Obama when the latter wanted to bring troop levels down too fast (the president did it anyway, and it led to ISIS formation, see hisinterview). When people defy the all-powerful they become confident.

Creating value is the most time-sensitive of all the principles. It sometimes falls to history to confirm value has actually been created. Queen Elizabeth II should ministration of residence, Buckingham Palace, was acquired by King George the third in 1761. It may not have been clear for decades that the residence was anything more than a white elephant. A more recent example of phenomenal value creation began two years ago when Dr. Ugur Sahin and his wife, Dr. Özlem Türeci, undertook breathtakingly novel research to develop its messenger RNA technology into a vaccine to cure the global pandemic. They had to temporarily abandon their focus on cancer treatments and put off any hopes of bringing a product to market. The result was BioNtech and Pfizer vaulted to the front of the vaccine race to defy a disease that killed several million people worldwide. The sacrifices had no clear payoff. We can be thankful they chose the path of outcome over income.

Making an impact is overrated; creating value is underrated. I have a friend from Arkansas who knew how to create value and he didn’t care about making an impact. Joe Ford ran a local phone company or so people thought, but it was a gold mine in disguise. When I mentioned a telephone competitor who said, “it’s not about making money this quarter I want to change the world,” Joe said, “that is the kind of competition I like.” In an era where virtue bragging is psychic income, the idea of going doing good deeds may be a head fake. The fellow who made the comment lost his job and the company went under. He didn’t just have a down quarter he had it down life. Joe sold his company to Verizon for billions. He now helps people in Rwanda rebuild the coffee business and grow the economy.

In this new century, we have witnessed profound changes accompanied by new and exciting freedoms. One casualty has been the loss of traditional values that held communities and the broader society in check. Emphasis on industry, sobriety, punctuality and civility gave way to the new liberties. Religion and cultural norms held things in check, but for various reasons, each new generation finds these constricting. In its place, some propose anarchy or violence as a means but this is delusional and only results in backlash. What is needed isn’t anger but the right structure to replace the one that may no longer be working. It has made the village hard to govern and the workplace impossible to manage.

(masked protester smashing a shop window as Black Bloc demonstrators set fire to businesses in the French capital)

According to Nietzsche, societies are Dionysian or Apollonian. The first places stress on “disruption, freedom, individualism, expression, and limitlessness.” The second on “order, rules, community, control, and boundary.” But the German existentialist was wrong. These aren’t two separate societies but different phases. Each is a reaction to the previous. What sets extraordinary people apart is their ability to maintain balance through extremes. They hold the reins tight but not too tight.

Success rests on an ecosystem of attributes that allow for a natural guidance system to take us in the right direction when chaos is all around. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, without it, nothing can succeed. With it, anything is possible.

Library of Congress/Handout/Getty Images

Edwin Schrödinger, the Austrian Irish physicist, quite rightly saw the big question as profoundly important: ‘how do living things maintain such impressive order and uniformity’ generation after generation in a universe that, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is constantly moving towards a state of chaos? In that same spirit, those who reordered the world in amazing ways had been born in chaos, family dysfunction, poverty, illness, and had scant options. But they managed to rise to the highest rungs of society’s ladder. They were nobodies who became somebody.

Too often, people measure success in the wrong terms. Money or status for the business set, pyrotechnics, and noise. Impact is not the same as value. Value has long-term consequences, whereas impact may mislead us as anarchists and assassins believe. All they do is destruct.

The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, claimed the world was coming apart. when he wrote The Second Coming in 1919 after the First World War. He was thinking of the terror and destruction. There is one antidote — measure value, not just impact. Fear leads to chaos. Value is an incentive system to keep us on track.

When value is measured excuses dissolve. When it is insufficient, it means time to go back to step one and reset priorities.

Absent the seven Guiding Principles, where would ‘extraordinary lives’ end up?The word confidence comes to us from 15h century Old French meaning ‘to have full trust.’ We think of confidence as ego but in reality, it means people trust us and more importantly that we trust ourselves. That’s what makes us confident.

Confidence is a requirement for everything from running a major company to playing professional golf. The worst feeling for a pro golfer is to leave the putt short. It meant she lacked confidence. Confidence conquers doubt which allows us to hit the ball as hard as we can.

You can’t do everything well, but you can do one thing great.: Hammer the nail — Right Metric, Right Outcome — Outcome Over Income. If you are battling against a network do you have a network to match? Problem Solvers — Opportunity. Create Value — Measure Outcome Over Income

“Just don’t do anything you will regret for the rest of your life”

— Spencer Tracy’s advice to a young actor

— There is no such thing as winning an inning — keep the ball in play — stay in the game. When we examined as part of our course on Extraordinary Lives some of the greatest disasters to befall humankind, the pandemic, the sinking of the Titanic, devastating manmade disasters, the absence of priorities is often of sticking with the plan that is obsolete. That’s what happens when we do first things first.

Setting priorities sounds easy. It is like someone saying “first things first.” That always reminds me of the old joke about forgetting to drain the swamp because alligators were swimming in it. Priorities have to take into account factors like urgent, important, our responsibility or deadline, and the objective. Many voices are clamoring. The real priority can get lost in the shuffle.

The best way is to think through the steps. For many, it means writing down and reordering the to-do list. When you finish this daily routine you can be sure that the right things are on top and not scattered. We want to write a great book, but we have to make a doctor’s appointment. Very successful people write the book on the way to the appointment. They give both the urgent and important their due.

Setting priorities sounds easy. It’s not. We arrive at our desk in the morning is 15 things on the to-do list. Making sense of which should come first is hard so we usually just start at the top. I got to know the great Peter Drucker, the management guru of all time, who had some advice for me on the subject. He told me about a colleague of his who had a pair of scales with five dice. He would make a list of five priorities every day and would move one of the dice over to the other scale as they were finished. then he would start again with five new priorities. Drucker said he was the most effective executive he had met. It proves priorities are about follow-through more than making lists.

Priorities are revealed over time. When priorities are set too early, there is a chance we pass up better choices, like ordering from the specials and not the main menu of a restaurant. Priorities can be basic, as in “state the problem,” or major as in “where does my life lead?” The goal can be long or short term, a problem, an enemy, or a new line of skin cosmetics.

Students often ask, “how do you set your priorities?” The answer is don’t overthink it. Wanting to be rich is a good starting point. So is being famous. They will force you to ake a calculation of talent, ability, and the dedication it takes to make it. It’s not for everyone. Or as Warren Buffett says his priority is to be loved by as many people as possible.

To make a difference, if that is your goal, the challenge is scale as well as strategy. You have to do something in large numbers. When we finish scrolling through our Twitter feed, we change neither the narrative nor the calculus.

The reason I admire these somewhat fatuous and materialistic priorities is that you can’t launch a career or a life on the back of a nebulous desire to save humanity. If misguided, a desire to change the world turns into a tossing Molotov cocktail. Followed by a fifty-year prison sentence.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, without confidence nothing can happen. With it anything is possible. That is why we place such an emphasis on believing in ourselves as the key ingredient in transforming from ordinary to extraordinary. Confidence is the magic sauce that brings the recipe together. When we looked at failed lives, we found without exception a lack of self-belief.

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Jeff Cunningham

Jeff Cunningham

Just trying to make sense of things. ex-publisher Forbes