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Dead Poets, A Verse, and The Legacy of Robin Williams

In 1990, I walked into a Manhattan deli. In strolled Robin Williams and Billy Crystal behind me. “Yoouu Guys Loook Maaaahrvelous!” I said to the legendary comedians (Billy’s catch-phrase from a famous Saturday Night Live skit in the ’80s). I then saluted Robin and quipped, “Oh Captain, My Captain, a memorable verse from his lead role as a poetry professor in Dead Poets Society (Oscar Winner: Best Original Screenplay • 1989). 

“Carpe diem kid,” Robin replied with a wink.

I first saw Robin on an episode of Happy Days (1978) as the hilarious alien Mork from Ork. Most of us however were introduced to his manic wit on the spinoff comedy series Mork & Mindy (1978-1982). For decades to follow, Robin took us flying as Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook (1991), made us roar with laughter as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), and challenged our fears as Psychologist Sean in Good Will Hunting (1997). But if I had to choose the most memorable performance, it was his “masterclass for life” as poetry Professor John Keating in Dead Poets Society. In that singular role, he pushed the Latin phrase “carpe diem” (seize the day) into our hearts and pop-culture lexicon.

In movies or riffing jokes on stage, Robin could do it all. As co-founder of Comic Relief with Billy Crystal & Whoopi Goldberg, Williams helped raise millions of dollars and greater awareness for the homeless and veterans. Like countless fans, I was crushed to hear of Robin’s suicide in 2014. How do we “seize the day” in such a tragic moment?

SPOILER ALERT! Rummaging through essays I wrote 30 years ago, I found one of the few movie reviews I wrote at a time that I had recently dropped out of college and considered screenwriting or journalism as a career. The first movie review I ever wrote was on Dead Poets Society. I never submitted it thinking it was too sad and controversial, but the film is as relevant today as it was in 1989. To the students, teachers, families, friends, and entrepreneurs I coach these days, I hope you enjoy my review below. GET THE POPCORN and SEIZE THE DAY! 


Dead Poets Society – 5 Stars!
Film Review By Cliff Michaels 

Oscar-Nominated Best Director: Peter Weir  
Oscar-Nominated Best Actor: Robin Williams
Oscar-Winner Best Original Screenplay: Tim Schulman


FADE IN: Ticking clocks, church bell chimes, and falling autumn leaves — these are the symbols of time we see as students rush through school hallways. The stage is set for triumph & tragedy at Welton Academy.

Dead Poets Society introduces a group of teenage students at a conservative all-boys prep school with a tradition of honor and discipline. Our students meet their Professor of Poetry, John Keating (Robin Williams), who once attended Welton Academy too. With humor, mystery, and a sense of urgency, Keating walks the boys out of class and into into a hallway. He asks a student to read a verse from a poem titled: To the Virgins — To Make Much of Time.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a flying,
and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.”

“The Latin term for that sentiment is carpe diem,” says Keating. It means “Seize the day.” So begins a life lesson for the boys to “make their lives extraordinary — to contribute a verse.” Keating returns the students to the classroom and instructs them to rip out the misguided Introduction pages of their textbook titled “What is Poetry?” The author suggests a mathematical scale to rate poems which deeply offends Keating’s artistic soul. Instead, Keating suggests the boys think for themselves, encouraging each student to stand on top of his desk and “See how the universe is wider than our simple view of it.”

Tragedy, Triumph & Choices

The boys are so intrigued by Keating’s unorthodox style, they look up his old yearbook and discover that he was not merely captain of his soccer team, but a member of a secret-literary club called the Dead Poets Society, whose fellow students pledged to live extraordinary lives. The boys decide to revive the club and embrace its carpe-diem spirit.

In a series of trips to a secret cave not far from campus, the boys read from great poets and become inspired to change their lives. A shy student Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) struggles to find his sense of self worth, but a romantic Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles) will soon “woo” the love of his life. Our main protagonist Neil Perry (Sean Robert Leonard) must decide if he will pursue his passion for acting or live the pre-ordained life of a doctor that his bullying father requires. Each of the boys will take a unique journey, grappling with tragedy, triumph, and choices.


Dead Poets is a film so rich with life lessons that it must be seen to appreciate. Knox gets his girl with romantic prose (nothing ventured, nothing gained, while others are destined for mediocrity, fearing parents, teachers, and all forms of authority. Somehow, Director Peter Weir and a brilliant cast of future Hollywood stars deliver a masterpiece. To that end, I’ll cut to the chase, encourage everyone to experience the nuanced messages first hand.

The major plot pivots on the rebellious act of our most daring and charismatic student Charlie (Gale Hansen) who takes on Welton’s antiquated “Boys-Only” policy. Charlie submits an anonymous article to the campus newspaper in the name of Dead Poets Society, suggesting girls be admitted to Welton. For the establishment, Charlie has gone too far. Unable to identify the culprit who published the article, all the boys are threatened with expulsion by the Headmaster, but Charlie refuses to reveal who his fellow Dead-Poet classmates are, even if he’s thrown out of school.

When Professor Keating hears the news, he tempers the carpe-diem mantra with a bit of fatherly advice:

“Sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone.”

The boys must now come to grips with old-school rules, forms of protest, and some parents who’ve mapped out their lives. In the film’s climax, Neil Perry ignores his father’s explicit directive to give up acting. Neil secretly takes the lead role in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. On opening night, Mr. Perry shows up, disgusted that his son Neil has defied him. Mr. Perry disgraces Neil in front of his peers, withdrawals him from Welton, and declares Neil’s next ten years be dedicated to medicine. His soul crushed, Neil commits suicide using his father’s handgun. 


In the final scenes, Mr. Perry demands that Welton Academy launch an investigation into Neil’s death, implying that Keating is to blame for poisoning the campus with “independent thinking.” One by one, Neil’s classmates are shuttled into the Headmaster’s office, sitting with their parents, threatened with expulsion if they don’t implicate Keating in Neil’s death. Neil’s roommate Todd (the most reluctant to rock the boat) tries to defend Keating but is silenced by his parents in front of the Headmaster. Keating is subsequently fired.

In the movie’s final scene, the stoic Headmaster is now teaching the poetry class (having replaced Keating where our story began). The Headmaster attempts to use the same boring text book that the boys disdain thanks to Keating. , Forever banned from Welton Academy, Keating approaches the classroom for the last time to pick up his personal items. In a moment of clear conviction for the first time in his life, Neil’s roommate Todd (the most timid of the boys) rises to the occasion. He proudly stands on his desk addressing Keating, “Oh, Captain, My Captain.” It’s the verse from a Walt Whitman poem that Keating encouraged the boys to use if they ever wished to be “a bit more daring.”

One by one, a dozen students stand on their desks in a moment of solidarity with Todd & Keating. The Headmaster screams & screams, “Sit down!” Sit down! The boys stand firm. They’ve chosen to SEIZE THE DAY. 

FADE OUT: RIP Robin Williams


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You & Me • Our Giving Pledge!

While many of us are blessed with shoes, socks, eyeglasses, clothes, food, shelter, and good health care, over 2 billion people don’t have such luxuries. For that matter, they don’t have clean water or access to books, schools, computers, and internet access. Teachers, Factory Workers, and Health-Care Workers are all grossly underpaid. We need urgent relief in war zones and natural disaster areas. Even children in the wealthiest nations are at risk physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

While financial contributions are always appreciated, charity isn’t always about the money. All of us can donate time or resources now and then. Business owners in particular are in a unique position (if not morally obligated) to provide FREE products, services, and wisdom to underserved communities. We can all carve out a FREE HOUR to mentor students, support a small business, and change lives where we can.

P.S. What’s in our closets that we haven’t worn this year — do you really need all those clothes and shoes?

In 2011, I was editing a final draft of my book The 4 Essentials. I was fortunate to meet a social entrepreneur breaking ground in the spirit of consumer & corporate consciousness , Blake MyCoskie (Founder, TOMS Shoes). Giving away a pair of shoes with each pair sold, Mycoskie popularized the “one-for-one” business model starting in 2006. His book Start Something That Matters touched on the same theme. In the decade to follow, corporate-caring business models were launched by similar ventures such as Warby Parker (eyeglasses) and Bombas (socks).

When I met Blake MyCoskie in 2011, our offices were both in Santa Monica, California, so it was great to see the TOMS giving spirit first hand. FOR MY PART, I believe education is the great equalizer for students, parents, and underserved communities so I adopted the TOMS business model. Cliff Michaels & Associates matches all purchases & donations at with free books & e-courses “ONE-FOR-ONE.”

READY TO PAY IT FORWARD? AT you can sponsor a student, parent, teacher, club, school, or young entrepreneur with a GIFT PURCHASE 24/7. Together, we make a difference.

Cliff Michaels

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Show Grit, Never Quit • Abraham Lincoln’s Entrepreneurial Legacy

Filling Gaps in The American Education System

Growing up a home-alone kid, I learned a ton of history through the stories of epic poets, writers, and artists  — Twain Dickens, and Greek Philosophers being a few of my literary heroes. It soon occurred to me that adults didn’t have all the answers, least of all most history books or the American education system.

My first year in college (1987), I was doing a history report on America’s Founding Fathers and Legacies. I stumbled on an obscure history book titled Decision in Philadelphia. It’s a dramatic summary that chronicles the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention and contradicts nearly every history lesson I learned in high school. Largely based on notes from Benjamin Franklin, Decision in Philadelphia exposes the many shortcomings of America’s Founding Fathers, not least of which was the failure to abolish slavery or even provide women’s rights. That one book inspired me to always search for legacy clues if I wanted to fill gaps in my education. I ended up watching a ton of war movies too.

A few years years later, I saw Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-Winning film Lincoln. It was a stellar period piece on Lincoln’s crusade to end slavery (an Oscar-worthy performance by actor Daniel Day Lewis) but Lincoln’s origin story is completely missing since this particular war period is set only between 1860-1865. I soon concluded that my American education (even through film) still had glacial-sized gaps (no matter how well-intentioned our parents, preachers, professors, politicians, and favorite movie producers). Spielberg’s Schindler’s List certainly comes to mind as an epic truth about the Holocaust, but I digress. The lesson from my study of Lincoln was to always consider the earliest part of the origin story — that’s where gritty stuff often leaves clues.

Lincoln’s Entrepreneurial Origin & Legacy

By the time I was a sophomore at USC, I had read a dozen books on Abraham Lincoln. These days, my favorite historian is Presidential biographer Dolores Kearns Goodwin. My Cliff Notes from her book, and others, are below:

Most people know that Lincoln was born to humble beginnings but the many tragedies to follow are what make his story so remarkable. His parents were uneducated farmers. At 7, his family was forced from their home. His father was illiterate and his mother died when he was 9. His only sister died in childbirth a few years later. His grandfather was killed when Lincoln was 23. At 24, Lincoln went bankrupt, but he spent the next seventeen years paying off debts to friends and colleagues. The legend of Honest Abe begins.

As a young man, Lincoln failed in business and couldn’t get into law school, making him a fascinating footnote in history as one of ten Unites States Presidents who never graduated from college. Nonetheless, he studied law and became a lawyer. In his 20s, Lincoln was twice defeated for state legislature. At 26, he was engaged, but his fiancé died. Lincoln had a nervous breakdown. At 33, he was married to Mary Todd. They had four sons but three of them died at ages 4, 11, and 18 (this was not uncommon in the 19th century, especially for illnesses we could easily treat today). Nonetheless, trauma and tragedy were a steady drum beat in a life that was only just beginning. 

Lincoln’s professional career was equally troubled. At 29, he ran for Speaker of the State Legislature and was defeated. Once elected to state legislature, he was defeated several times running for Congress. At 45, he ran for Senate and lost. At 47, he ran for vice president and lost. At 49, he ran for Senate and lost again.

In spite of all the personal and professional setbacks, Lincoln pressed on. Then in 1860, age 50, he ran for President, won the election, and changed the course of history. Today, Lincoln is the most quoted and revered of U.S. Presidents, fondly remembered as a statesman and champion of civil-rights. If not for his assassination in 1865, there were countless achievements to come. Still, the arduous road to the White House provides Lincoln’s most enduring legacy…

Show Grit. Never Quit. 

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Change Mavens, Kevin Bacon & 3 Degrees of Social Impact

On Nov 22, 2011, a team of scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan released a study based on 721 million Facebook users. The study suggested 69 billion friendships could be formed by any two individuals connecting through just 4.74 acquaintances. Sounds like fuzzy math so I thought I’d explore the “separation theory” myself. Could it mean something more to modern innovators and social-media mavens.

In 1967, a psychologist named Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment with 160 people in Omaha, Nebraska. It was seminal work that preceded the social-media phenomenon. As part of his Harvard dissertation, Milgram asked participants to forward a package to a friend who they believed could bring the package closer to a stockbroker in Boston who was the subject of Milgram’s experiment.

Each participant received instructions to mail a folder to a friend they knew on a first-name basis. Each person passed along the same instructions, hoping an acquaintance might know Milgram’s stockbroker. Milgram tracked progress through return postcards in each letter. There was an average of “six degrees of separation” between the original sender and the recipient in Boston who received the package. Six degrees? Sure sounds familiar!

The Gamification Backstory of Actor Kevin Bacon 

In 1990, an American playwright named John Guare wrote a Pulitzer-Prize nominated play titled Six Degrees of Separation. It was inspired by a real-life con artist named David Hampton. The 1993 movie based on Guare’s play starred a young Will Smith as the lead protagonist. The story theorizes that any two of us on earth are connected at most by five other people.

A year later in an unrelated story, actor Kevin Bacon joked in an interview that he seemingly worked with everybody in Hollywood at some point in his career; or at least someone who worked with someone. The social buzz exploded that year when four college students invented a party game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. They began speculating on the number of films Bacon had appeared in and how everyone was connected to the famous star one way or another. The students then wrote a letter to talk-show host Jon Stewart, telling him Kevin Bacon was the center of the entertainment universe in their “silly party game.” Before they knew it, the students found themselves on The Jon Stewart Show explaining the Six-Degrees concept. A book and trivia game were soon released and “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” became a cultural juggernaut.

In 2007, Bacon also formed a non-profit called His organization teamed up with a popular charity hub called Network for Good to power a website that linked its users to over a million charities. Interesting concept, but I can’t help but wonder if we really need 6 degrees … or even the 4.74 degrees in the far-less-famous Milan-Facebook study?

Could 3 Degrees be The New 6 Degrees?

In 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge inspired millions of people to dump a bucket of ice on their heads to bring awareness to the debilitating disease we know as ALS (aka: Lou Gehrig’s disease). The Bucket Challenge encouraged everyone to shoot a quick video calling out three friends (or even 3 organizations) to take the challenge and spread awareness. Results? raised over $30 million dollars in just a few summer months compared to less than a few million dollars in 2013 for the same period. People who had no idea about ALS didn’t want to miss the social train. In turn, ALS and other charities were rewarded with massive funding and global awareness. This begs the obvious question: “Is the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon formula already obsolete?

What’s a Change Maven?

The average entrepreneur is not a boat rocker. He or she takes minimal startup risk to compete in an existing market the same way competitors do. Change Mavens on the other hand are disruptive innovators. They push the envelope and try something new. We know some of these mavericks as The Crazy Ones featured in the famous “Think Different” Apple commercial (Gandhi, Ali, Parks, Picasso, Earhart, Dylan, Dr. King, Jobs). They are the misfit pioneers in art, music, sports, science, medicine, business, civil rights, and education.

Chaos & Challenge in a Connected World

Now that the world is hyper-connected through social media, the biggest causes are harder to ignore, regardless of political, religious, or social positions. While 87% of us have access to food, shoes, shelter, education, and medicine, over a billion people are hungry, homeless or physically and emotionally challenged. Over 2 billon people don’t have clean water. There are communities without schools and schools without books. Our collective battle is as much against disease, disaster relief, and kids at risk, as it is with terrorism or dysfunctional governments. And the world is watching more than ever on Twitter, and Facebook as much as CNN.

Are You a Change Maven?

Making a difference and making money has never been easier. A kid maven can start a lemonade stand for a local cause and friends across the globe will know instantly. Education mavens can teach anytime, anywhere through 24/7 e-learning. A lending maven can help small entrepreneurs in third-world countries with micro-loans as little as $25. In other words, personal, professional and community impact are no longer the start-up challenge they once were. In a socially conscious world of tech savvy Millenials, Change Mavens can also be Average Joe or Plain Jane. They don’t need to be genius outliers. A passion behind a worthwhile movement has already proven that purpose can be just as strategic as profit motive.

Gone are the days where success or ability are measured strictly in terms of money. Corporate responsibility is the new paradigm according to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. “If you’re not giving back to the communities you serve, you’re not building a sustainable business model in the 21st century,” says Schultz. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh echoes the sentiment with core values that “Deliver Happiness” to employees and customers. TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie spearheaded a 1-for-1 movement that encouraged individuals and companies to always give something back (with each sale, TOMS gives a pair of shoes to a child in need). Similarly, Cliff Michaels Academy provides free books and e-courses on life skills, leadership, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship to students and schools in need worldwide.

If you’re a Change Maven who believes in social impact, you don’t think in terms of “What’s in it for me?” You think in terms of “What’s sustainable for you and me?” You’ll join forces with leaders who share similar mission, vision, and values. You might bring together three like-minded students, teachers, or club presidents from different schools. You might challenge 3 competitive CEOs to fight for a common cause like cancer or the environment. You may even help three charities work together for a global event where the sum of their teams is greater than their individual parts.

Clearly, Change Mavens don’t need to be celebrities or social media moguls to launch powerful movements. The right movement with the right message attracts high-profile messengers. Meaningful movements can also generate huge profits and that’s a big part of the paradigm shift too. So find your 3 degrees of social impact, and don’t be afraid to make money while making a difference. If you can do that, there’s a good chance you’re already a Change Maven!

Cliff Michaels Academy Giving Mission –
With each sale, we give FREE books & e-courses to schools & students in need.

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The Genius Gift of Thomas Edison – Limitation Inspires Innovation

In The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking, I wrote a chapter on famous failures, highlighting one of my first mentors, Thomas Edison. Ranked #1 in Life Magazine’s hundred people who “made the millenium”, Edison wasn’t just a visionary inventor with over a thousand patents. He was the founder of fourteen companies and in every sense of the word, an entrepreneurial thinker who taught us that limitations inspire innovation.

In my study of Edison, I soon learned that there were few people who didn’t fail big before achieving success. But there’s a difference between those who fail and those who learn from experience. This was our greatest gift from Edison. After all, he didn’t invent the light bulb. He made it long lasting after countless experiments. He didn’t invent marketing but he understood the importance of solving a need. Technically deaf, he wasn’t born with a silver tongue but was certainly famous for quotes.

“I have not failed. I have discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Ready … Set … Whoops?

In high school, I failed a chemistry exam and a friend called me “Edison.” Knowing nothing about the famous inventor, I made a trek to the library assuming he was a gifted scientist. Boy was I wrong. 

Edison was the youngest of seven children who didn’t learn to speak until he was almost four. He was a hyper and inquisitive kid like me, and so disruptive, that an early teacher told his mother he was “too stupid to learn anything.” She opted for home-schooling. Edison was not only considered dumb and dyslexic at an early age, he was technically deaf by his teenage years. His groundbreaking research in sound recordings with a hearing impairment was possible by inserting a piece of wood between his teeth in order to listen to vibrations. 

“Deafness has its advantages.” said Edison. “My own deafness enables me to
concentrate my thoughts as I’d never be able to do if distracted by noise and conversation.”

His limitations clearly became his greatest assets. Today, insight to Edison legacies such as the phonograph, electric automobile, and long-lasting light bulbs, can be found through the Edison Innovation Foundation where his personal letters and company records still exist. From his factory of workers, thousands of notebooks were discovered, documenting everything from inventions to business theories and marketing ideas. At the core, we find a system of intelligent failure and resolve. And in his whimsical quotes, we find oceans of inspiration.

“Hell, there are no rules here … we’re trying to invent something.”

Edison was known to dance when experiments failed, working into the night with teams who shared his passion. We see the same principles in highly innovative corporate cultures who compete in the 21st century. So whether you’re a student, artist, tech wiz, small biz guru or global leader, the Edison thinking model proves that limitation is your inspiration for innovation.

This blog is from a chapter in The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking
Essential 1, Skill 7 – Never Quit – Failure is Your Friend (also see blog on Abraham Lincoln)

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Harvard Joe & The Fisherman | Essential 1, Skill 1: Define Success

What’s Your Definition of the Good LifeWorld Peace ~ Love & Laughter ~ Art & Innovation ~ Giving & Gratitude ~ Friends & Family ~ Money & Fame ~ A Healthy Mind, Body & Soul?

Fifteen years before I wrote The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking, a friend sent me a fable about how we define success. I included the principle in my book as Skill #1. Hybrids of the famous story floated on the Internet for decades, written by countless poets with themes from pirate’s tale to Buddhist myth. Curious to its origin, I stumbled upon a German writer named Heinrich Böll, a Nobel Prize winner who wrote a parable in 1963 about a traveling businessman who attempts to lecture a humble fisherman about success. Instead, the biz guru learns a valuable life lesson from the fisherman.

A modern version of the fable written in 1996 is titled “The Mexican Fisherman” by Dr. Mark Albion, a former Harvard business professor. In 2009, Mark changed the title to “The Good Life.” When I told Mark about The 4 Essentialshe graciously approved my spin on the famous fisherman’s tale. I hope you enjoy it …

Harvard Joe and the Fisherman by Cliff Michaels

After graduating from Harvard Business School, an American stock broker named Joe decided to take a vacation. He chose a small island, famous for a quiet and friendly fishing village. If only to take his mind off work a few days, Joe vowed he would fish a little and avoid the money-talk so prevalent on Wall Street.

On his first vacation day, Joe strolled the beach. He spotted a small fishing boat coming into shore. Inside the boat were a lone fisherman and a fresh catch of large yellowfin tunas. Dozens of tourists were handing over cash as the fisherman docked his boat. Joe was so impressed, he complimented the fisherman and asked how long it took to catch so many beautiful fish. “Not long,” said the fisherman. “The supply is endless in this treasure cove.”

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” asked Joe. “You would certainly make more money in such rich waters.”

The fisherman smiled and said, “Oh, I catch more than enough to support my family and lifestyle.”
“But what do you do with the rest of your time?” asked Joe.

The fisherman replied, “I read, nap, and play with my daughters. Some days I teach kids how to fish. Other days I play soccer with school children. In the afternoons, I stroll into the village where I sip wine with my lovely wife and play guitar with my friends. Most nights we cook fish and share recipes with tourists.” 

“Wow, you have tons of free time!” said Joe. “Listen, I have an MBA. I can help you vastly expand your business. If you simply spend more time fishing, you would earn enough money to buy a bigger boat.”

“Really?” asked the fisherman.

“Absolutely,” said Joe. “And with a bigger boat, you could catch enough fish to buy several boats and then a whole fleet. At that point you would be successful enough to sell directly to a processor, cut out the middleman, and vastly increase profits. Then you could open your own cannery and control distribution.”

“Then what?” asked the fisherman.

“If all goes well, you’ll find yourself in a big city, running a rapidly expanding empire,” said Joe.

“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman.

“Not long at all. Maybe 7 years,” replied Joe.“With me as your CEO, I’ll bet we can do it in 5 years if we hustle. I’m all about the hustle!”

“Then what?” asked the fisherman.

Joe grinned and said, “When the time is right, we could take the company public or sell to the highest bidder. At that point, you would be very rich — a millionaire many times over.” 

“Really? A millionaire? Then what?” asked the fisherman.

“What do you mean?” asked Joe.

“I mean, what would I do if I was a millionaire?” asked the fisherman.

“Whatever you like,” said Joe. “You could retire, move to a coastal village, fish a little, play with your kids … sip wine at night with your wife … play guitar with friends … and …”

Without another word, Joe and the fisherman shared a good laugh. The fisherman then invited Joe to return for dinner. By sunset, the fisherman had built a small fire to share his catch-of-the-day with tourists. Joe arrived just in time for the most scrumptious fish he ever tasted. As the sun faded, Joe and his new friends sang along to soothing sound of the fisherman’s guitar.“Ahhh,” Joe whispered. “The good life.”

Final Thoughts
From Harvard Joe to the island fisherman, success means different things to different people at different stages in life. Kids dream of becoming an artist, athlete, or rock῾n’ roller. Athletes hope to break records and win championships. Parents want the very best opportunities for their kids. Third-world villagers need food, shoes, clothing, shelter, education, medicine, and clean water. Volunteers and social entrepreneurs measure success by giving back. We all search for love, health, and happiness. Clearly, definitions vary. But successful people share a common thread. They define success with purpose behind passion and a journey without compromise. At some point, we all have to define it.

Are you there yet?

This blog is based on a chapter from The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking
Essential 1, Skill 1: Define Success > Read of Listen TODAY | audio, e-book or paperback!


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Tony Hsieh Interview by Cliff Michaels (Part 1 of 2)

A Happy Maverick on a Mission

In the Fall of 2011, The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking was 3 months away from launch when I received an endorsement from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay). Tony’s book Delivering Happiness had recently hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list so I was sincerely humbled.

As a token of appreciation, I drove from Los Angeles to Vegas with a basket of Tony’s favorite snacks (beef jerky, gourmet pickles, Red Bull and Grey Goose Vodka). Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised that my book was in the Zappos Library, snuggled between The 4 Hour Workweek and Tribal Leadership (#1 Bestsellers). A few months later, my book hit #1 on Amazon and #3 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

The day I arrived, ABC’s Barbara Walters and her 20/20 TV crew were interviewing Tony. So I asked if he had 10 minutes for an interview with me too. He graciously said yes and we filmed an impromptu Q&A. The video highlights are at the end of this blog. Below is the article I wrote shortly after. The lessons are as true today as they were 3 years ago.

About Tony Hsieh

The son of Taiwanese parents and a computer-science graduate from Harvard, Tony Hsieh is very clear on why he wrote a book titled Delivering Happiness. In a world where attracting talent and satisfied customers is everything, Hsieh not only created a unique corporate culture driven by core values, but a global movement that includes “fun and a little weirdness.” If you don’t know the Zappos mantras, a few million fans and thousands of loyal employees will tell you why you should.

In 1999, Hsieh (24), sold LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million dollars. It was an Internet advertising network that he co-founded out of college. Shortly after, he invested in a series of companies, including the fledgling e-commerce company Hsieh started as an Advisor and eventually became CEO of Zappos, helping the company grow from almost no sales to a $1 billion dollar juggernaut. With Hsieh’s dedication to a happy corporate culture, Zappos also made Fortune Magazine’s list of “Best Companies to Work For”.

So Whats Tony’s Secret to Delivering Happiness?

On July 22, 2009, Amazon announced the acquisition of Zappos in a deal valued at $1.2 billion dollars. Then in 2010, Tony’s book, Delivering Happiness debuted #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and stayed there 27 weeks.

Tony also hands over a Zappos culture handbook and provides free office tours (to competitors and street tourists alike). He understands that success begins with sharing. “You never know where talent or ideas come from. Why not invite everyone to the party,” says Tony.

Feel free to also lose the suit and tie at Zappos. Employees wear anything from jeans to Halloween costumes. The vibe is like a college campus party where employees are called friends and motivational mantras hang from rafters like championship banners.

As for Hsieh, there’s no private office. His cubicle is in the middle of the madness for optimal interaction with employees.

But it wasn’t always fun and games for Tony. Here’s what I learned from our Q & A …


Cliff: Thanks for your time today and congratulations on the successful sale of Zappos to Amazon. I really enjoyed reading your book Delivering Happiness. Could you take us through your story with LinkExchange as your first baby and Zappos as your big baby?

Tony: Sure. Back in 1996 after graduating college, my roommate and I started a company called LinkExchange. We specialized in online advertising and grew that company to about 100 employees. We ended up selling the company to Microsoft two and half years later for $265 million. But what a lot of people don’t know is the real reason we ended up selling — it just wasn’t fun anymore.

The company culture went completely down hill. When it was just five or ten of us, it was a typical dot-com. We worked around the clock and slept under our desks. We had no idea what day of the week it was, but it was fun. We started hiring friends which worked pretty well until we got to about 20 people and ran out of friends. Then we had to hire people based on resumes and interviews. We were fresh out of college and had never done it before. I did a decent job in terms of hiring people with the right skills and experience, but we didn’t know about company culture — so not everyone we hired was good for us.

By the time we got to 100 people, I dreaded getting out of bed and going to my own company. That’s really what led us to sell. We got lucky with timing because it was the first dot-com boom. So I started investing in companies. But after a year, I was tired of sitting on the sidelines. I missed being part of building something. Of all the investments, Zappos was the most fun and promising so I ended up joining the company and becoming its CEO.

Cliff: On that note, let’s talk about the famous Zappos 10 Core Values.

Tony: When we’re hiring, we don’t say, “This person has 9 out of 10, we’ll let them pass.” We really need all 10. The core values are:

1. Deliver WOW Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More with Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble

Cliff: Were those principles the inspiration for your book Delivering Happiness?

Tony: Originally, it was about spreading the idea of “happiness” as a business model to other companies. That includes making customers, employees and business partners happy. Along the way, we decided to go on a book tour. It felt like planning 80 weddings over 4 months. We actually got the bus from the bass player of the Dave Matthews Band.

Cliff: What evolved from the tour?

Tony: Delivering Happiness was written as a business book but people took away something more. That surprised us. We had moms e-mailing us, saying they were now the CEOs of their families and thinking like value-driven corporations. We heard from charities that said they were going to focus more on their culture. We even heard the book was going to be required reading at certain colleges.

Cliff: That had to be rewarding. What happened next?

Tony: The tour led us to start a company called Delivering Happiness. This whole idea of inspiring and being inspired fostered a movement with happiness beyond the business level.

Cliff: So what’s the biggest challenge in getting that happiness message adopted within a large organization like Zappos, since everyone has a unique definition of success … or happiness?

Tony: If you want to go with one, simple principle, just be true to yourself. One of the things we really encourage at Zappos is to bring your true personality to the office.

Cliff: (smiling) One of my favorite quotes on that theme is by Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Where’s your biggest passion these days?

Tony: I’m still CEO of Zappos ad we’re moving to downtown Las Vegas. We’ll integrate the Zappos campus and city together.

Cliff: So you’re spearheading a renaissance. Is there a city you might use as a model?

Tony: I think it’s got it’s own personality (neighborhoodie) and community feel. There’s an area (Fremont East) with eight or nine bars and cafes where owners hang out in each other’s bars. There are tech companies and start-ups there too. I’d like to see a growing art scene and more live music. Ultimately, everything you need to live, work, and play would be within walking distance. On my wall at home there are about 70 post-it notes. They’re passion projects for downtown. These ideas aren’t coming from me. They stem from anyone with a passion about their community.

Cliff: You’ve now evolved from a technology CEO and bestselling author to a community builder. It’s great to see an entrepreneur cross bridges. Did you ever imagine you’d change a city the way you changed a business model?

Tony: Not at all. We were originally thinking Apple, Nike, and Google all have great campuses, but they’re very insular. They don’t really integrate with the community or contribute to the environment. We want to take more of an NYU approach; almost a seamless transition between the city and campus.

Cliff: Great stuff. Who were your mentors?

Tony: There wasn’t a single mentor or book. There’s something to learn from almost anyone. Here at Zappos, we have a large library with something to learn from countless books.

Cliff: Yours library is like a museum. Thanks for including my book The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking. From all you’ve learned, what are your biggest fears?

Tony: Based on past experience, I want to make sure the Zappos culture not only scales, but gets stronger. That’s why this campus move to downtown is exciting. It will take our culture to a whole new level. Every bar or bookstore will become an extended conference room. Employees are already gravitating downtown. On any given night, every bar feels like Cheers.

Cliff: Walking through the Zappos halls, I hear cowbells, pride, and passion. Your co-workers speak of you as a friend. That culture is rare and stems from how much you give back. Can you speak about the charitable aspect of Zappos?

Tony: It’s funny because it all goes back to what people are passionate about. When we were smaller, we could only afford to give to one local or national charity. We basically sent a survey out and asked employees what they would suggest.

Cliff: So you engage employees to make decisions, even about charities?

Tony: Right. Now that we’ve grown, we can do more and still leave it up to the employees.

Cliff: Do you think boredom is what drives you to constantly improve?

Tony: I don’t think that’s unique to me. Everyone wants to grow and flourish. Everyone may not instinctively know how because they’ve been stuck in a boring job for ten years. But I think once you push people slightly outside their comfort zone, they realize there’s more potential in them than they may have realized.

Cliff: On that thought-provoking note, thanks for your time today Tony. It’s been an inspiring interview. Good luck with the new Zappos campus … and keep delivering happiness!

Part 2 of this interview provides Tony’s Top Tips on Social Media. Part 2 with Tony & Cliff.

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How to Unleash Your Entrepreneurial Soul

Cliff-ECourse-Book-ThumbIn The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking, I set out to dispel a few myths about born entrepreneurs and the genius-at birth-theory. I analyzed innate talent, I.Q vs E.Q, great teachers, supportive parents, private coaching, soci0-economic advantages, and the value of a college degree. While each of these are a substantial leg-up, well-educated and privileged people often fail miserably in life, careers or business. We also know underprivileged people who came from poverty, had life trauma, or physical and emotional challenges, and managed to excel (Oprah, Richard Branson, Jackie Robinson, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Steve Jobs, The Beatles).

We can draw only one conclusion … From classroom to boardroom and battle field to playing field, we’re all entrepreneurs.

Be it an artist, athlete, high-tech CEO, or barista in a coffee shop, each of us is destined to boldly go where others only dream once we tap into the entrepreneur’s mindset. Yes, we all have it. We’ve all lied awake at night with a driving force that says, “There’s a better way.” At the core is imagination and a mission to improve the human experience. For most leaders in their field, the inspirational spark wasn’t a gift at birth. It came from a poet, book, movie, friend, parent, musician, or teacher. Sure, Mozart was extraordinarily musical, Bruce Lee was freakishly Kinesthetic, and Picasso was, well, Picasso. But each of us has a unique spark … and it can ignite with the simplest questions:

What if ? Why not ? When can we start ? Who do we know that’s been down this road?
What worked? What didn’t? What lessons were learned? What’s the best use of my time?

Highly successful people master these questions, then focus on their unique abilities. And you’ll never ask a silly question like, “Will I need to work overtime?” The answer is, “You bet! You’ll work your ass off! At that moment of clarity, you’ll unleash your entrepreneurial soul!

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2014 Resolutions | 10 TIPS for Goals in Motion!

What Really Happens to New Year Resolutions?

Every December 31, we reflect on the past 12 months. What worked? What bombed altogether? Then we set new goals for health, wealth, careers, startup ideas or expanding business. That’s never enough so we pile on passions like writing a novel, adopting puppies, fun with friends, time for family, and hiking Kilimanjaro. Some are reasonable, others never get a chance. By March, 101 to-dos taunt us from desktops and refrigerator doors.

Want to keep your 2014 goals in motion? Here are 10 steps to guaranteed success!

Make it FUN!

  • The #1 reason goals fall apart is they never motivated us in the first place. Add “the play factor” to inspire your mission, friends, co-workers, and teammates.

2.  Stay HUMBLE!

  • If goals are stifled, ask for help. You may be closer than you think.

3.  Create BENCHMARKS & TIMELINES to support your PURPOSE!

  • Whether you hope to double sales, change careers, launch a business, get in shape, find love, or save the world, hardcore goals require S.M.A.R.T. routines (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely). Expect what you inspect!

4. THINK BIG but remember LESS CAN BE MORE!

  • Goals that start too big often fail to address little things first. Don’t put so much on your plate that essential projects never start or simple steps get half baked.

5. Don’t let PERFECT ruin GOOD!

  • Don’t always compromise good at the expense of great? Just start, get messy and be willing to screw up. Getting great requires deliberate practice with progress.

6. Write lots of THANK-YOU notes!

  • The fastest path to success is paved through gratitude. The return on that investment yields loyal clients, supportive friends, and great karma.

7. Maintain PASSION in your PURPOSE + PATIENCE in your PRACTICE

  • Clarify “WHY” you set that goal in the first place and ask friends to hold you accountable by checking on “the results” of your practice routine. Be patient but persistent!

8. FOCUS on what you do best, then delegate, collaborate, or eliminate the rest!

  • Hyper focus on your unique ability. Be willing to outsource or bring in co-workers and experts for things you don’t have time for, don’t like to do, or don’t do well.

9. Stay THIRSTY my friends!

  • Complacency kills the competitive spirit! If the goal is critical, you have to CRAVE it!

10. It’s not enough to THINK different. Have the COURAGE to BE different. As Mark Twain said, “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.”


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Remembering Steve Jobs – The Crazy One

He was a dreamer and a misfit who built one of the most endurable brands in history. He took us through revolutions in computers, music, and entertainment. He even master-minded one of the most popular advertising campaigns in history: Think Different: The Crazy Ones (featuring 17 iconic figures from Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, Bob Dylan and John Lennon to Richard Branson, Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart and Martin Luther King, Jr.).

And on October 5, 2011, we lost Steve Jobs. He left behind an entrepreneurial spirit we may not see for a long time. His biography (Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson) reveals the saga of a complex soul who vacillated between genius and madness. In Isaacson’s words, we discover a “deeply emotional, sometimes mean, anti-social human being … who lived in his own altered reality.” But we also discovered a creative mind with a passion for what’s possible and no space for mediocrity.

When he passed away, I thought about one of the essays I wrote in The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking. I had a little fun comparing Gates to Jobs and Mozart to Tiger Woods in order to dispel the myth of born genius, born entrepreneur, and take on a bit of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier Theory that suggests 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice are secrets to success (yes and no in my book).

Most of us know the stories of Apple founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Volumes have been written about both juggernauts so I can offer little to their biographies. But there’s a unique lesson I picked up watching a 2010 Apple commercial comparing PC to Mac. In its cheeky ad campaign, Apple pokes fun at the ongoing glitches of Microsoft’s operating system. Apple had similar bugs throughout its storied past, but since Microsoft’s PC is known to crash more than Apple products, the audience gets the joke. The commercial is clever but I came away with a totally different take than the one intended. It starts with a hip-looking kid i jeans (Jobs), standing next to a geeky, older guy in a suit and glasses (Gates). The next 60 seconds goes something like this …

Kid Mac: “Hello, I’m a Mac.”

PC Gates: “And I’m a PC. Hey Mac, did you hear the good news? Windows 7 is out and it’s not gonna have any of the problems that my last operating system had. Trust me.”

Kid Mac: (suspiciously): “I feel like I’ve heard this before, PC.” For the remainder of the commercial, we see PC Gates in decade-old leisure suits, insisting each new version of Microsoft’s operating software won’t have the previous problems.

PC Gates: “Windows Vista won’t have any problems Windows XP had, or any problems Windows ’98 had, or any problems Windows ’95 had … or any problems Windows 2 had. This time it’s gonna be different. Trust me (winking).”

What I gleaned from this time-capsule wasn’t that Mac was better than PC, Apple better than Microsoft, or Jobs better than Gates. My epiphany was that neither guy ever stopped innovating. Microsoft was still working out the kinks on Windows 7.0 when I wrote this. By the time you read this, the latest versions of iPads and iPhones will be in stores for at least 12 months anyway (trust me, wink-wink).

So as we remember Steve Jobs, we have to ask, “Was he a genius or just crazy enough to be obsessed with a passion for excellence?” After all, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was the original tech guy but could never have created Apple Computers the multi-billion dollar empire without a crazy sidekick. Jobs was the visionary and marketing guy who told us everything was “insanely great!” For Jobs, crazy was as much about form and beauty as function. And for that reason, he was more of a poet and artist than Gates even though both were crazy enough to think they could change the world.

Fortunately, Jobs left behind some of that crazy poetry, mantras that almost every artist and entrepreneurs alike know…

“Think different … Don’t be trapped by dogma and other people’s thinking … Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition … They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

With all his foibles, we admire Jobs not because of his perfection, but his imperfections. He told us to never stop asking, “What if ?” To that end, we classify him as modern-day Mozart who played with passion and practiced with purpose.

For any of us to harness the essential legacy of Steve Jobs, we can’t wonder rest on our laurels. If the goal is “insanely great,” then the crazy question is “What’s next?”

RIP Steve Jobs