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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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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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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.”