“I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer, born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace and propelled by compressible flow.”
This Great Recession of ours has forced me to learn a lot about myself, and to improve my approach to just about everything in my professional life. As an engineering student in college I learned what it meant to truly work hard, and since then I've considered myself a persistent, tenacious, and industrious person with an entrepreneurial approach to problem solving. I like to hurdle obstacles, and I like it when the constraints are tough. But over the past few years of global economic woe, figuring out how to still have a growth mindset -- as well as how to bring people along with me in the groups I work with -- has been a tough challenge. As a result, I had to try and radically improve myself and my approach to life in order to get to where I needed to be. I'm still trying, but I've gotten better.
Thankfully, I could rely on many people along the way to provide inspiration and guidance. I had someone giving me straight, unvarnished feedback. Another person acted as a role model and coach (a great combination if you can find it). And there was another person -- who happens to be a race car driver -- who gave me the best advice of all: keep your head down, focus, and keep cranking away. Just keep at it. All of them helped me realize that what I was doing wasn't enough, that I could do better, and that there was indeed a path to get there.
I've written about Alex Zanardimany times before here on the pages of metacool. He's truly one of my heroes. What Zanardi says to me is that no matter where you think you might be on the path to mastery and enlightenment, there's always more worth striving for. It's not about feeling that you're never good enough, for that's an energy-sapping state of being eternally bummed. Rather, it's about having the confidence to know that life doesn't reward finished products -- it's staying on the path to mastery that counts, even when you're already pretty good. Zanardi, of course, has a way of becoming pretty good at everything he puts his mind to, and then going far, far beyond that point. As Dario Franchitti states in the video above, Zanardi doesn't know what the word "no" means. Plus, I'd wager he also probably doesn't know what "done" means, either. In Zanardi's mind, he can always be what he wants to be. And -- most important of all -- he knows that in his heart, too.
What have I learned from Zanardi? That tomorow we have the potential to be better than we are today, and that the decision to keep striving is all our own. We won't always succeed, and we'll all have setbacks, but man, the reward is in the pushing. It's not about being remarkble, it's about striving to be so.
When I wake up tomorrow morning, I'll be thinking of Zanardi, and I'll try my best to raise my game. I hope you will, too.
During the formative years of the Stanford d.school, I taught a class with Bob Sutton and some other colleagues called Creating Infectious Action. The class revolved around a basic question: could ideas be designed to spread?
The answer, delivered by successive student design teams working to spread ideas as diverse as downloading Firefox to creating a pedestrian-only zone in Palo Alto, was an unqualified yes. Yes, you can design ideas to spread, so long as you pay attention to something roughly approxmating these three key principles:
create something remarkable - an idea, product, or service
weave sticky stories around the offering
identify communities receptive to points 1 & 2, then light some small fires, and then spend time pouring gas on those fires
This week, Bob has created some hugely infectious action around the pathetic treatment by United Airlines of the daughter of our mutual friend and colleague Perry Klebahn. You can read about it here.
I just did a Google News search on the topic, and over 160 news items have been written about this sad episode. All of this from a blog post. And there's more to come, for sure.
United's woeful performance is remarkable in a negative way that hits principle one above: a girl, stranded by an airline, kept from getting in touch with her parents, meanwhile surrounded by supposedly responsible adults who can only take action when they go off duty from their job at United. And Bob has written some very sticky stories around this, all backed up by the authority which comes from an extremely well-regarded, tenured Stanford professor. And to the third principle above, it's easy to dismiss this as some thing which just happens naturally on the web, but Bob has put a lot of hard work over the years into building an online audience for his blog. It's an audience highly engaged with the hard issues of organizations and culture, primed and ready to spread an idea like this -- which reflects the very worst aspects of bureaucratic, disconnected, corporate cultures.
As a formerly loyal United customer who now goes out of my way to fly on JetBlue and Virgin America, I really hope that this sad story is a tipping point for United's management and culture, and gets converted into concrete, positive action. It's rippling across the web, and it's going to be around for a long time, because it's designed to be infectious.
“For every negative, there’s a positive. It’s in everything. How you deal with life, outlook, how much energy you put into achieving something. That’s why I detest entitlement. Anything that’s worthwhile is going to call for some sacrifice. Nothing worthwhile will come to you without a price. People think in sports, you have different rules. You really don’t. It’s whatever motivates you.”
I hesitate to write this blog post, because I'm the prowl for a lightly used Cannondale Hooligan 3 -- in matte black, natch! (don't buy my bike, dude!) The Hooligan is still in production, but the 2012 version only comes in a shade of green which, while really wild, doesn't quite have the aesthetic brilliance of the bike above, in my humble opinion.
The Hooligan is all about Principle 19, Have a point of view. The Hooligan is a BMX bike fore adults, a ride for clowning around while you're commuting across town. It's not trying to win the Tour de France, it's not something you'd wear spandex on, and there's nary a spring nor an ounce of carbon fiber to be found.
What it is about is nimbleness and an extrovert aesthetic. It's polarizing to be sure, but I have a soft spot for eccentric aesthetics, and so the Hooligan's point of view is aimed exactly at people like me.