Ric Elias – a moment of clarity plus action

Last night, I was watching a regional show on business in the Carolinas and one of the featured guests was Ric Elias, the CEO of Red Ventures, a huge success story around helping new business market and sell their products using a customer optimization lens. Some of you may have seen him on a TED Talk last year. Please check him out at http://www.ted.com/talks/ric_elias.html. The purpose of this talk was the moment of clarity he reached as the plane he was on in January 2009 was about to crash-land in the Hudson River. You see, Elias was in Seat 1D on US Airways Flight 1549 piloted by Captain Sully Sullenberger, who had just uttered the words “brace for impact.”

His short TED talk is very moving as he came to terms with three things.

1) Live in the now.  As an example, he said I no longer buy expensive wines, as I would rather buy cheaper wines and drink them with my friends today. Don’t put off tomorrow what you should do today.

2) Avoid negative energy.  His main thrust is we spend so much time arguing over things that really do not matter. He said I realized I needed to worry less about being right and worry more about being happy.

3) Focus on what’s important. Building on these same points, he realized seeing his kids grow up was the most important goal in his life. So, he said my most important job is to be the best dad I can be. Nothing else comes close.

I wanted to keep these short, as I encourage you to click on the link and watch the talk which is short even for a TED talk. But, let me add a few points. These were not just words, he acted upon these words. Words are cheap; actions are valuable.

To his last point, I had a health scare on my 44th birthday. I thought I was having a heart attack walking to a restaurant where my family was to meet me. When I got there before them, I asked for an aspirin and then said you may want to call an ambulance. I did not see my wife until later from a hospital bed. I can assure you when I was in a hospital with wires all attached to me, I did not think about work. I thought about my family and seeing my kids get married, become adults and pursue their dreams. I thought of not seeing my wife again. That was my moment of clarity. I acted on my thoughts just as he did with his, but he made an even bigger platform.

First, he stopped working each day at an earlier time and went home to be with his kids. He lived the work-life balance he preached at Red Ventures, which is annually voted as one of the best places to work. He said he remembered balling like a baby at his daughter’s first grade recital. Being there was the most important task on the agenda of a CEO.

Second, he gave back. He is an immigrant to the US and went to college at Boston College.  Plus, he married a business need for innovative talent, with how many children of illegal immigrants are shortchanged and cannot go to college in the US. So, he started Golden Door Scholars (see www.goldendoorscholars.org) with $1 million in funding. The purpose is to provide more avenues to education for the approximately 1.1 million children under age 18 that are children of illegal and legal immigrants. He said many of these kids are the brightest in their classes and yet cannot go to college. They did not do anything wrong. Red Ventures even offers intern programs to these kids.

Third, his company, as noted above, is a forward thinker. Red Ventures hires, develops and nurtures young kids teaching them to become innovative problem solvers. “We fail constantly,” he says, “but we fail fast and hard. And, we learn even faster.”  Elias’ Red Ventures creates a breeding ground for innovative thought. This is what made America great and this is what we need to do to compete in the new world. He notes with the doubling of computing power every 18 months, the next two iterations will be mind-boggling. We need innovators to understand this and help us capitalize on it.

What I like about Elias’ words is what he has done about them. Moments of clarity should not be wasted by inaction. Otherwise, the opportunity to change for the better may have been wasted as well. Give his TED talk a listen. It might give you a moment of clarity without having to sweat a plane crash. And, if you have a moment of clarity, develop a plan and act on it. Dr. Phil likes to say “the difference between a dream and a goal is a timeline.” I think Elias understand this difference.