Treasure the Eclectic – I do (let’s revisit an old post)

The world would be much less interesting without our eclectic friends. Conformity is overrated and when done in excess makes us too vanilla in our thinking. We need a little Cherry Garcia ice cream to keep things entertaining and innovative. It is not unusual that some of our most brilliant minds and artists have been willing to leave the white lines of life’s highway. As a result, we have benefitted from their eclectic thinking.

In fact, a Higher Education expert says innovation often occurs in the various intersections of different disciplines. These intersections are enablers of creative ideas and discussions. This is one reason, before he died, Steve Jobs designed the new Apple headquarters with small rooms that would allow these accidental intersections to occur as people ventured from the restroom, breakrooms, workout rooms, etc.and bumped into each other. “Whatcha working on?” would lead to a brainstorming session.

This is one reason Malcolm Gladwell’s books (“The Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” “Blink”) stayed on the best seller list so long. Gladwell said he has always looked differently from others and his parents moved some, so he felt like he was always an outsider. So, his writings seem to have an outside looking in perspective on things. In other words, he had not grown up in area, so he did not conform to the local way of doing things. He could question why do you do the things that you do. Gladwell had an eclectic bent.

Yet, I did not want this post to turn too serious, as I preferred to highlight a few eclectic stories, some real, some fiction that I treasure. They exemplify who we are as a world of imperfect humans.

– Several years ago, the Chicago River was leaking into a tunnel as a hole was accidentally punched into the bottom of the river. The story I was told was after much consternation and failure to stop the leak, a boy suggested that old mattresses be used. Guess what, they plugged the hole with a combination of cement and old mattresses.

– My father grew up in a rural town in south Georgia. He was given the chore to look after the hogs which included the naming rights. So, my dad named all the hogs after movie stars. Sophie Tucker, Mae West, etc. Of course, this became a problem later on, as he became too attached to the hogs and farm life is very basic in mission.

– Speaking of naming rights, my family has a habit of driving named cars, some we named, others which were given to us. My wife likes red cars, so she has driven Miss Ruby, Ruby Red Dress and Miss Scarlett. My cars have less fun names in the Purple Dragon (it was burgundy) and the Grey Goose. My daughter had a red car at first, which she called Percy, the name of the Scarlett Pimpernel lead character. Now, her gray car is called Dorian Gray.(note, the car does age, though). One of my best friends used to drive us around in high school in “Old Betsy” a beat up Chevrolet he inherited from his dad.

– One of my favorite Pat Conroy characters is in his novel “The Prince of Tides.” Unfortunately, the movie did not include this character, so you need to read the book to find his story. The grandfather of the main character was very religious and would demonstrate his faith every Easter by dressing up as Jesus and lugging a homemade cross around town. When he got older and the cross became too heavy, his family put the cross on roller skates, so he could complete his annual mission.

– Speaking of fictional characters, one of the most inventive series of characters were on the second Bob Newhart show. And, they never spoke. Into the Inn three brothers would walk and only one would speak. “Hi, I am Larry. This is my brother Darryl and this is my other brother Darryl.” Priceless. Of course, in real life, the boxer George Foreman named all his male children George. I guess he was covering his bets that his name would live on.al

– Speaking of Easter, I would try to attend midnight mass each year with my best friend who is Catholic unlike me. Each midnight mass, the priest would wish to his congregation “Happy Easter” as well, as he knew he would only see a great percentage of them again in 365 days. This Father is still with us as he presided over the funeral of another friend’s mom a couple of months ago.

– The other midnight mass ritual we would do, is afterwards, several of us high school or home from college friends would go caroling into the wee hours. Our other friends would be greeted by a knock on the door at 2 am. They would open the door to see these big guys singing horribly various Christmas carols.

– I have written before about my wife’s Aunt Mary. She died at the age of 99, living all but five weeks in her own home. Aunt Mary never replaced her false teeth once they were burned up in a fire, so the last twenty years of her life, she gummed her food after tearing it up with her hands. She did not want to bother with new ones. She also was candid with her economy of words, while her younger sister, my wife’s mother, was effusive and did not let the facts get in the way of a good story. After my mother-in-law went on about how good-looking a young man was, Aunt Mary said “all I can say is he was a poor pasture to lead your cows into.”

My wife and I treasured Aunt Mary. I treasure the eclectic. In the southern United States, we often use the word eccentric to mean someone a little different from others. A little “southern eccentricity” can be a good thing. I told my wife, I want to be that eccentric old man, as it would be too boring to be a conformist. At a bare minimum, I want to remain ecelectic. Please feel free to share your eclectic stories. I would love to read them.

Many successful people have failed

Recently, my wife and I watched three separate music documentaries – the eight part series on Country Music, one on Motown and one on David Bowie. What I find interesting is how many artists had to fight failure to get a chance and gain eventual success. These failures reminded me of other similar stories I have been exposed to.

Garth Brooks, one of the biggest selling artists of any genre, was turned down by every studio in Nashville. The night of the most recent “no, thank you,” Brooks performed at a small venue and that same record producer was in the audience and saw something.

David Bowie made records and even albums, but they went nowhere for years. He never lost hope. After much experimentation, he came up with the idea about a man in space. “Ground control to Major Tom…” became the lyric that peeked our interest in “A Space Oddity.”

The Beatles intrigued a young record producer named George Martin, but he recognized the band needed to practice to learn how to play. Many people don’t know that a fifth Beatle named Stu Sutcliffe was very inexperienced. So, Martin sent them to Hamburg, Germany to play seven shows six nights a week. They had to learn new material.

The Supremes led by Diana Ross were called the “no-hit Supremes” for years as they could not break through. Eventually, Berry Gordy and his writers came up with the right song, “Baby, baby. Where did our love go…”

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time. Yet, Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team before making the team the following  year. As Dean Smith, Jordan’s college coach would say defending his decision to start Jordan as a freshman, “I put him on the blue practice team and they won. I put him on the white practice team and they won. It did not take a genius to realize we had a better chance to win if he played.”

Steve Jobs was successful with the Apple, but failed to develop the next generation machine. Fortunately, while the team he led was failing, another Apple team plodded along and developed the Macintosh. Jobs took it over and it made history. We should also note, Jobs was later fired from his own company, but  returned to save them and launch the hand held I-series of devices.

Hewlett-Packard failed at its first business. It was a bowling alley scorekeeping system. Yet, they created an organization that allowed the development of new products and were hugely succesful with computers and printers.

Everyone fails at something or even more than a few things. The key is what do you do next. When life knocks you down, you have to get up, dust yourself off and move forward. Or, as Winston Churchill famously said, “When you are walking through hell, the key is to keep walking.”

Do you know…


Do you know the following facts? They are all true, so feel free to verify them and use them as you deem appropriate.

The famous Chrysler CEO, Lee Iacocca, designed the first Ford Mustang using the underpinnings of a Ford Falcon, fulfilling an idea to have a sports car for the masses.

The auto industry sold more cars and light trucks in the US in 2015 than in any year previously, with 17.5 million total topping the previous high of 17.4 million in 2000, back when Bill Clinton was President.

The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is left-handed and played drums on a right-handed drum kit giving him a unique sound.

The US has had 71 consecutive months of job growth, one of the longest periods ever and later this year, unless the economy turns as a result of China’s slowing economy, we will have the 4th longest economic growth period in US history.

The words to “A Natural Woman” sung by Aretha Franklin were written by a man, Gerry Goffin, who was married to and a partner of Carole King. They wrote the song in less than 24 hours after a chance meeting with a record producer on a New York City street. The producer rolled his car window down and asked if they could write a song for Aretha by tomorrow.

The President who was in office when the greatest number of jobs were created was Bill Clinton at 22.8 million jobs, even more than during FDR’s presidency. Ronald Reagan oversaw the third most job growth at 16.1 million according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The songwriter of “Crazy” made famous by the late Patsy Cline was none other than Willie Nelson. A great moment in the movie “Doc Hollywood,” with Michael J. Fox, is when this song is played at a dance, showing it remains a great love song many years later and no one could sing Willie’s song like Patsy.

The US stock market, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, has almost doubled in value since January 23, 2009, just after President Barack Obama was sworn in, even with the fall off the first few weeks of this year. On January 23, 2009, the DJIA was $8,078 and it closed yesterday at $15,883.

The late Glenn Frey of The Eagles had his first professional experience playing acoustic guitar and singing background on Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Seger encourage Frey to have his own band and they remained friends until he died. Frey will be missed.

According to the US Department of Energy, in 2014 Iowa led the nation by producing 28 percent of its electricity from wind power, followed by South Dakota at 25 percent and Kansas at 22%. Wind energy provided more than 15 percent of electricity in a total of seven states, more than 10 percent in a total of nine states, and more than five percent in a total of 19 states. Texas and California are the largest producers in terms of Megawatts.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby once sang a Christmas carol duet on Crosby’s Christmas show that was stunningly poignant. They blended new lyrics which Bowie sang while Crosby sang “Lil’ Drummer Boy.” Bowie will be missed.

Martin Luther King did not intend to deliver his famous “I Have Dream Speech” as it was delivered. He had a different theme in mind. When MLK ad-libbed a line away from his prepared speech, the famous Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson cried out to him to “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” as she had heard him speak of it before. MLK set aside his prepared remarks and gave one of the most famous speeches of our time or any time.

Steve Jobs biological parents immigrated from Syria to the US. Think about that for a while. Would we have Apple today, if he had not been born here?

Keep seeking the truth. We need more of it, especially with so many leaders, politicians and so-called news sources taking liberties with it.

 

 

 

A journey begins and is made up of small steps

Oftentimes, we look at huge efforts and never start to tackle them because of their enormity. There is an old quote that I often use, “opportunity is missed because it is often dressed up as hard work.” Yet, to accomplish any major task or to embark on an arduous journey, you must take that first step. And, remember the journey is made up of small steps. This is my way of saying break the huge effort down into smaller steps and it won’t seem so overwhelming. But, I would add that you should do each step well, as if you don’t you may need to go back and do it again.

Hopefully, you will also have some semblance of a plan, rather than embark without an idea or goal. But, even without a plan, doing nothing will most likely not get you where you need to go. On this last point, with three children and during some tutoring I have done, I will share with the student on tackling a problem they don’t know how to do – “well let’s start with writing down what you do know.” Once you start, the problem becomes more visual. On old professor called it “thinking with your pencil.” Plus, a teacher wants to see if you have a clue, even if you miss the problem, so they can help you work through the problem.

I have written in earlier posts excerpts from some interesting starts to solving major problems. Each of these three examples were actually ridiculed, yet they paved the way to a successful problem resolution. From the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, I wrote a post about Paul O’Neill, the very successful CEO of Alcoa who went on to serve in President George W. Bush’s administration. The post can be found with the attached link. https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/who-is-paul-oneill-and-why-should-his-opinions-matter/.

O’Neill joined Alcoa and turned the company around by focusing on safety. When he said he wanted to make Alcoa the safest company on the planet at his first CEO public appearance, he was ridiculed and one financial advisor told all of his clients to dump Alcoa stock today. The advisor later said that was the worst piece of financial advice I have ever given. Why safety? O’Neill told people later, “that was only issue I could get management and the unions to agree was important.” With this focus, communication between management and the workers on the manufacturing floor improved and it was a two-way street. Information on how to make things safer and improve processes started being discussed and Alcoa improved safety and productivity. This translated into financial success and the stock took off.

Malcolm Gladwell used an example in his book “The Tipping Point” about how terrible subway crime was stopped in New York City. Although more complicated than this, it started with the subway management painting over the graffiti on the trains and walls every day. If graffiti appeared, they made every effort to make sure it was gone the next day. What happened next is the vandals and robbers starting seeing this and felt if they are going to this much trouble to paint trains and walls, then we better not do any crimes here. This seemingly small step was laughed at, but it made a huge difference.

The final example is another small one, similar to the above two, courtesy of Steve Jobs. When Jobs built his first plant in China, he was involved in the intricate details. When he was asked what color to the paint the walls, he said white. When he was told that was foolish as it would show dirt and grime, he retorted we will just paint it again. His point is white is a cleaner look and if we keep it clean by repainting, this will show we have great attention to detail and the workers will notice. They will extrapolate that to other areas. This attention to detail continued until right before he died as Jobs had a heavy hand in designing the new headquarters for Apple. He was insistent on having small meeting rooms with white boards along the highly trafficked routes in the halls to the rest rooms and break rooms. The reason is the chance encounters and “hey, what are you working on” hall conversations would lead to idea sharing meetings.

Small steps. Harder problems are made easier if broken down into small steps.These three success stories involved safety and buckets of paint, which few thought were the most important or necessary steps to success. If you break large tasks into smaller steps and try to excel at each step, then the journey will be made easier. No matter how small that step may appear to others, that first step has to be taken. And, suppose you make a mistake along the way; remember the lesson of Steve Jobs and the New York subway – you can always paint over it – and move forward.