Following Your Passions Pays Off

Passion Pays Off

I just found another example of how following your passions pays off, and it was right under my nose. Thom Rockliff and Elliot Ng, two of my colleagues at The St. John Group, just won a big international award – the Summit Marketing Effectiveness award – and it happened just because they followed their passion for technology.

A couple of years ago Thom and Elliot became interested in RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology. I didn’t have a clue what it was, but they explained, “When you pull up to a gas pump and use your speed pass, RFID reads your card and tells the pump to give you gas.” I said, “So what? We do marketing for products like BlackBerry, not gas pumps. Is there a client paying you to work on this stuff?” They said, “No, we’re just curious and interested in RFID, so we’re messing around with it in our spare time.”

I watched as they built some gizmos in the back room and made the RFID technology do cool things. To be honest, I wondered if all the effort was worth it, but I’d worked in Nortel Networks research labs long enough to know that if someone is passionate and excited about doing something, it might pay off someday. That day came a year later when we were working with our Research in Motion clients on a BlackBerry booth for a Las Vegas trade show. One of the clients said, “I wish there was a better way to track what interests visitors to our booth, so we could get them the information they need faster.” Bing! Thom and Elliot immediately saw how RFID could solve the problem and they soon developed a powerful solution.

So, now when you go to the BlackBerry booth you get a card, and when you want the scoop on a product you just touch the card to a tag next to it and the system quickly sends you information on everything that interests you. Customers visiting the booth get information FAST that’s targeted to their needs and BlackBerry staff receive up to the minute data on customers’ interests. The icing on the cake is the solution just won a top international award, and it all happened just because two guys followed their passions and interests. As Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.”

Push Through Fears to Reach the Dream

Recently I wrote, “What’s the difference between a challenge and a goal? Challenges are goals with fear and adrenaline added. A challenge has to scare you a little.” Jackie Tunbridge-Glacer replied, “Great definition, being the President of my Rotary club was a big challenge, with lots of adrenaline. Richard your talk and book are what pushed me to do it. My year as President was amazing, and I thank you for telling me to live outside my comfort zone.”

Well Jackie, a big congratulations for pushing yourself and becoming President of your Rotary club. When we’re thinking of doing something that takes us to the next level, suddenly there are fears and voices in our heads that try to stop us. There’s the voice of self-doubt, “What if I’m not good enough to do this?” There’s the fear of failure, “What if I fall flat on my face?” There’s the voice of shyness, “I’m afraid to speak in front of all those people.” At the same time, there’s the dream in our heads that says, “I want to do this. I think I can do it.” So there’s this constant battle between the fears and the dream. The easiest route is to give in to the fears, because that’s life as usual. No going out on a limb. No effort required. We just stay in our safe little comfort zone and talk ourselves out of the dream.

The other route is to push through the fears, take action, and start to move towards the dream. And it’s never easy. Sure, at first we feel great. It’s like those first few days on vacation when we’re going down a different road and it’s new and exciting. But then the car breaks down, or we hit a dead-end, and the fears start to win again: “Why am I doing this? I could just stop! This is too much work!” And rest assured, those fears will always return. It’s not easy to continually make the effort to push through and keep going, but it’s the only way to reach the dream, and it’s always worth it in the end. That’s why I have great respect for anybody who pushes themselves to the next level. So, here’s to you, Jackie. Keep on pushing.

Persisting Through Disabilities

I just saw a video of Nick Vujicic, an amazing man who happily lives life without arms or legs. While watching it, I had an instant flashback to yesterday when my wife and I were out for a walk. We saw a man coming towards us and he had a metal, high-tech arm that was glistening in the sun. In the old days, we would have thought “disabled.” Now we thought, “That’s cool.” It has taken a long time, but the way society views disabilities is finally changing. On the other hand, I was training to run a half marathon next weekend, except now I have a bad case of heel spurs and can barely walk, let alone run. Guess the perception of disabilities that affect me personally hasn’t changed. They suck! The trick is to persist through them and keep going, just like Nick.

Click here to see Nick Vujicic video

Does Adversity Stop Success?

After reading my last blog about Michael Jackson, Katie Jacobs wrote, “While I completely agree that not following the 8 principles greatly contributed to Michael’s professional downfall, I think that there were a few more issues that factored in. Having a crazy father certainly doesn’t help. A dysfunctional childhood, confused sexuality, impaired body image, possibly being addicted to drugs and plastic surgery, and being completely detached from reality might have contributed to his abandonment of the 8 principles.”

Yes, Katie, those issues, or “adversities,” could have contributed to Michael’s downfall. But it’s interesting that many other big stars have suffered through similar adversities and still achieved continued success – because, unlike Michael, they didn’t abandon the success principles. Oprah had terrible adversity. She was born poor and abused as a child. She continually struggles with her body image and weight. Yet she continues to succeed because she hasn’t stopped doing what she loves, working hard, serving her fans, persisting and following the other principles.

When I interviewed Quincy Jones he said, “Oprah and I were talking about our backgrounds, and she had a terrible childhood. I mean, triple-A dysfunctional! And man, I don’t know how I made it. I really don’t. I’ve forgotten a lot about my life. I’ve blanked it out because it was too painful. Every day, a major accomplishment was just getting to school and back home alive. I watched my mother being carried away in a straitjacket when I was five-years old. Back when I was growing up, there were no such words as nurturing, or cholesterol, or non-fat. I mean, what’s non-fat? We used to call it skinny. And that’s because we were starving to death.”

Then Quincy paused, looked into the distance, and put the adversity in a different perspective: “It’s sad, but it does give you a certain ability. Sometimes your biggest disadvantage can be your biggest advantage.” I began to see a similar pattern in my research, where the adversity, as bad as it is, propels people forward in some way. It could be, “I’ll escape this” or, “I’ll prove myself.” So they find something they love to do, they work hard at it, focus on it, have fun, and suddenly there’s joy in their lives instead of pain. The success principles become their refuge from the adversity.

Quincy discovered his refuge when he found a piano and started playing. In his autobiography, he writes, “For the first time in my life, I felt no loneliness, no pain, no fear, but rather joy, relief, and even understanding…When I played music, my nightmares ended. My family problems disappeared.” Music became Quincy’s passion and that, along with the other success principles, carried him through the adversity and on to incredible success. Even after winning 26 Grammy Awards, he still stays true to those principles. He didn’t abandon them or become distracted by the fame, like Michael Jackson.

So, Katie, that’s a long way of saying I don’t know if the adversity suffered by Michael Jackson had anything to do with his downfall. I do know that when he stopped following the success principles, his success also stopped. On the other hand, people like Quincy and Oprah also experienced terrible adversity, but they continued to follow the success principles and they continue to succeed. So the good news is, adversity doesn’t have to stop success. As long as we keep following the eight principles, we can keep moving forward.

Reference: Quincy Jones, Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, Doubleday, 2001

Michael Jackson – When the King of Pop Reached the Top

Last week I gave a talk at the GameHorizon conference in Newcastle, England, and at one point talked about the movie stars and rock stars who achieve incredible success – then they stop doing everything that made them successful, and the success also stops. As an example, I mentioned Michael Jackson. Ironically, two days later he died from heart failure.

On hearing the news, I was shocked and saddened, and I had a flashback to the first time I heard Michael sing. It was back in the ‘80s and I had just started my own company. Driving home at about five in the morning, after working all night, suddenly the radio lit up with Michael singing “Billie Jean.” I was blown away, became an instant fan, and even met him once at the music awards.

Over the years, we all watched Michael reach the stars and then come crashing down in his career and personal life. And one of the big reasons is he stopped following the eight success principles. Just a few examples:

IMPROVE: Reaching the top Michael kept trying to improve, and get better and better at singing and dancing. In his autobiography, Quincy Jones writes that Michael  “…would watch tapes of gazelles and cheetahs and panthers to imitate the natural grace of their movements. He wanted to be the best of everything – to take it all in.” Improvement is all about practice and Quincy says Michael was “Completely dedicated. He practiced his dancing for hours.”

PUSH: I’ve found that many successful people are very shy and have to keep pushing themselves through it, and Michael was no exception. Quincy writes, “He was so shy he’d sit down and sing behind the couch with his back to me while I sat there with my hands over my eyes with the lights off.” Now, that’s shy! But Michael kept pushing himself to perform in front of thousands of people.

WORK & FOCUS: Reaching success, Michael worked hard, was focused, and always super-prepared. Quincy says, “He showed up at 5 a.m. for his makeup call and had every detail of what he needed to do memorized and ready for every shooting. He also knew every dance step, every word of dialogue, and all the lyrics of every song by everyone in the entire production.”

PERSIST: My research shows it often takes ten years to succeed at anything significant, and Michael is another good example. He started singing at the age of four, but it wasn’t until ten years later that he had his first major solo hit, “Got To Be There,” and it was another ten years before he released “Thriller,” one of the most commercially successful albums of all time. So, he persisted through a 20-year climb to the top.

Michael Jackson became the “King of Pop” because he followed those fundamental success principles, but once he reached the top, he stopped. He no longer tried to IMPROVE and WORK hard. After all, when the world is telling you you’re great, why bother? He lost his FOCUS and became distracted by the trappings of success, so instead of spending hours singing, he was spending hours shopping. He would no longer PUSH himself through his shyness. Instead, he sunk back into it and became a recluse. And instead of PERSISTING, he seemed to just pack it in and live on past glories. We all watched as he continued to slide downhill both professionally and personally.

It’s interesting that with his upcoming London shows, Michael started to work harder and go back to the eight principles that might have helped him return to success in his career and his life. But sadly, it was too late. So, if you’re the next “King of Pop,” when you reach the top, don’t stop. Keep doing what got you there. Success is a continuous journey.


Reference: Quincy Jones, Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, Doubleday, 2001

What's the Difference between the Unsuccessful and the Super Successful? (besides better clothes)

Matt Moore in Australia writes, “You’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with successful people. Did you ever look for unsuccessful people who followed your 8 traits and did not become Bill Gates, etc.?”

Good question, Matt. In addition to spending a lot of time hanging out with successful people, I also interviewed some unsuccessful people, in order to get a point of comparison. Some were homeless men and women and others were people I met who had not achieved success, no matter how you measure it. Their responses indicated they didn’t follow any of the 8 success principles. They were doing jobs they didn’t like; they didn’t work hard, had no focus, sat back in their comfort zones instead of pushing themselves, and didn’t try to improve. They were only out to help themselves rather than serve others, and they tended to give up rather than persist. So, there was a high correlation between not doing the 8 Traits and not achieving success.

On the other hand, with the successful people I interviewed there was a high correlation between following the 8 principles and achieving success. Did all the people who followed those principles reach Bill Gates kind of success? No, everything is a matter of degrees, including success. In any endeavor, we can achieve: 1. Small success. 2. Moderate success. 3. Big success. 4. Super success. And be careful not to look down on those who achieve small or moderate success. Big success is built on a foundation of small successes and we need to pass through 1 and 2 before we reach 3 or 4. As Bill Gates says, “We took one step at a time and made the software better and better.”

So, if successful people follow the 8 Traits, what differentiates the ones who achieve super success from those who achieve moderate success? Again, it’s a question of degree. The Gates and Oprahs of the world not only do the 8 Traits, they do them to a greater degree than other people. They love what they do more than most people. They work more hours (even after he was a multimillionaire, Bill Gates worked most nights until 10pm and only took 2 weeks off in 7 years). The super successful focus more, push themselves more, come up with more ideas, improve more, serve others more, and persist more. They do the 8 to a greater degree, and that correlates to a greater degree of success. By the way, this applies to success in any endeavor, from the mother who succeeds big time at creating a family, to the CEO who succeeds big time at creating a company.

You may think, “I’m doing all those 8 things, so how come I’m not super successful?” Well, how long have you been at it? Remember, there’s no overnight success. We need to apply the 8 principles and PERSIST for a long time before achieving any success, let alone BIG success. As EDS founder H. Ross Perot once said, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” So, if you’re doing everything right, but haven’t succeeded yet, hang in there and persist.

One last point: Forget about achieving “BIG” success, or comparing yourself to the Gates and Oprahs of the world. It just drains energy away from doing the 8 things that really will get you there. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “Don’t compare yourself to somebody else, especially materially. If I’m worrying about the other guy and what he’s doing, and what he’s making, about all the attention he’s getting, I’m not going to be able to do what I’m capable of doing.” So keep your head down, focus on doing the 8 Traits, and build a trail of small achievements. That’s the path to big success. 

Susan Boyle, Average-Looking Angel

When Susan Boyle walked onto the stage of Britain’s Got Talent, the audience saw a dowdy, middle-aged woman who announced she was unemployed, had never been married, and “never been kissed.” They instantly wrote her off as having no chance of success as a singer. But when I saw Susan I suspected she’d be great. Why? Because she’s not great-looking. She’s an ALP, an Average-Looking Person, and my research shows that the top people in any field are usually ALPs, not BLPs or Beautiful-Looking People.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, being good-looking doesn’t lead to success and may even hinder it. My book Stupid, Ugly, Unlucky, and RICH has many examples. But you don’t have to believe me. Just go on the web and look at photos of the world’s richest people (of course, money isn’t the only indicator of success, but it’s one of them). It’s hard to find a good-looking billionaire. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Rupert Murdoch are not head turners, just average people you wouldn’t look at twice. And even though they’re among the world’s top CEOs, they would never be chosen by a Hollywood casting agent to play the part of a CEO in a movie or TV show. They’re simply not good-looking enough. Of course, Hollywood has it all wrong. In the real world, it’s the average-looking people who make it to the top.

Why do average-looking people finish ahead of the beautiful ones? Because many beautiful people sit back in their comfort zones, rest on their looks, and float through life. Doors are opened for them. They get the best seats at restaurants. They automatically get noticed, so they never learn to do the 8 things that really will help them succeed, like WORK hard and PUSH themselves. Meanwhile, the average-looking people, like Susan Boyle, have to work their butts off and keep pushing themselves in order to get noticed – and in the end that takes them further than looks ever would. I’m not saying good looks won’t help you get a date. I’m just saying, if you want to succeed, the top 8 Success Factors are much more important than looks. PERSIST is one of those factors and it took Susan Boyle, this average-looking woman, 47 years of persistence to be able to sing like an angel, blow an audience away, and prove herself. Hats off to Susan!

April 15, Webinar – "Retaining, Motivating, and Inspiring Today's Students: How To Do It With Eight Words."

If you’re an educator, you might be interested in our webinar on April 15. The subject is student motivation and retention. How do we encourage students to stay in college and not drop out, especially those who have lost their way or are struggling? This webinar is about how educators are doing it with 8 Words. Don Fraser and I will share the exciting results of pilot programs where college instructors are using 8 To be Great books, videos, and exercises to take students from a mindset of confusion, doubt, and anxiety, to an outlook of possibilities, confidence, and learning. In as little as an hour, students get more fired up about their career, education and future. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from students who attended a workshop:

“It was the best presentation I’ve ever seen! I learned useful ways to achieve, rather than moping around the house, telling my mother I don’t care about school.”
Thiuya, student, George Brown College

“It has helped me get through the first semester of college and will forever change the way I work and go about achieving my success.”
Rita Randelle Davis, student, George Brown College

CLICK HERE to go to the Innovative Educators website and see more about this webinar

Luck did not play a big part in Bill Gates' success

One of the theories in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers is that luck plays a big part in success, for example, having the luck of being born in the right place, or at the right time, or into the right family. However, my research shows that luck has very little to do with success. In my book Stupid, Ugly, Unlucky, and RICH there many examples of people who had incredibly bad luck, but they followed the Eight Success Principles and achieved extraordinary success.

During his speech on stage at the TED conference, Bill Gates attributed his achievements more to the sixth Success Principle – IMPROVE – than to luck. He said, “When I was young, I got to use computers. That was very lucky.” But then he highlighted a more important reason for his success: “I got to work at a computer company where, because I was pretty good, these senior people looked at my code and told me, ‘No, that’s not as good as it can be,’ and so I got better. And then I had another experience where a great developer looked at my code and told me how to do it better.”

Yes, making the effort to IMPROVE and get better at something was more important to Bill’s success than luck. After all, many other kids also had the luck of using computers in those early years, but they did not achieve Bill’s level of success. Therefore, luck was not the differentiator. The difference was that Bill got good at it, kept improving, and took it further than the others, regardless of the luck he had. So the good news is, our success is NOT determined by this thing we have no control over called luck. Our success is the result of doing things that we do have control over – the Eight Success Principles.

Click here to see Bill Gates interviewed by Chris Anderson at TED


PASSION was number one for Bill


passion1When I was talking with Bill Gates we were discussing the “Eight Success Principles” on the back of my business card. Pointing to WORK, I said, “One thing I like about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers is the research that shows it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at something.” Then pointing to the top of the chart, I said, “But didn’t Malcolm miss the most important thing, the number one factor for success – PASSION – finding something you love to do?” Bill said, “Yes, I agree. If you don’t love it, you won’t spend the 10,000 hours.”

I said, “You found something you loved. There’s a quote of yours in my book 8 To Be Great where you say, ‘Paul and I never thought we would make much money. We just loved writing software.'” Bill said, “It’s true.” So take it from a man whose passion took him to the top, the number one thing is to find something you love to do. It may not be easy to find. It wasn’t for Bill. But that’s another story.


How I Met Bill Gates

Ten years ago, I wrote to Microsoft and asked for an interview with Bill Gates. They sent me a rejection letter that said, “Bill really appreciates your interest in his perspectives on what it takes to succeed, but he regretfully must decline.” It was such a nice letter, I wasn’t even discouraged. I thought, “I’ll just keep doing my research and maybe some day I’ll get to talk to Bill.”

Well, that day was today. At the TED conference, I walked around a corner and stumbled into Bill Gates. I went up to him and introduced myself, we chatted for a while, and I told him about our 8 To Be Great Educational Program for colleges.

Then I said, “Would you like a copy of my book, 8 To Be Great?” But, as the words came out, I noticed he had no briefcase or bag to carry a book. So, what did I do? I stupidly tried to talk one of the world’s most influential people out of taking my book!  I said, “Well, maybe it’s too hard for you to carry.” Bill said, “How big is it?” I said, “It’s small,” and dug into my backpack for a book. He took it, looked at it, and said, “Thank you! I’ll read it.” And he was very sincere.

A few hours later, a man came up to me and said, “I just saw Bill Gates, and he was carrying your book under his arm.” Needless to say, it made my day. But not because it’s “my” book. Because it might help get the content out to more young people who are struggling, and give them a boost in life.


I'm a Mac

Greetings from the famous TED conference in California.
Here I am with John Hodgman, star of the Apple Ads. I thought this photo was appropriate since I use a Mac, but in our office, other people use PCs, and they co-exist quite nicely. Whatever works for you! Must run and talk to some of the great people here…


How the Super Bowl Got Its Name

There’s a myth that great ideas spring from creative geniuses. In reality, great ideas happen when people do simple things, like keep their ears open and listen. There are many examples in my books, and here’s another one that’s appropriate, since today is Super Bowl Sunday. How did the Super Bowl get its name? Because Lamar Hunt, one of the founders of the American Football League, simply listened to his son.

The search was on for a name for the big game, and one day Lamar was watching his kids play with an incredibly bouncy ball. He said to his son, “What’s that?” His son replied, “It’s a Super Ball, Dad,” but it sounded like he said, “Super Bowl.” Lamar suggested the name at an owners’ meeting, almost as a joke, and the rest is history. So, the next time you’re stuck for ideas, listen to your kids. Just don’t expect them to listen to you.

(Source: Jian Ghomeshi interview with Allen St. John (no relation to me), author of The Billion Dollar Game, CBC Radio “Q,” Jan. 30, 2009)

Timeless Success Principles

8tobegreatOne more point about Barack Obama’s inauguration address, in relation to success. He talked about the “values upon which our success depends,” and HARD WORK was the first value he mentioned. Yes, whether we want to succeed as a country, a company, or an individual, it takes hard work. In my interviews with more than 500 successful people, WORK and passion were at the top of the list. Martha Stewart said to me, “I’m a real hard worker. I work, and work, and work, all the time.” And this is nothing new. About 500 years before Martha, the great artist Michelangelo said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.”

Throughout history, all Eight Success Principles: Passion, Work, Focus, Push, Ideas, Improve, Serve, and Persist have been the most important factors for success, from Michelangelo in the 16th century, to Martha in the 21st century. Sure, people will keep looking for the latest trendy “secret” to success, but in the end it all boils down to these timeless principles. As Obama said when he talked about values like hard work, “…these things are old. These things are true.” And America’s success depends on “a return to these truths.” 

When the world's eyes were on Obama he didn't say "I"

Barack Obama’s inauguration speech was a call to action, moving, and inspiring. It’s interesting that Obama used the word “I” only three times in his 20-minute speech. His entire talk was about others and the country, not about him – even though this was the biggest moment of his life.

In contrast, there was a man and woman sitting next to me in a coffee shop, talking loudly about being unemployed and looking for work. I timed them with a stopwatch and over the course of ten minutes the man said “I” 64 times and the woman said “I” 51 times. Extrapolate that out to 20 minutes and here’s the score:

Number of times person said “I” in 20 minutes:
           Barack Obama               3
           Unemployed man       128
           Unemployed woman   102

At no point did the unemployed man and woman express any interest in anybody else. They were only out for themselves, which is likely one of the reasons they were out of work. On the other hand, when I interview successful people, they rarely say “I” and it’s often difficult to get them to talk about themselves. They seem very outward-oriented, they serve others, and they would rather chat about their passion, project, or other people they admire, than yak on about themselves.

It all comes down to the seventh success principle – SERVE. Successful people serve others something of value, and Obama is no exception. We sense that he really is out to serve others, not just himself, and that principle is one of the big reasons he was standing up there taking the oath yesterday, rather than one of the other presidential candidates. In his speech Obama talked about people who “embody the spirit of SERVICE; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.” He also said “it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.” Sometimes, what is not said is more important than what is said, and by not saying “I”, Obama said a lot.

50,000-Watt People

I was just told I’m going to be interviewed by some radio stations and they’re all “50,000-watt stations.” That means they have lots of energy, so they can go far and reach more people. My mind jumped to the thought that if you rated the energy of many of the great people I have interviewed, they would be “50,000-watt people.” Richard Branson and Martha Stewart had so much energy they struck me as 50,000-watt people. So did Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, and eBay cofounder Jeff Skol, to name just a few. They have tons of energy, largely because they’ve found their passion and are doing what they love. On the other hand, many people who are not doing what they love are more like 100-watt people. So, if you want more energy to push you further, forget eating energy bars and instead find your passion. That’s the way to reach 50,000 watts in your life.