Connecting Dots…

February 5, 2013

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jobs_stanfordIn his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.”

Trusting that your efforts and experiences–the dots–will somehow connect in your future does make all the difference. And, typically, the dots that lead you off the well-worn path are the most important dots in your life.

With this in mind, let’s travel back in time and connect some dots. In 1879 William Ludwig was born in Nenderoth, Germany. At age 8, he and his family moved to Chicago. Interested in music, young William pursued the violin and piano but abandoned them to play the drums. Soon William became a professional musician. As his musical skills evolved, he became increasingly disappointed with the bass drum pedals available, concluding they were inadequate for professional drummers.

Being a “Pink Bat” thinker, William viewed this pedal “problem” as an opportunity. In 1909 he and his brother, Theobald, rented a barn on the south side of Chicago and developed a bass drum pedal capable of keeping a faster tempo. The new pedal was a hit and the brothers formed “Ludwig & Ludwig” to develop and market products to the music industry. Theobald ran the company as William continued traveling, playing and promoting products. The future looked bright.

ludwig.logoThen in 1918, a flu epidemic struck and Theobald died of complications. Now the sole owner and operator of Ludwig & Ludwig, William dedicated himself to the business and his company prospered–until the Great Depression. To survive financially, William merged with C.G. Conn and became a company employee. But having lost his influence over product design and manufacturing, he became discontented and left the company.

Lacking vision and quality, Conn reduced the Ludwig & Ludwig brand to a second-rate product, and by 1937, William had seen enough. Along with his son, William F. Ludwig, Jr., he reentered the music instrument business. W.F.L.’s first product was the revolutionary “Speed King” pedal, the pedal I used during my drumming days. This pedal is still being manufactured today. Additional products followed and through creativity, passion and hard work, William was back on top. So much so, that in 1955, he purchased the Ludwig division from Conn.

Think about the dots that have connected in William’s life to this point. As you continue reading, keep in mind… everything is connected. Our dots connect in unpredictable ways… and to unknown people and events yet to come. That’s why we have to remain open-minded and trust that the dots will connect in our future. Before we can see opportunities, we have to believe they exist. With this reminder, let’s leave William F. Ludwig behind and travel to England.

ivorFor years, Ivor Arbiter had been a saxophone repairman, part-time drummer, and full-time dreamer. His biggest dream? To own a music store. As the 1950s came to a close, Ivor decided to try and make his dream a reality. New to the retail business, Ivor evaluated his options, used his imagination, and tried to visualize a completely original music store concept. Stumbling upon a newspaper article about U.S. retail outlets, Ivor’s vision came into focus. Drum City would be the first drums-only store located right in the middle of London’s music center.

In 1963 a young man calling himself Ringo Starr visited Drum City. Having recently joined a band called the Beatles, Ringo wanted to replace his old drum set. To ensure Ringo received a good deal, his new manager, Brian Epstein, a local record store owner, accompanied him. (As you connect the dots, consider this one… had the Beatles’ original drummer, Pete Best, met the band’s expectations, Ringo and Brian wouldn’t have entered Drum City that day.)

brianLiking his old drum kit, Ringo saw no reason to change brands. He envisioned himself playing an all-black Premier kit until a swatch lying on Ivor’s desk caught his eye. This new finish was called Black Oyster Pearl and Ringo loved it, but soon learned the finish was available only on Ludwig drums. After a salesman expounded on the merits of Ludwig drums and touted the exclusive agreement Drum City had with the U.S. company, both Ringo and Brian were sold. During negotiations, Brian emphasized the Beatles’ potential and said it would behoove Ivor to take excellent care of Ringo… in fact, give him the drums for free!

Most people would find this problematic at best. Ludwig drums were expensive and Drum City was in no position to take a loss. But Ivor was a “Pink Bat” thinker. He didn’t see a “problem” so much as a marketing opportunity… and a win-win solution. He proposed taking Ringo’s old Premier kit in trade, with this understanding: the Ludwig logo could appear on Ringo’s new bass drum head. Brian found the proposal acceptable with two conditions: if the Ludwig logo were small… and Ivor would agree, at no additional cost, to print “The Beatles” prominently on the bass drum head. A win-win agreement had been reached… or so it seemed. What Beatles logo?

beatles_logoBrian said the logo should emphasize the ‘beat’ in Beatles. Driven by purpose and passion and wanting to close the deal, Ivor grabbed a scrap of paper and sketched a couple of crude logos for Brian and Ringo’s review. They both liked Ivor’s sketch where the “B” was larger than the other letters and the tail of the “T” was elongated, emphasizing ‘beat’ as Brian requested. Ivor closed the deal… and unknowingly created a sketch that would become one of the most recognized logos in the world.

Days later, Ivor made a long distance call to William Ludwig, whom he had met at NAMM (the world’s largest music products trade show) months earlier. Ivor explained to William if he’d reimburse Drum City for Ringo’s drums, he would make certain a Ludwig logo appeared on the bass drum head… and that could be good for business. William agreed.

ed_sullivanIn February 1964, a record 73 million U.S. viewers watched TV as the Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan show. The following day, unprecedented numbers of young people stormed music stores, coast-to-coast, demanding instruments. To be specific: Rickenbacker and Gretsch hollow-body guitars, a Hofner bass… and Ludwig drums. I know about the Ludwig drums firsthand as I was playing drums in the grade school band at the time. For Christmas, knowing my parents couldn’t afford a new Ludwig snare drum, I asked for and received a used one… and still have it today!

ringo_drumsTo say Ludwig prospered from having its logo on Ringo’s bass drum would be an understatement. The Chicago drum factory began running 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, trying to keep up with demand. In 1964, Ludwig Drum sales were $6.1 million, and two years later, sales had more than doubled to $13.1 million! The biggest challenge Ludwig faced was expanding fast enough to fill orders. The Beatles arguably became the most successful act of the 20th century, not only musically, as the band’s contributions to film, literature, art and fashion, continue to impact the world today.

To make my point and convey this story, I’ve used a minimal number of dots. Even so, the “people” events seem unfathomable: the young German brothers who moved to Chicago, the British saxophone repairman with a dream, four young music-loving Liverpool lads who crossed paths, a local record store owner who became their manager… in actuality, the number of dots and connections in life are endless. Can you imagine looking forward, trying to predict these dots and then connect them? No one can… and that’s the point.

We can’t predict the future, but we can imagine the possibilities… and trust the dots will somehow connect in our future. Which dots? How will we know? When is it time to change… or start something new?

Consider this: “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” ~Steve Jobs

Looking back on this story, another pattern emerges. William Ludwig, Ivor Arbiter, Brian Epstein, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Steve Jobs shared much in common. They used time creatively, embraced their imaginations, had the discipline to change… and trusted that the dots would somehow connect in their future. They were all “Pink Bat” thinkers.

Paper Airplane Video

June 18, 2012

A new video based on Paper Airplane: A Lesson for Flying Outside the Box. Whether it’s education, business or an entire nation, significant accomplishments require us to look beyond our initial perceptions. They take vision, clear goals and unwavering commitment… diverse people open to different perspectives, willing to ask questions, to challenge the status quo and take a stand. Looking ahead, preparing for future success, sharing knowledge, learning from experience, and measuring our progress. We put a man on the moon… and that was a half century ago. By embracing creativity and having the courage to take action, imagine what we could do today. Enjoy!

Feel free to “share” and your comments are always appreciated. Thank you.

High Line Solution

June 20, 2011

Back in the 90’s, former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, along with a number of Manhattan citizens identified a major problem. The problem was an abandoned elevated rail… it was “standing in the way of progress.”

The High Line was built in the 1930s to provide freight service to Manhattan’s largest industrial district. Back in the day, the High Line moved freight cars through the center of blocks, connecting them directly to businesses, factories and warehouses. In addition, by elevating the tracks, the number of pedestrian deaths caused by train accidents was greatly reduced. The High Line, so it seemed, was a successful solution on many levels.

Starting in the 1950s, the growth in interstate trucking caused a drop in rail traffic. This trend continued into the 60s, when due to lack of demand, the southernmost section of the High Line was demolished. In 1980, the High Line was shut down. In the eyes of most people, this historic solution had become a major problem.

Citizens and property owners lobbied for the removal of this abandoned relic. Mayor Giuliani adamantly agreed… it was indeed a serious problem. If progress was to be made, this eyesore must go. The High Line was slated for demolition.

Like all great Pink Bat thinkers, freelance writer Joshua David and artist Robert Hammond remained open-minded. They knew that a “problem” is often a mislabeled solution… just waiting to be seen. The two first met in 1999 at a community meeting slated to discuss the High Line’s future. Read more

Houston, We Have a Solution!

May 19, 2011

Since my flight to Houston didn’t leave until 12:40 PM, I spent the morning packing, answering Emails, reviewing my keynote‚ and enjoying the peace of mind one derives from not being rushed. Traffic was light and I arrived at O’Hare in record time. It seemed the stars were in perfect alignment.

The flight took off on time and before long, we were preparing to land. Suddenly, the plane zigged, the storms zagged, adults screamed, and children cried. Our smooth sailing craft, at the hands of Mother Nature, had been transformed into a trackless roller coaster. People who had forgotten how to pray suddenly remembered.

The turbulence was so extreme the pilot bypassed Houston and landed in Austin where the plane was to be inspected for damage. My fellow travelers and I stood at the gate, mentally and physically disheveled, awaiting our fate. Some sent text messages, others called loved ones, and a few reached out to comfort one another. At times like this, it becomes apparent—we humans have far more in common than not. I called my wife, Anne, to see if she could find another flight into Houston. No luck.

Many passengers remained focused on the “problems” at hand. They provided each other with affirmations, complained to agents, and gathered evidence to support their beliefs. Within an hour, our flight had been rescheduled on another plane for later that evening… and then delayed once again for even later. My gut told me the third rescheduling was not going to be the charm.

“Has anyone checked on ground transportation?” I asked a group of passengers that were commiserating at the bar. “No, it’s too far to drive‚ about four hours. We’re just going to wait it out,” said one woman as she raised her glass to toast the decision. The others followed suit. As I thanked her, she wrinkled her nose in a peculiar way and said, “Find the tall woman in the white sweater; she’s thinking about renting a car.” I couldn’t tell if it was the alcohol talking, or if a suppressed memory had unexpectedly surfaced. In any case, it seemed surreal—like Alice’s encounter with the Cheshire Cat. I skeptically scanned the crowd and to my amazement, found my version of “The White Rabbit” standing less than 20 feet away, talking to some fellow passengers. This trip was becoming “curiouser and curiouser!” Perhaps I was in Wonderland? Read more

Seeing Unseen Solutions

April 27, 2011

I recently closed a speech with this challenge: “You can live each day in a world filled with “problems,” or rise each morning and embrace a world filled with unseen solutions… eager for you to find them. The decision is yours… both worlds exist. The one you choose is the one you will create.”

Afterwards, during a Q&A session, a young man remarked, “Your presentation was awesome, but how do you go about seeing unseen solutions?” What a great question! In a nutshell, here’s my answer:

Seeing “unseen solutions” starts by believing they exist. This is fundamental. Without this belief and a willingness to suspend our judgment and remain open to new possibilities, unseen solutions remain just that–unseen.

Secondly, when one appears, we need to accept it. That’s right… unseen solutions try to get our attention on a regular basis, but we’re too busy working and living to notice. Because most potential solutions dwell on the edge of our perception, we usually overlook, ignore, or dismiss them. Occasionally, a potential solution is so persistent; we can’t help but catch a glimpse of it. When this happens, we briefly acknowledge it, believing we’ll remember it. But when we try recalling it, we discover it’s gone… or parts are missing.

While some solutions appear all at once, most come in small flashes that strike us when we least expect it… when we’re reading, taking a shower, on a walk, exercising or daydreaming. These flashes are fleeting gifts! We all receive them, but few take them seriously. To quote my late grandfather, “When God whispers in your ear, pay attention.” Read more

Planting Seeds of Change

March 14, 2011

Recently, while driving to a meeting, I started thinking about healthy food. How can the average American (if such a person exists) avoid eating GM (genetically modified) fruits and vegetables inundated with pesticides and fertilizers? My first thought was to buy organic. I often do, even though it’s more expensive, but many households can’t afford it. During the summer, I frequent outdoor markets and buy from local organic farmers. This is fine during the warm months and I enjoy meeting with the farmers and supporting them… but it’s also expensive. Besides, what do you do about the rest of the year?

Back in the day we used to have a garden. While it takes time, gardening is a viable solution to the current alternatives. And what isn’t eaten during the growing season can be shared, canned and frozen. As I drove, I envisioned my family working with me… everyone pitching in and reaping a bounty of fresh produce. I imagined sharing with my neighbors and… then reality struck! I live in downtown Chicago, and there’s not a lot of arable land on the 28th floor!

Soon I found myself in the suburbs, driving down a residential street. An elderly couple stood in their yard talking to a couple guys in uniforms… and then I spotted the lawn chemical truck in the driveway.

I remembered spending money on lawn chemicals when we lived in the suburbs. Why do people spend time and money growing, cutting and maintaining grass? Who came up with this idea? Is it social conditioning, tradition… perceptual blindness? My questions triggered a rush of ideas and visions… I had a flashback to my time spent in Germany. The cemeteries I had visited there were so beautiful and the locals took such pride in creating and maintaining them. I began to envision suburban neighborhoods filled with beautiful gardens… like a Monet painting composed of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. Visions of crop circles, corn mazes and rows of fruit trees, and beautifully designed vegetable patterns of all shapes, colors and kinds raced through my head. My brain was crystallizing with interconnected concepts and possibilities. The benefits of replacing worthless grass lawns with beautiful functioning gardens seemed endless… Read more

Seeing Beyond Labels

March 8, 2011

Carol waited for me to leave the venue before introducing herself. I had just spoken to a business audience at a corporate event. But to Carol, my message struck a personal chord and she wanted to let me know—just not in front of her peers.

You made me cry, she said, but quickly added, tears of joy.

During my speech I had explained how our focus creates our reality. If we focus on trouble, we’ll find it. If we focus on happiness, it will appear. I also shared how labels influence our perception. When we label something a problem, it becomes one. These labels act as filters to enhance our perceptual blindness.

My speech ended with a story about a kid who quit school in 2nd grade. He didn’t actually quit attending—he just stopped participating. He was smart—but didn’t do well in school. Based on his free spirit, unusual views and pointed questions, some teachers and adults labeled him as a “problem.” This label stuck and became a self-fulfilling prophecy up until the end of high school. Then an unexpected event took place—one that would forever change his life. To the amazement of many, the “problem” kid not only attended college, but was accepted into a competitive program and graduated first in his class. From there, the boy who quit school in 2nd grade founded and built a multi-million dollar visual communications firm, became an internationally recognized designer, and attracted a client roster that read like the Who’s Who of Business. After twenty consecutive years of growth, he sold his firm and became a best-selling author, creative consultant and public speaker… and I’m honored to be speaking to you tonight, I concluded.

What happened? What changed my life? Read more

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