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.

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

“We must use time creatively,” MLK, Jr.

January 17, 2011

Last week I was in DC delivering a keynote to a group of educators—superintendents, principals and vice principals. The event theme, Turning Problems Into Solutions, is the subtitle of my book, Pink Bat. My challenge was to inspire the audience to embrace creative thinking, look at “problems” in a new light, and to provide tools they could use to motivate the many teachers they influence. The client had great expectations… and I had only 45 minutes to make it happen. I’m happy to report the audience was wonderful, and based on the feedback, the event was a success. It seems I made my 45 minutes count…

Since Anne was able to join me, we decided to stay an extra day and explore our nation’s capital. We walked a good ten miles, taking in the many sites DC has to offer. At some point we found ourselves climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And then, unintentionally, we both stopped short of reaching the massive marble statue and bowed our heads… eighteen steps short to be exact. With heads bowed, we read the inscription engraved in the step, “I HAVE A DREAM. Martin Luther King, Jr., The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.” My mind raced and I became overwhelmed with emotions. Without thinking about it, we found ourselves standing on the very step from which Dr. King delivered his historic speech.

After a moment… I honestly don’t know how long we stood there… we eventually made our way up the remaining steps and listened to the National Park Ranger’s presentation. While his presentation was informative and the monument was inspiring, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dr. King. I returned to the step and stood directly on it. Looking out over the National Mall, I closed my eyes and traveled back to 1963. I was five years old when Dr. King shared his dream, but I remember it vividly… watching it on a black and white TV screen, hearing it repeated on the radio, listening to adults and kids discuss it as I tried to reconcile his words, their words, and my thoughts about the turbulent times. Dr. King was then… and remains… one of my heroes.

I opened my eyes briefly to take in the entire scene before closing them again and trying to remember the words spoken here some 48 years ago. He conveyed so much in such a profoundly eloquent and compelling way. But it was the end of his speech—the part where Dr. King departed from his prepared notes and improvised—when his vision became known to the world. Apparently, Mahalia Jackson, an African-American gospel singer, prompted him by shouting, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” And tell us he did.

When we returned to our hotel that evening, I looked up the “I Have a Dream” transcript and read the words several times. Then something profound struck me. In this iconic speech, this brilliant man masterfully referenced numerous biblical allusions, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” an old Negro spiritual, and so much more… all in seventeen minutes! What more can be said?

Cut, Baby, Cut

May 19, 2010

I first became interested in Easter Island (Rapa Nui) years ago after reading “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich von Däniken. His basic hypothesis is that space travelers visited earth and were welcomed as gods by our ancient ancestors. To Däniken’s way of thinking, this explains many of the unexplainable ancient technologies, past marvels and religious stories. Easter Island was one example sighted in his book, specifically the large monolithic statues called “moai”. According to Däniken, creating and transporting such massive statues would have been outside the intellectual or physical scope of primitive islanders. While most scientists and historians reject Däniken’s ideas, his book captured my imagination and made me aware of Easter Island.

Easter Island is the most isolated habitable piece of land in the world. It lies in the Pacific Ocean more than 2,000 miles west of South America. According to scientists, when its inhabitants first arrived around 400 AD, they must have thought they landed in paradise. The mild climate, fertile soil, rich vegetation and forests would have provided all the resources needed to build homes, canoes (for fishing), fuel for fire, making rope, weapons, thatching, and so on. Over time these islanders developed a complex social structure, centralized government and religious practices… and at some point, they began creating statues.

But by the time Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen discovered the island in 1722 on Easter day (hence its name), it was far from a paradise. There wasn’t a tree or bush standing higher than ten feet tall. The native animals had vanished and the islanders were raising chickens to survive. According to Roggeveen and others who followed him, these famished natives certainly weren’t capable of producing and moving such massive statues. So what happened on Easter Island? There are many theories. Not only about why and how these statues were made… but what happened to the islanders who made them… and what happened to their paradise? Read more

Being a Good Samaritan

April 28, 2010

What ever happened to being a Good Samaritan? Last week in New York, Hugo Tale-Yax, a homeless Guatemalan immigrant, was stabbed repeatedly in the chest while saving a woman from a knife-wielding attacker. Then he fell to the sidewalk, bleeding to death as dozens of people walked past. While some turned their heads to catch a glimpse, others actually stopped to gawk and talk. One guy stopped, rolled Tale-Yax onto his side, saw the puddle of blood, and then kept walking. Another person actually took a photo before moving on!

“HOW CAN PEOPLE WALK BY A DYING PERSON AND NOT HELP?” outraged citizens ask in utter disbelief. “WHAT’S THE WORLD COMING TO?” dismayed talking TV heads ask… acting as if this were something new.

According to social psychologists, Mr. Tale-Yax was the victim of a psychological phenomenon called “the bystander effect.” I first learned about this in a college sociology class. Back then it was called the “Genovese syndrome” named after the infamous 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens. Dozens of people witnessed her attack and heard her screams but did nothing to stop it… let alone report it.

It seems the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help a person in need. Research shows that individual bystanders monitor fellow bystanders to try and determine if it’s necessary to intervene. When no one takes action, they all conclude their help isn’t needed. Some individuals assume that another bystander will intervene… and as a result, no one intervenes. Many individuals assume that another bystander is more qualified, so they don’t bother getting involved. Certain bystanders are concerned about “losing face” in the eyes of the others… while some fear legal consequences should they offer their assistance. Read more

Sacred Cows and Innovation

April 6, 2010

Without all the pieces, it’s hard to solve a puzzle… and developing innovative solutions is no different. I’ve always considered the creative process a search for truth. That’s what I love about creativity… it has no “sacred cows*”… everything is fair game and anything is possible. When you consider that creativity fuels innovation, the notion of truth (the whole truth and nothing but) can’t be taken lightly—especially if you’re really serious about innovation.

The number of “sacred cows” that dwell within organizations always intrigues me. You can see them in government, education, business and religious institutions. They can even be found in your own home! Contrary to popular belief, everyone has “sacred cows,” existing at every level and in many forms. Once you start looking for them, they’re relatively easy to spot. How? Start by asking some basic questions or suggesting some alternative ideas and watch how people respond. The more honest and logical your questions are, the better. You’ll soon realize that sacred cows are immune from questions or criticism, so doing either makes people defend them. Expect to hear these kinds of responses:
“That won’t work.”
“That violates the rules.”
“We shouldn’t be discussing this.”
“You don’t understand…”
“I can’t believe you asked such a question.”
“You’re missing the point.”
“That could get you fired.”
“It’s too complicated.”
“That’s outside our process.”
“You’re being irreverent.”
“That’s too radical.”
“That’s not the way we do things here.”
“You don’t have the authority.”

In addition, these kinds of responses are often cloaked in argot to make them appear more complicated, important or official-sounding than what they really are. Read more

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