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.

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

“Pink Bat” Stairs

January 25, 2011

This short video is an excellent (and fun) example of “Pink Bat” thinking… turning “problems” into solutions. The perceived problem was the stairs… most people preferred using the escalator instead.

When we look past accepted labels, suspend our judgment, and tap into our creativity… a real world of possibilities emerges. Consider the “Pink Bat” elevator example… and to think it was also considered a problem! Are you surrounded by “problems”… or are they unseen solutions, just waiting for you to see them? The world we focus on is the world we create. Have fun turning problems into solutions.

“Pink Bat” Thinking

January 24, 2011

Today, top mortgage lenders have the lowest referral rating of any business sector: 89% of customers are dissatisfied. Most would see this as a “problem”… but not Quicken Loans. By changing perception and focusing on “Turning Problems Into Solutions,” they now have a 94% referral rating! That’s “Pink Bat” Thinking… making creativity and innovation work. To learn more, click here and read this Huffington Post article by Jason Schmitt.

“Pink Bat” Cure

October 17, 2010

Last October I wrote the following:

It’s late. The final Pink Bat manuscript is due tomorrow. From my office I can see several Chicago landmark buildings lit with pink lights. It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Amidst this pink glow—the posters, the ribbons, and special events—we are all reminded of the search for solutions to save lives. The color connection to this cause… and my book title… is obvious. Less obvious, but more relevant, is the thinking found inside.

For every problem, there exists a solution… and at the very least, an opportunity. Breast cancer is no different. But it takes an open mind… imagination, purpose and passion… to find it. In time, this “problem” will be viewed differently… and an unseen solution will appear. Perhaps an outsider will see what experienced insiders have missed. Someone less influenced by perceptual blindness… an unlikely suspect.
Read more

Pink Bat Video

September 11, 2010


The idea for this video struck me one evening after seeing a UPS commercial. Uncertain of the best way to turn my concept into reality, I called my friend Ryan Schiewe to see if he had any ideas. As expected, he had several. Most involved green screens, projectors, special digital effects, large studios… and big budgets.

“What if I stood at a real whiteboard and you actually filmed me drawing?” I suggested. Ryan agreed to give it a try but stressed, “We won’t be able to refine or manipulate your drawings to look perfect… like those in the UPS commercials.” After purchasing a 4’ x 8’ sheet of whiteboard material, we set up a makeshift studio in Ryan’s living room and did a few quick tests. Before long, we concluded while this approach was somewhat problematic—and not real plausible—it was possible. That was all it took. Read more

Beyond Labels

May 21, 2010

An author, enigma, husband, lazy, philosopher, stupid, intelligent, uncle, dreamer, kind, father, sincere, creative genius, son, public speaker, radical, friend, loving, designer, liberal, conservative, insightful, extremist, smart ass, brilliant, idiot, businessman, brother, left-wing, right-wing… these are some of the words and labels people have used to describe me over the past year. Some have been shared directly, others behind my back. While some labels are more objective and useful to communicate, others are subjective and open to interpretation. Notice the contradictions in my labels? That’s because they are projections. Labels reflect as much about the labeler as they do the person being labeled. Since I put little merit in subjective labels, I try not to let them influence my thinking. As people we are more than labels… and reality always trumps words.

While labels simplify the world, provide context and help us organize our thoughts, they don’t define reality. In business, people are given titles to describe a role or position. These labels don’t describe who they are, or what they’re capable of doing. The same holds true with children. Have you ever heard a conversation along these lines?

“My daughter is gifted… she’s in all the advanced classes!”

“That’s wonderful, my son is LD… actually, he’s ADD… and in special classes.

“My oldest son is ADHD and he went on to college. My daughter is average… she’s getting by in regular classes… if she worked harder she could be in AP courses.” Read more

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