THE MOST IMPRESSIVE PEOPLE OF THE YEAR . . . AND WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THEM
Let’s look at “Time” magazine’s list of the most influential people of 2011 to see what they all have in common–and how we can use some of the same characteristics to become even better (and the best) at what we do. (You can and should also know who the top people in your profession are and know what they did to make that list.)
COREY BOOKER [Mayor of Newark]
Years ago, Booker moved into the projects of Newark, N.J. because (as he told Oprah) “You can best serve what you know.” And long after he won the job of mayor, he remained in his tiny inner-city flat not to make a point, but to make a difference.
Lesson: Nobody wants to admit they could be doing more to become better (or the best) at what they do. However, when we look at the leaders in any field we almost always find they are willing to give up more than most (of their time, their security, their immediate needs) to get what they want. They are in a word, committed. When we are willing to go “all in” on something we increase our chances of success. It means being honest about what we are doing with our life and acknowledging we need to do more because it means that much to us. Admitting we are unable to go the extra mile because we are only mildly interested in it is okay, too. Being honest about why we are unwilling and unable to commit everything we have brings us one step closer to aligning with what we really want to do. When we find the perfect path (for us) we will want to give it our all–and then some.
MATT DAMON [Actor and Activist]
Matt Damon teamed up with Gary White, a longtime expert in water-supply systems and created Water.org. Their message is one of hope; their solutions for providing access to clean water are simple and cost effective. And their work is an opportunity to change lives forever.
Lesson: There are three things we all need if we want others to help us reach our goals. First and foremost is our conviction. If we don’t believe in what we are doing we don’t have a chance to interest others. The second thing is a clear and simple message others can quickly understand and rally around. Lastly, we must be ready and open to help. We can’t be on a secret mission. We must be willing to talk about what we want to do and then allow others to get involved without the fear of losing control or worry they will run off and steal our ideas.
BINETA DIOP [Mobilizer]
Women are the economic drivers of Africa, on average working twice as many productive hours as men. Bineta Diop’s relentless campaign for gender parity is empowering women to play a leading role in African development.
Lesson: The “Glass Ceiling” may still exist in some fields, but for the most part the playing field is level–if not tipped a little bit in favor of women in some companies. (Did you know that 2/3 of all employees at Aflac are women?) The excuse that a person can’t “make it” because of where they come from, who they are, or what they lack are now no longer valid. If you aren’t where you want to be don’t make excuses, make hay and get going using what you have (your strengths) and stop complaining. You’re better than that.
JENNIFER EGAN [Best-Selling, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author]
Egan says she wouldn’t want to start writing a book she knew from the outset she was definitely capable of pulling off. Her ambition and innovation inspire writers and delight readers.
Lesson: The bad news is things change faster than ever . . . this is also the good news. We can’t stand still, stand pat, or stand back. We must keep moving forward (and growing as a person and a professional). We should also push ourselves past our fears and try new things that scare us (a little) to prove what we already should know–we can do more than we think we can. Lastly, the people who make it are self-promoters. Waiting for others to discover your amazing abilities is one way to go, but it’s better to find ways to show off your talent to garner some attention to get ahead.
TOM FORD [Fashion and Film Director]
Actress Rita Wilson wrote the following about her friend (Tom Ford). “He Skypes from his bed, on the opposite end of the planet, to check in with me in mine. Friendships are his other art.”
Lesson: They say it’s who you know that determines how far (and how fast) you will get ahead. But there is a lot lacking with that assumption. If people don’t like or respect you, then knowing a lot of people is a career killer. Building lasting relationships that benefit both parties are better than using people to get what (and go) where you want. For example, Tom Ford is known for sending handwritten notes. It takes more time, but meaningful and lasting relationships can’t be rushed–or pushed.
WAEL GHONIM [Political Activist]
This change agent quickly grasped (what we all now know) that social media–notably Facebook–are probably the most powerful communication tools to mobilize and develop ideas. He used the emerging medium to change the world (his world) in Egypt.
Lesson: People with a goal or on a mission see something new (like Social Media) and just know what to do. When what they want to do is help others reach their goals, it’s even clearer. When we feel overwhelmed by choices and change we should get back in touch with our core values, our main mission, and our goals. This will simplify and streamline our life and find focus for our time talent–and make us more readily and easily embrace change.
GABRIELLE GIFFORDS [Congresswoman]
Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in Tucson earlier this year but has bounced back better than anyone expected because she is resilient–a fighter.
Lesson: We all need to appreciate what we have (as with Giffords, things can quickly change for the worse) and fight for what we want. Too many times we complain about the most meaningless and trivial things (small things that really don’t matter in the big picture) while not counting our blessings for all the things we do have. No matter how bad things are, they could be worse. With that said, no matter how bad things are they can also get better if we believe they will and we are busy doing things to make progress toward prosperity and replacing negative thinking with a positive approach.
REED HASTINGS [NetFlix CEO]
Reed, 50, had the idea for Netflix after misplacing a videocassette and racking up a big late fee. He was on his way to work out when he realized the gym had a much better business model than his video-rental store–pay $30 to $40 a month and exercise as little or as much as you want. (I will also note that Hastings let success go to his head and made a couple of monumental miscalculations in 2011.)
Lesson: So many big businesses started much the same way as NetFlix, someone (and this can be you) saw a small problem and wanted to fix it. It’s usually a problem that really bothers them, but they are smart enough to imagine others feel the same way and would also pay for a solution. It’s also worth pointing out that many “new” ideas are just incremental improvements to things that already exist. (Hint: We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just make it move faster, easier, or cheaper.)
JOHN LASSITER [Filmmaker]
Chances are you have seen John Lassiter’s work. His films for Pixar (including “Toy Story” and “Cars”) are modern classics and raised the bar for all animated films because of a high standard of art, perception, and fun that everyone in every language can relate to and enjoy. He surrounds himself with people who share the values and work ethic necessary to maintain that standard–now recognized worldwide as simply Pixar.
Lesson: It should come as no surprise that Steve Jobs (the co-founder of Apple) was heavily involved in making Pixar a leader in their field. Jobs was always known for his attention to detail and design–two things that make all Pixar films miles ahead of their counterparts. Steve Jobs (and John Lassiter) are artists. We should treat our work as our art–regardless of what it is. Artists create things others want to admire and talk about. Is our work that good? Do people praise us for finding a new and better way to do something? Do we go the extra mile seeking perfection? (Even if perfection is impossible, the act of trying to be the best is going to be better than what others are doing.)
LARRY PAGE [Google Co-Founder]
Larry Page has never been afraid to think big. When his graduate adviser at Stanford heard that Page and his friend Sergey Brin had the brash idea of giving everyone an instantaneous way to find anything on the Web, he was skeptical. When their student project became one of the world’s most powerful companies, the vision proved not so crazy after all. Like many innovators, Larry, loves grand quests.
Lesson: At Google people pitching Page a new idea will often hear they aren’t thinking big enough. The old saying, “The people we admire put their pants on one leg at a time just like we do” is true. The difference between greatness and not-so-greatness can be found in the ability to think big. What causes some of us to be small minded stems from our own doubts–our fears. If we knew we could not fail, what would we do? Nobody (not even Larry Page) can know whether they will succeed for sure. They feel the fear and do it anyway. When we can overcome our fears and take (calculated) risks, we can move mountains.
SCOTT RUDIN [Producer]
Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay for “The Social Network” and in the process benefitted from producer Scott Rudin’s invaluable input. “I e-mailed him the first draft,” Rudin recalls. “He said, ‘Come on out.’ When Scott says, ‘Come on out,’ he doesn’t mean in a few days. He means on the next flight. We spent two hours every morning (for a week) in his office turning pages. He’d tell me where I was weak, where I was self-indulgent or ham-fisted, where I was missing an opportunity for emotion. Scott is the best script editor I’ve ever known. I’m only one of dozens of people who’ve become better writers because Scott called and said, ‘Come on out.’ ”
Lesson: We all need a mentor to push and help us–and we also need to be a mentor to others. Nobody succeeds alone and having someone who has been there and done that to help us avoid possible pitfalls is priceless. (It is just as gratifying to help others reach their goals as well.) However, when we are able to meet with people we know and trust to get honest feedback, bounce ideas around, and gain the support and encouragement that can only come from a group of our peers, we truly have the found the “secret” to success. Start your own Wild Idea Club and meet monthly to harness the collective creativity that a group of people pulling for one another can create.
TO READ THE ENTIRE “TIME” MAGAZINE ARTICLE: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/0,28757,2066367,00.html