Dear Yet to be Born Grandchildren

Greetings from the past!

One of the greatest thinkers in my field (and in my time) was a man named Peter Drucker. I am very lucky. I got to spend a lot of time with Peter. He always encouraged people to ask, “Who is the customer?” before they do anything.

I finally understood the deeper importance of that question when Larissa MacFarquhar, a journalist from the New Yorker wrote a profile about me. It was published in their April 22, 2002 edition.

Larissa spent two months traveling around and talking with me. She interviewed my family, my clients and many of the people who work with me. She then wrote this very long story about me that was published and sent to 800,000 people. I didn’t get to read it ahead of time! This was a little scary, since some of the New Yorker profiles can be pretty negative.

I originally thought that maybe my customers in doing this profile should be my clients – the people who pay me to do my work. I thought that maybe I should “be careful of what I say” and try to act appropriate. Maybe I should be careful not to embarrass anyone.

But, as Larissa began interviewing me, I figured out who I wanted to be my “customers” for this profile. It was you, my yet-to-be-born grandchildren. I decided that this profile was a special opportunity for you to get to know me.

I decided to just act like myself. If I had acted like someone who was pretending to be what he is not, it would have been a story about an imaginary person. You might not have the chance to know your grandfather.

Your grandmother and I discussed this, since she’s in charge of our business. I told her to assume that we were going to lose $150,000 in business because of this profile. I figured that by just “acting like me,” I might annoy someone who wouldn’t want to work with me anymore. I figured that it would be worth the $150,000 to have a brilliant writer spend two months on a story about me (that I could send to you, and hopefully, to your children). I hoped that I wouldn’t lose any more money than this!

As it turns out, I was glad that I just “acted like me”.

I wouldn’t have fooled Larissa anyway. She is a brilliant woman who does this for a living. In hindsight, I realize that it would have been stupid to try.

I received about 300 e-mails about the profile. They almost all said the same thing – “It sounds just like you!”

As it turns out, my fears about losing business due to this profile were wrong. Not only did I not lose any business, I was later interviewed in the Harvard Business Review and many other publications. I now have an eight-month waiting list for new clients.

I learned something from this experience that I would like to share with you. Just be you.

You are good enough. In the long run, any success you achieve, if you don’t act like yourself, won’t seem real anyway. You will just feel like an imposter or a phony.

In my career, I am sort of a pioneer. I was one of the original developers of something called 360 degree feedback. I help people achieve a positive, long-term change in their behavior. I also try to help the people that I work with (and everyone around them) have a happier life.

If I look back upon what I have contributed in my career, my largest contributions have all come from stuff that I made up.  No one can tell you how to do anything that hasn’t been done before. If you are going to do anything creative, you have to make it up! There is no guidebook.

If you have an idea that sounds good – go for it! Just be you. Do what is in your heart. You may fail, but at least you will have tried.

Don’t waste your life worrying too much about “being normal”. Lots of people are normal. It is more fun to be different. Just be you.

When your grandchildren read the story of your life, make sure that it is really about you.

Life is good

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There has just been listed as the #2 bestselling business book for 2012 by INC magazine / 800 CEO Read. This is the sixth year in a row that What Got You Here Won’t Get You There has been listed as a top ten CEO Read business best seller for the year.


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