“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
― Thomas Jefferson
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
— Steve Jobs
Our society is always looking for the next thing that will lead to success and while theories on what makes people successful may vary, I believe there are two ingredients for success that never change: hard work and creativity.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” he writes about the 10,000-hour rule, which was based on a study by Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson that claimed it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a task.
He uses examples like the Beatles. While he acknowledges their talent, Gladwell claims that an invitation the band received to play in Hamburg, Germany, while they were starting out is what led to their monumental success. In Hamburg, the Beatles played five hours a night, seven hours a week, and honed their skills, preparing them for worldwide stardom.
I’m a big believer in the value of hard work. I’ve been working since I was 12 years old. In the warmer months I dragged a lawn mover around the neighborhood and cut lawns. When I was 15 I got a paper route, waking up at 4:00 a.m. to make sure my customers had the latest news from the Atlanta Constitution when they woke up.
While I learned valuable skills from these jobs — responsibility, reliability, how to land a newspaper squarely on a front porch and collect from delinquent customers — the job where I honed many of the skills I would use the rest of my life was as a peanut vendor at the Atlanta Crackers baseball games.
The Atlanta Crackers, a minor league team, played from 1901 to 1965, prior to the Braves coming in 1966 from Milwaukee. The games were played in Ponce de Leon Park, destroyed long ago and replaced by a shopping center.
I sold peanuts for a penny a bag commission. The top seller for each game got a $20 bonus for selling the most peanuts. It didn’t take me long to figure out that even if I threw away 100 bags and paid the $10 for them myself, I’d still come out ahead if I sold more than anyone else.
So during every game I’d try to track the other boys’ sales and then would buy whatever additional bags I guessed I needed so I could be the top seller and win that coveted $20. I won it every time and some weeks there were multiple games, so that extra $20 really added up.
While walking up and down those stands week after week, handing out bags of peanuts to baseball fans in the 20,000-seat stadium, I learned then that two of the keys to success are hard work and creative thinking.
I could have just worked hard selling the peanuts. But it took the creative thinking to land that additional $20 a game.
It’s that creative thinking that is often called into play in my work as a turnaround authority. It’s not that I’m the smartest guy in the room. It’s that I bring a level of experience at rescuing failing companies — there’s that 10,000-hour rule — and I bring a fresh perspective that is conducive to a creative approach.
Here’s just one story I tell in my upcoming book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.”
On one of my assignments we had a big problem with theft from a warehouse. Lots of merchandise was disappearing and I didn’t have the time or money to install a security system.
But I could install a dummy camera, wire and blinking red light. No guts or recording equipment, but it worked! Theft was reduced and with the savings I could buy a real security system.
There are plenty more examples where the combination of hard work and creative thinking by a team challenged with saving a failing company was able to succeed.
That’s what I do as a turnaround authority. And fortunately, I don’t work for peanuts any more.