Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

Ask some actors where their motivation comes from and they might point you to their eminent acting teacher, their shrink or Tom Cruise. (It could never be their shrink and Tom Cruise, you understand.)

Ask businesspeople, however, and often they'll point to mentors or even their own vast, powerful and uncontrollable egos.

What about their moms?

Bert and John Jacobs founded a T-shirt company. You surely know it. It's called Life Is Good.

On their website, they talk about how, even as kids, they thought about creating a company together.

They also credit their mom.

Not in some bland, offhand way. Instead, they credit Joan Jacobs as having been their inspiration.

They describe her as "the first powerful optimist."

It's alright being an optimist, but how might that inspire you to get up a business?

Well, in a book they recently published -- imaginatively entitled Life Is Good -- the brothers talk about ten key "superpowers" that they believe we all possess.

These ten are: Openness, courage, simplicity, humor, gratitude, fun, compassion, creativity, authenticity, and love. (I think I have perhaps four.)

How many of those, however, do we use and how often? And how often do we use the bad things that happen to excuse our inability to do some -- or even believe in -- good?

The Jacobs say it was their mom who inspired them to realize the good things. And it was all with one question.

Every night, she would ask them: "Tell me something good that happened today."

They say their dad was a difficult man with a temper. It would have been easy to describe their home life as "Not So Good."

But of mom's one question, they say in their book: "As simple as mom's words were, they changed the energy in the room. Before we knew it, we were all riffing on the best, funniest, or most bizarre part of our day."

Does every day include something good, funny or bizarre? In my case, bizarre certainly. Funny, too. And best? Who's doing the grading?

For all that their mom endured, she apparently sang in the kitchen. If you've never been around someone who sings in the kitchen, please believe me that it's astonishingly infectious and uplifting.

They started selling their T-shirts out of the back of a van in 1989. By 1994, they had a total of $78 to their names. It wasn't exactly a unicorn startup.

But then they decided that "Life Is Good" would be their brand. "The power of that one idea was too strong for even us to screw it up," they write.

Now there's optimism for you.

You'll have no doubt seen some of the T-shirts. Perhaps their optimism might reek of a little too much, well, optimism.

They say, however: "The business grew because people were craving something positive amid the steady storm of doom and gloom."

For the Jacobs, optimism may not be what you think it is. They explain: "Optimism is not a philosophical viewpoint. It's not irrational cheerfulness, and it's not blind positivity. Optimism is a powerful and pragmatic strategy for accomplishing goals and living a fulfilling life."

I am reminded of those supposedly wise and worldly heads who claim that hope is not a strategy.

The Jacobs insist that their positive attitude has been scientifically validated.

So here are these youngest of six kids letting themselves be inspired by their mom who, they say, "managed the daily circus on the home front." She was the one who "taught us to travel in our minds," because they couldn't afford to actually travel with their bodies.

It was this one simple business idea that did the most traveling.

As they say in their book: "Even at our worst moments, we've always had the tools that we needed to survive because of our mom."

In business, there are always terrible moments. It's a quaint notion that you can survive with the belief that life is good.

The Jacobs brothers are, perhaps, an exception.

They've been there, done that and they've sold the T-shirt.