We had the opportunity recently to host Bill Rancic - the first winner on Donald Trump's The Apprentice television program - for a keynote speech about what he's learned from several important mentors. He didn't mention The Donald, which wasn't really that much of a surprise. He also talked about how he's started and built several entrepreneurial ventures, and about a very important lesson that he took away from his triumph on the TV show in 2004 which, as he noted, seems like light years ago.
I thought that his explanation for how he won the Apprentice competition was very enlightening. He didn't say he worked the hardest. He didn't say he wanted it the most. And he certainly didn't say he was the smartest guy in the room. His winning edge was something that we talk about every day at 1871 as well. It's the idea that nobody does anything important and worthwhile all by themselves. If you have a dream, you need a team--that is, if you want to make the dream come true.
Bill said the key to his success was that he tried to be "the conductor" just like the main man at the symphony. He used his talents to bring everyone together so they could make beautiful music. He knew-- just like in an orchestra-- that he didn't personally have the special skills or the same abilities that each of the other members of his team had. But he was able to get them all moving in the right direction and to bring out the best effort that each team member had to contribute.
He also knew that the most amazing things get done when no one cares who gets the credit. Harmony trumps hubris -- no pun intended. It certainly wasn't easy-- he had some confrontations and some hard sledding, but healways kept in mind what Robert Schuller said: "Tough times never last, but tough people do!" And he never spent his time blaming others when things went wrong. That would have been a waste of breath and energy.
After the show ended, when he started working in the real world, he said he was fortunate to have some great people to learn from, whose examples he follows to this day. And he was smart enough and modest enough to know that, until he really knew what he was doing, it was a mistake to try to do things on his own. He needed to play a role for a while before he tried to roll his own-- even though one of his first ventures was in the mail order cigar business. Today, he's also a restaurateur. (See Entrepreneurship: Will You Sink or Swim?). Bill had a very clear idea of where he wanted to end up and even how he thought he would get there. But he was smart enough to know that these things were going to take some time. And that the smartest thing he could do in the meantime was to concentrate on learning something from someone every day on the journey. It's important to have a mental roadmap, but patience is also essential. (See Why You Need a Reverse Roadmap).
He also noted that his father was a source of both instruction and inspiration. Bill said that one of his father's rules was that "practical execution" was what really mattered. All the talk was simply that - results and actions were the things that made a difference. His Dad used to say: "show me, don't tell me" or as I like to say: "you can't win a race with your mouth." Less talking and more typing is how things get done. And it won't ever happen if you don't get started. There's no simple playbook or set of rules for how you invent the future - you've got to get the ball rolling, keep your eyes on the goal, and be agile and flexible all the time.
Bill said that when we're born, we're only afraid of two things - falling and loud noises. From then forward we learn to be afraid of other things and too often allow those fears to keep us from stepping out and taking the kinds of risks that are essential to succeed. He quoted Emerson as saying that you needed to do what you are afraid of and that - if you do - success will find you. As far as risks, he said that the key was to recognize and manage reasonable risks so that you could convert them into opportunities and rewards-- not to try to avoid every possible risk. The ship that stays in port is always the safest, but it rarely accomplishes anything.
Finally he talked about the business with the bumblebees. He said that for years scientists figured that bees were never supposed to be able to fly because the ratio of their wing size to body weight was all wrong. The laws of physics decreed that the bees couldn't generate enough power to lift themselves into the air. Bill's point was that - just like so many entrepreneurs who do every day what others thought impossible - no one ever told the bees they couldn't fly. Accordingly, off they went.
Today, no one says that the bees are defying physics or nature. They are defying convention, because we have finally figured out that just because the bees don't fly the same way that fixed-wing airplanes do doesn't mean gravity doesn't apply to them. The fact is that bees --just like entrepreneurs --have figured out (with a little help from Mother Nature) a different way to solve the problem. They fly by rapidly rotating their flexible wings; that's how they get lift.
Every day entrepreneurs are doing the same thing. We look at the same problems that millions of others have observed from new and different perspectives and come up with novel solutions that are often obvious in retrospect. This is because we don't ask why; we ask, why not?