The past two weeks have seen the passing away of three incredibly accomplished people: Aretha Franklin, John McCain and Neil Simon. No matter what your musical tastes or political leanings, there is something outstanding to be learned from their lives. Building a business requires mining from the past in order to plan ahead, and getting inspiration from a range of people, places and environments. As we transition from summer into fall, consider the following lessons from these iconic influencers.
Polymathic Clarity of Purpose
Aretha Franklin, long ago crowned the 'Queen of Soul" was a child prodigy. She knew by age 15 that she wanted music to be core to her life. Her father, a Pentecostal minister, encouraged her to explore all forms of music because in her words "he loved artistic genius." Aretha Franklin became a musical polymath, exploring gospel, R&B, pop, opera and jazz and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. As Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin have noted in The Neo-Generalist, polymaths are types of bridges and are great at operating at "the edge of rather than outside the box" to innovate and influence. She applied her clarity of purpose- to use her voice as her instrument- to influence the civil rights movement and create what has become the anthem for the womens' movement, 'Respect'. Her deep dive focus, created broad resonating impact around the world.
Ask yourself: "Where do I want to develop depth, and where do I want to have breadth?" Think about the areas where you can develop your own polymathic qualities.
In all of the reflections shared about John McCain, as well as in his own farewell letter, a consistent attribute is his embrace of his mistakes. He practiced ways to move through his errors and misjudgments- not around or over them. Over time, humility, perspective and resilience became part of his character. In spite of his own cataloguing of his mistakes, he still perceived his life as "the luckiest person on Earth".
There are horse whisperers; John McCain was a mistake whisperer.
Ask yourself: "What are two things I can own from mistakes or oversights I have made this summer?"
Neil Simon left us with plays such as The Odd Couple, Barefoot in The Park and Lost in Yonkers. It is said that he became a kind of troubadour for his generation, making ordinary folks the central characters in his oeuvres, In the 1960's when he first saw success, such character development was a groundbreaking departure from mainstream storytelling. In the midst of winning 3 Tony awards over the span of 30 years, he also endured failures, flops, and echoing silence. His approach was to shift, really listen to the changing moires of what people found humorous, and adapt his storytelling emphasis and technique. He was noted to have said, "It's not all about the laughter. It's about the feelings that the audience gets." That realization in a nutshell is the key to human centered innovation.
Ask yourself: "At the end of the day, what social and emotional impact do our products or services have on our customers?" Whether you sell laundry detergent or education, adapt to the functional, social and emotion problem you are solving for people. You'll end up with longevity in the marketplace.