I was at an event last night sponsored by the United Way here in Ottawa, and it featured Malcolm Gladwell as guest speaker … more on Malcolm in a minute.
The event last night was specifically for the “major donors” group of the United Way, those people who donate $5,000 or more a year to this cause. I was not raised “with money” and certainly there was nothing spare in our house, in fact there were lots of “things” we went without. For me the concept of “giving” is something I have had to learn over time, and its not that long ago when I would have considered $5,000 a huge sum to give to charity.
As a member of the United Way Major Donor Committee part of my job is to convince people that actually $5,000 isn’t all that much to give … when you earn a good income, and your income only happens because you are a member of our society. It is much the same argument that driving is a privilege … not a right! In the same way I believe charitable giving at a reasonable level should be a given … not something that we must be convinced to do.
I chose to work with the United Way which supports hundreds of charities … but there are many deserving charities to support … I hope everyone who reads this chooses to give what they can!
Back to Gladwell …
If you visit Gladwell’s website you will be treated to summaries of each of his best selling books The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. I have read Blink and Outliers, indeed I wrote a summary about Outliers just a little more than a month ago. Yesterday I read Gladwell’s summary of Tipping Point and last night had Gladwell sign a copy that I bought at the event.
Gladwell is also a big supporter of charities, which is partly why he agreed to come to Ottawa. One of his New Yorker articles is an enlightening look at the impact on our society of homelessness. The story of Million Dollar Murray is worth a read.
It is impressive to hear someone like Gladwell talk. He didn’t use notes and he was able to recite facts and statistics from memory that always tends to blow my mind. In an effort to do something a little different last night he decided to give three lessons to be learned from the story of Fleetwood Mac. One of the hallmarks of a great speaker for me is their ability to entertain, to get their messages across and if they can surprise you at the same time then its a huge bonus! Gladwell delivered … Fleetwood Mac as a topic for the United Way major donors!
So what were those messages …
1. Sometimes we have an impression that success is an overnight event, entrepreneurs (and bands) suddenly emerge as “stars”. This sets an unrealistic expectation for future entrepreneurs/stars when typically nothing could be further from the truth! Fleetwood Mac were best known for two albums … their first album called “Fleetwood Mac” and “Rumours”. There were something like 16 albums between, hardly an overnight feat!!!
2. Entrepreneurs often head down a path with an idea and think that is what will get them to success, but in reality those paths to success can be “long and winding”. Reality suggests that there will be many twists and turns to the plan before success is realised. For example Fleetwood Mac tried many different genres of music ranging from their original “blues” approach through to a more mainstream “California sound”, as they searched for lasting success. In the same way entrepreneurs often need to modify their plans, adjust their products and services before they find the right formula.
3. Adversity and hard work are often ways to shape success. Battling through the tough times (like the current economy) will make for stronger companies, and that requires a strong work ethic. Success does not come easy! Back to Fleetwood Mac … their guiding light, leader and inspiration (Peter Green) disappeared with a cult just a few years after the band was formed. THAT is adversity … and the band went through many iterations of band members as well as genres before it settled on success. Many years later they fulfilled their promise.
Gladwell’s description of the road to success is definitely one that rings true with anyone who has been there … sometimes it just LOOKS easy!