The Recipe, Part 1

Let’s try something different. We all love those never-give-up stories, the ones about how Colonel Sanders was rejected 302 times (or 1009 times, depending on the teller) before finding someone interested in his fried chicken recipe. Or how Thomas Edison failed a thousand times (or, in some tellings, ten thousand times) before building a successful filament light bulb. Or how this or that famous actor or singer was turned down in a zillion auditions (or ten zillion) before landing the big role. I’ve even experienced a few of those stories myself, and in these, I can vouch for the numbers. In a past post, I’ve written about how the manuscript for The Go-Giver was rejected 22 times before Adrian Zackheim at Portfolio said yes — and then went on to sell a half million copies in two dozen languages. And how the manuscript for The Red Circle was rejected 10 times before being bought by Marc Resnick at St. Martin’s Press — and when published it became a New York Times bestseller was adapted for kids and is now in development for television. Those were fun stories to tell. But it’s always easier to identify a victory in hindsight, when the suspense and anxiety of the moment is long past. What if we did it differently this time? What if I told you the story while it was actually happening, and brought you right into the middle of it? So you could share in the disappointments, the suspense, and (eventually) the elation? Let’s do that. Right now. I have a manuscript that’s sitting, as you read these words, in the...

Dogs and Cats and Leadership

We have a dog named Ben, although I sometimes think of him as Agent Smith because he so closely resembles a Secret Service agent in the way he shadows my wife, Ana. From room to room, bedroom to kitchen, day or night — whatever task Ana is involved in, you will find Ben on the job, blending into the background, standing guard with unflagging vigilance. Know how to spell devotion? D-O-G. (Photo: Ben doing rigorous guard duty) Wouldn’t dogs make great employees? Once a dog has identified you as his boss, he’ll do anything you say. Got a new company sales target? Easy. “Fetch!” you say — and everyone dashes off across the field in dogged search of the stick you threw. Give a little acknowledgment, a little praise, a scratch behind the ears, maybe a puppy treat or two, and they’ll follow you anywhere. Cats … not so much. I grew up with a cat. She was a gorgeous Russian Blue we found abandoned in the neighborhood, starving and terrified, and took into our home. We put out food and milk. She hid in a corner under a piece of furniture for days, finally slipping out to steal a few lap-lap-laps of milk, after which she slunk off to her hiding place again. Eventually she glommed on to me and became “my” cat. Her name, we decided, was Chiquita. We called her Chiqui (pronounced “cheeky”). Chiqui was utterly devoted, much like Ben. She would slip up onto my bed and sleep at my feet every night. At some point during the wee hours she would slide up to...

Holding Power Graciously

I just read a news piece about yet another man removed from office because he’d been found abusing his authority. This one happened to be a university chancellor, but he could as easily have been a CEO or general, church leader or congressman. The names and titles and particulars are interchangeable. The story, all too often, is much the same. It reminded me of a British historian and politician, John Dalberg-Acton, and his correspondence with a friend on the topic of authority and accountability. The friend held that those seated in high office — say, the king and the pope — should be treated with more deference and given broader benefit of the doubt than other mortals. Lord Acton vigorously disagreed. It’s just the opposite! he said. (I’m paraphrasing.) If you’re going to slant the way you treat people in positions of great power, you should slant it in exactly the other direction. The higher their position, the more scrutiny they deserve, because they are that much more likely to be up to no good. Why? Because, he said: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And people have been quoting those seven words ever since, as if they were as sacrosanct as Newton’s laws of motion. I don’t think so. The drumbeat of corruption headlines notwithstanding, I’ve never bought that idea. I’ve just seen too many examples where it didn’t happen like that. Here’s what I think does happen: I think power creates a distortion in the human space-time continuum. Just like the curvature Einstein said happens in space-time caused by uneven distribution of energy and matter, creating the...