It’s easy to find people who have achieved great success in business and in life. They are all around us. However, everyone defines success differently. Most won’t agree with my definition and that’s cool. For me, I was never inspired or motivated by achieving great wealth. I am fascinated by individuals who continually innovate, reinvent and think outside of the box. Those are qualities of the successful people who I try to emulate. And you know what? Most of them have achieved financial success as a result of this passion, but it’s not what motivated them in the first place.
I come from a family of artists, so the art of creation is always what has inspired me. As I have said to anyone who would listen, "the blank canvas" is what really, really gets my heart pumping. I have tried to apply that fascination to my professional career as well as my personal life. Learning new things. Pushing my limited skill sets as far as I can. That’s what drives me. So, when I decided after 25 years of building my PR firm to venture into unchartered waters in the tech and media side of the landscape, I knew that I needed to take a deeper dive into absorbing inspiration wherever I could find it.
And so here are the ones I look to when I need some inspiration. They are the ones who are putting it all on the line in everything they do. It's an eclectic group, I get that, but they each have specific qualities I admire:
Bruce Springsteen for his passion. I have long been a Bruce fan (I am from Jersey so whadaya expect?). His music was the soundtrack of my childhood, but as I got older what really stood out for me about Bruce is how he plays every single concert like he knows it could be his last. The joy and passion he brings to each show is truly inspiring.
Bob Dylan for his sheer originality. Musically, I am obsessed with all things Dylan. Every old album (I know I’m dating myself), anything new and every re-issue! I listen to him over and over and over again without ever getting tired of it. What amazes me about Dylan is how he just doesn't give a crap about what he sounds like or the popularity of his choices. He just puts out there the things that inspire HIM and that’s a rare trait in popular culture where everything these days is so marketing and image driven.
Jeff Bezos for his unyielding commitment to his customers. Do yourself a favor and read "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" by Brad Stone. It’s beyond brilliant. Bezos is relentless in his quest to create the greatest user experience and that is what has led to one of the most remarkable business stories of all time.
Reed Hastings for his humility. To this day, I have never seen someone in business accept personal responsibility in the way Reed did when he tried to make a change in the way Netflix operated. From that day forward, all he did was completely reinvent the way we watch and purchase movies.
Lebron James for his competitiveness. Can’t believe I added this one! I was long a Lebron hater, the way he announced the taking of his "talents to south beach" was everything I stand against. But what did he do when he got there? He literally refused to accept not winning and his determination and drive in every game are inspiring. Every time you watch Lebron you get the clear impression he just wants to win more than the other guy. The only other players where I have seen that type of killer instinct are Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Doug Tompkins for his courage to walk away from something he built and seek a higher purpose. As far as a story that is incredibly inspiring, Tompkins’ does it for me. Founder of North Face and then Esprit, he walked away from a hugely successful career to devote his life to conservation … 2 million acres later, he has made an enormous contribution to the environmental movement.
Michael Bloomberg for his sheer ambition. The scale of Michael Bloomberg's ambition is awe-inspiring. He built a company that pioneered media and data, he became one of the most successful mayors of a big city in history and seems to now be focusing his enormous resources on issues that matter most to him. It seems whatever he does, he thinks big!
Malcolm Gladwell for his brilliant writing. I am not a fan of business books in general. I just have this overall feeling that a lot are written by people who haven’t actually been in the trenches, but Gladwell is as original a thinker and as insightful a writer as there is. Just read "David and Goliath" and you will see what I mean.
Nate Silver for his ability to disrupt the staid business of statistics. He took a profession that hasn't changed much in decades and turned it on its head. His FiveThirtyEight blog accurately predicted the last presidential election and many others. Mainly though, I loved the fact that he quit a steady job at KPMG because he knew he wasn't happy in it and in doing so, completely reinvented the way statistics are used to predict both sports and politics.
Nathan Sawaya for the sheer joy he has being a full-time Lego artist. An amazing story you should check out if you aren't familiar with him.
Finally, my kids for the wonder in their eyes with every new thing they experience. It’s something I try to remember every day.
Every day, I try to remember these 10 people and all of their qualities that inspire me. It makes the journey less lonely and at times less terrifying. So here's to those who inspire and for keeping me company on my own personal journey.