We lost the iconic film critic Roger Ebert to cancer last week.
A wonderful human being, supremely talented writer, and arguably the greatest movie reviewer of all time.
But to me, Roger Ebert was a leader.
Which probably makes you think, "Really? Who worked for him?"
I have no idea.
And the question is irrelevant.
Because "boss" does not equal "leader."
At least not today (if it ever did).
Ebert was a 21st century leader.
He understood people's desires and beliefs.
And he moved them to act by painting compelling pictures.
As President Obama said, "He was effusive—capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical."
That's the new paradigm of leadership.
Ebert never tried to persuade or entice us to watch a movie.
Instead, he created belief by exuding passion.
He was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his work.
He created belief by controlling his impulses.
He was always positive and charming, never mean or cynical.
And he created belief by being one of us.
He wrote in his 2011 autobiography, that he considered himself "beneath everything else a fan."
Ebert once told a friend, "All writing is a journey. You take the reader by the hand and you lead him somewhere. And you want to make sure he never lets go of your hand."
That's the modern art of leadership.
And Roger Ebert was one of the world's greatest.
Because he moved millions to watch and appreciate the movies.
Ultimately, by simply displaying his brand.
"Two thumbs up."
One of Ebert's most enduring quotations was, "A movie is not what it is about but how it is about it."
And today a leader is not what he is about but how he is about it.
I will miss the leadership of Roger Joseph Ebert.
A wise Rabbi once said, "If I am I because you are you.
And you are you because I am I.
Then I am not I and you are not you."
We are not separate.
We define each other.
We are fronts and backs of each other.
In order to describe a particular brand -- what it is -- you must describe its behavior -- what it does.
And to describe what it does, you must describe it in relationship to its audience and its audience's behavior (customers, fans, members, et al).
Which means that a brand is one, interdependent system of behavior, and not a separate thing.
What a brand is involves what the customer is.
A brand doesn't know what it is unless it knows what its customer is.
In fact, we know what our organizations are (as brands) in terms of our customers.
That's why smart ones focus on strengthening relationships with actual customers, and not on the independent creation of content and attention.
Look, if you lean two sticks against each other, they stand up because they support each other.
Take one away and the other falls.
So consider carefully whether your daily activities -- your investment of scare resources -- is propping up and supporting real and potential customers,
Or adding even more noise and confusion to their busy lives.
The answer to every possible question about the marketplace is a click away.
And free to one and all.
The internet is choked with information and advice.
Who is doing what and why.
What works and what doesn't.
Trends and predictions.
10 steps to this, 6 keys to that, how to, how not to, when to, whether to, and on and on and on.
Unfortunately, no one knows anything.
So unless your mind is "strong enough to bear the weight of its ignorance," filling your head with all of this noise will only confuse you.
Or confuse you more.
You can't learn to play baseball by reading books and blogs about baseball.
And you can't succeed in a rapidly evolving marketplace by choking down information about the marketplace.
You learn by being with the people you're hoping to attract and serve.
You get insights by finding their feelings deep inside of yourself.
You succeed by crusading and experimenting for them.
If and when you find yourself confused, get out of your office.
Leave your store.
Step away from the factory.
Turn off your computer.
Heaven forbid, power off your cell phone.
Then saturate yourself and your ideas into their daily grind.
The answers are not here.
They're out there.
One of my first jobs was at a Procter & Gamble plant.
I worked the graveyard shift, loading soap on tractor trailers.
I got paid by the pound.
When the shift ended, a few of us would head to a pool hall.
Whoever loaded the most poundage would pay.
I never paid, not once.
It wasn't for lack of desire.
The other guys had been working there longer and had developed a relationship with "management."
Some guy at a desk who determined which loaders got which size loads.
I never had a chance.
So I created a game for myself.
If I couldn't load the most weight, maybe I could load faster than everyone else.
I didn't make a penny more, but I did get a reputation.
The fastest loader on the dock.
Strangely, it made me happy.
It motivated me.
I thought about that time as I sit here, working on my new book.
A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation about belief to leaders at Procter & Gamble (funny how life unfolds).
When it was over, someone paid me a compliment and said, "I can't wait to read your new book."
And just like my reputation as the "fastest loader," that comment made me happy.
Since my return home, I've been on fire with ideas and resolve.
That one small sentiment, from someone I respect, lit up my belief in myself and my work.
It was easy to motivate myself to load soap.
It was a simple task.
Me against the soap.
So I simply shined my own light.
Writing a book is much different.
It's a solitary struggle.
It's not me against a blank page.
It's me against myself.
My rambling thoughts, inadequacies, doubts.
Over time, the vision gets murkier and murkier.
And so it gets harder and harder to visualize success and, therefore, to write.
The same thing happens to all of us.
We try to lose weight, but the scale doesn't budge.
We look for work, but keep getting rejections.
We put in long hours at work, but problems continue to pile up.
So what keeps us going?
For some, it's fear.
But for most of us, it's belief in our actions.
And that belief is fueled by visceral signs of progress.
A small win, a kind word, an attaboy.
No one will continue to walk down a pitch dark path.
They'll eventually sit down and wait for the first sign of light.
Those positive signals are the light.
And they make all the difference in the world.
So please, never stop shining them.
Every meaningful success comes through a messy, unpredictable process.
It usually begins with curiosity.
Moves quickly to data and information accumulation.
Then right into trying things.
I've made a lot of mistakes.
The good news is that this process invariably creates actual knowledge.
In the book "Thinking, Fast and Slow," Kanneman makes a profoundly important conclusion.
"People who are taught surprising statistical facts about human behavior may be impressed to the point of telling their friends about what they have heard.
But this does not mean that their understanding of the world has really changed."
That's what's going on in the world of business and work.
We learn another surprising fact and pass it along to our friends.
But it doesn't change how we see, feel, think and act.
It doesn't change what we believe.
That comes from trying something new.
And being surprised by the results, and by our own behavior.
Creative people understand this curious dilemma.
They accept that failure is the only way to gain the wisdom that's needed to move their work forward.
George Bernard Shaw wrote, "A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing."
Mistakes are not a sign of indifference.
They're evidence of a deeply caring individual.
Please make more.
"So, what do you do?"
Whenever someone asks me that ice-breaker question, my instinct is to give a smartalecky response.
"Let's see... I eat. I play. I laugh. I write. I wash dishes. I sh..."
But I resist. I know what they're after.
"So, what's your profession. What's your job?"
I've been thinking about that seemingly benign question of late.
And not only do I think it's passé, but I also believe it's harmful.
Have you ever really thought about it?
It begs for a static, passionless answer.
"Oh, I'm a lawyer. I make bread. I own a gym. I'm a teacher."
It's a malignant question, which needs to be cut out of our discourse and replaced by a different one.
"So, what are you trying to change?"
We need to remind each other that the laws of impermanence rule the marketplace.
Just like they rule the Universe.
If we are not working hard to change things, we will be made irrelevant by someone who is.
There's an old saying by G. K. Chesterton that hangs on my wall.
It reminds me to keep changing things.
"If you leave a thing alone, you leave it to a torrent of change.
If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post.
If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again.
That is, you must be always having a revolution."
Without intervention, without progressive change, without revolution, everything in our work and our lives gets worse.
We see it happening to organizations big and small, but most of us still don't get it.
And I think it's because we're hypnotized.
Have you heard the term "functional stupidity?"
It's a new management theory (great name, huh?).
It says that the absence of critical thinking in organizations creates unity.
And this consensus mindset helps improve productivity.
Instead of questioning things, people focus intently on the task at hand.
We are a nation overflowing with "functionally stupid" organizations.
We're on autopilot.
We enthusiatically believe in the actions we take every day.
Whether or not they're improving people's lives and adding distinctive value.
It's a delusion. A happy trance.
And we need to be knocked out of it.
By each other.
So, what is it exactly that you're trying to change?
During a recent conversation, my daughter crowned an argument by reciting a popular saying.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
"Perhaps," I replied. "But isn't it also insane to do the same thing over and over and expect the same results?"
She was dumbfounded.
I was being quite sincere.
What happens to experts and most other "successful" people?
Our beliefs become fossilized and seduce us to continue "our ways."
Our existing knowledge dulls our senses to the reality of the changing world around us.
Our minds become protected by layers of fat we call experience.
And we rationalize our habits for dealing with the world--doing the same things over and over--with our brilliant achievements.
This self-reinforcing delusion is the real definition of insanity.
We're insane to believe we can work people to the brink of meltdown with no blowback.
We're insane to think we can save or consume our way to peace and happiness.
We're insane to imagine that we can ravage the Earth to our hearts' content.
If you've been doing pretty much the same things over and over and it feels compulsive and unsatisying, stop.
Open your child-like eyes to the reality of the world.
Watch and really wonder.
Question and fully explore.
Your mind will come alive and melt the self-imposed fat of prejudice and routine.
And you'll become sane again.
Last week, following a keynote speech and during Q&A, someone in the audience asked a heartfelt, yet somewhat rhetorical question.
"So, how do I communicate to people that our approach, our culture, needs to change?"
My immediate impulse was to hit her with a stick.
Like Zen masters reportedly would do to knock someone out of her attachment to conventional reasoning.
But I was on a stage and far from her.
And anyway, I didn't have a stick.
So, I gave her a koan-like question to ask "those" people.
A seemingly self-evident one designed to snap them out of it, to open their minds.
"Ask them if your organization, your culture, is producing the results it is designed to produce?"
As I glanced around the auditorium for a reaction, all I could sense was collective confusion.
And their visceral desire to shout out the, apparently, obvious response.
"Of course it's not, idiot. Otherwise, she wouldn't have asked you that question."
But no one dared blurt that out.
Instead, they just sat there, perplexed.
Why? Because they were deluded.
They believed that their organization was NOT producing the results it was designed to produce.
And they assumed that the reason had something to do with their people, with them.
In fact, their organization is producing precisely the results it is designed to produce.
So is yours.
So is your community, your family, your government, your country.
Because . . . the design determines the results.
So snap out of it!
Stop fighting the existing reality.
Stop trying to change the people.
If you don't like the results, change the design.
As the great systems theorist and designer Buckminster Fuller put it, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
I've been asked by more than a few people to repost my New Year predictions from 2009 in PDF form.
So here they are: My New Year Predictions from this point forward.
Jake was a typical teenager. Overweight. Insecure.
A bit soft and naive.
Then one day, he had a dream.
One in which he felt energetic, powerful, self-assured.
That dream stirred Jake.
It created a hunger that demanded to be fed.
So he started going to the gym.
He ran on the treadmill. He lifted weights.
His mind was on fire with visions of change, of success.
He read everything he could get his hands on, sought out role models and asked for help.
He worked hard, really really hard.
He tried new exercises. Modified his routines and his diet.
And slowly, but surely, it worked.
Jake's desire and discipline transformed him.
His dream became his reality.
Then one day, Jake forgot how to dream.
When he looked at the weights he saw the reality of pain, not the instruments of possibility.
He became bored and comfortable.
He wanted to relax, to cruise for a while.
So he searched out information and voices that validated his new desire.
And he found them.
Jake breathes easier now. He's created an environment and routine that make him feel good.
And so, he's done growing.
Jake reminds me of so many organizations.
Jake was moved by a dream, by a burning desire to create a new future.
And so he grew.
But then he became contented, tired of the hard work and tedium of the fundamentals.
So now he dabbles with new fangled approaches.
He rationalizes his feel good routines.
He talks dispassionately, like an accountant.
Jake has matured. He's smart. He's a realist.
And his impassioned dream is nothing but a fond and distant memory.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, "A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities." Reality is for wimps.