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Thursday, April 01, 2010
Volume 15 | # 357
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He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying. » Friedrich Nietzsche

Work of Art

A recent article about a unique art exhibit got me reflecting on the misperception many have about highly-successful people. This particular exhibit is displaying examples of works by Michelangelo.

What is different about this particular exhibit is that it features half-completed drawings, scratch work, and examples of him working through ideas. These examples were found on scraps of paper, as Michelangelo was apparently quite the miser. (I suspect that the absence of Office Depots made paper somewhat less available back then, as well.)

One of the reasons these works are especially rare is that Michelangelo burned piles of his scratch work and drawings later in his life. He left only selected samples of his works-in-progress.

Upon reading that, a Michelangelo quote I was familiar with resonated. He once said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful.”

There is a romantic element to the belief that an artist is simply blessed with talent and that his finished works flowed effortlessly from his paint brush or pen or piano or whatever. And sure, there are rare examples of that kind of genius.

But for the overwhelming number of notable artists, their genius is more the result of years of honing their craft, far away from the spotlight. In other words, they put in the work that most don’t.

The belief that successful folks in other walks of life are somehow preordained for success persists as well. But I often remind groups that when we consider these people, we are seeing the “polished result.” We see the successful person and observe confidence, skill, poise, talent, etc. We then reason that, with those traits, success came easy.

What we often fail to realize is that each of those characteristics almost always required loads of work, diligence, and overcoming setbacks along the way to development. Reading bios of virtuosos from Warren Buffett to Larry Bird to Eddie Van Halen suggests that “genius” is far more often the product of hard work than “natural” ability.

One of my longest espoused mantras is that a work ethic is the most valuable talent that a person can develop. In fact, it’s a strong work ethic that usually makes whatever other talents we develop possible. Impressive results are usually preceded by an impressive work ethic.

Is yours up to the task?

A Bad Journal Entry

I was annoyed this week by a communication I received and interaction I had with a company of which I’ve been a satisfied customer for years. This letter was from The Wall Street Journal.

I still get a modicum of satisfaction from having a newspaper thrown onto my lawn each morning. I think I sympathize with the pending extinction of printed newspapers and am already nostalgic about it.

I had been putting off switching to an online subscription. Then my wife opened an obviously intentionally boring letter this week from the WSJ. At first, she thought it was typical junk mail and prepared to toss it.

But when she scanned the last paragraph, it read that they were going to automatically renew my subscription by charging my credit card unless we told them otherwise.

Of course this letter provided no phone number, no email address, and not even a website address. It didn’t list my account number or my renewal date. My wife handed it to me and said, “These guys obviously want to make it as difficult as possible for you to reach them.”

When I did go online, I found that the annual subscription rate offered to new subscribers was half of what they were prepared to charge me. How nice.

When I finally sleuthed-out the phone number, I told the young lady I wanted to allow my subscription to expire. When she asked me why, I told her that they were offering new subscriptions for half what they were ready to charge me.

She just chirped, “Okay. I’ll cancel that for you.” And she did. She didn’t offer me the new rate or try to explain why it should cost me twice as much to remain a customer as it would a new subscriber who hasn’t been paying them $240 a year.

So now, my subscription ends next week, and I’ll take a few days to see if I miss it. For a business publication, that doesn’t seem like smart business.

Once you give customers reasons to wonder whether you’re giving them a fair deal, it’s unlikely they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt again.

Over the next few months, banks are going to be fielding more inquiries than at anytime in our history. Many of these customers will be confused and looking for credible folks to explain changes to them. The smarter operators know that this as an opportunity to shine instead of appearing like they have something to hide.

Which will you be?

I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks. » Daniel Boone

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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