What’s holding you back from doing the caliber of work you know you’re capable of and want to do? No doubt there‘s a stout list of justifiable obstacles that range from minor distractions to impenetrable barriers. For those of us blessed with ADD, join me in doubling down. Concepting and executing great work has always been hard and it always will be. That’s the trade off for the ability to create something where once there was nothing.
After 23 years of pulling ideas from blank pieces of paper, or for those coming of age more recently, blank computer screens, I’ve come to believe there are two key questions that dictate success more than any others. To greet each morning with them doubles your chances of delivering insightful creative work and, maybe more importantly, it makes the creative process far more fun, engaging and enjoyable.
What are these two magical questions? They’re the same ones that drove Da Vinci, Edison and the Disney Imagineers for the past 70 years.
“What if?” and “Why not?”
There are, of course, a number of fast, flippant, creative-killing answers to these two questions. The key is to fight through that first barrage of negativity and continue to peel back every onion-like layer asking again and again “What if?” and “Why not?” until you find a meaningful answer that opens an unexpected door or uncovers some hidden insight that leads to something breakthrough.
How often do we get tricked into believing something bigger and better and smarter just isn’t there when the real truth is, we just haven’t found it yet? How often do you give up, only to see someone else succeeding in your place soon thereafter? Challenger brands are not afforded the luxury of giving up or cutting themselves short. Bigger brands can outspend you all day long, but outthinking them is the great equalizer and the key to beating them. Asking “What if?” and “Why not?” unlocks that potential to create something great when all the voices are screaming you can’t.
One of my favorite quotes is a Chinese proverb that says, “The person who says something cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.” That sentiment was echoed beautifully in a 1915 Cadillac ad written by an agency man named Theodore F. McManus. Luxury leader Cadillac was feeling sales pressure from Packard’s new six-cylinder engine and tried to one up them by releasing an eight-cylinder model that struggled at first. Packard hammered them mercilessly about it and this was Cadillac’s response. It only ran once in the Saturday Evening Post, but today, is still quoted and considered one of the greatest ads ever produced. McManus called it, The Penalty of Leadership.
“In every field of human endeavor, he who is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work.
In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work is mediocre, he will be left severely alone—if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging.
Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius.
Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountebank, long after the big world had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the riverbanks to see his boat steam by.
The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy—but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions—envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains—the leader. Master poet, master painter, master workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live—lives.“
“What if?” and “Why not?” Answer them. Greatness awaits.
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