I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be the surprise guest on a game show like This Is Your Life, or to be the focus of Extreme Makeover: Personality Edition. Now, with the way all these people were looking at me, I had an inkling. It wasn’t exactly comfortable.
“But why, if I may ask, all the attention on me? I can’t possibly be the purpose of your meeting, and, well, a little context would be helpful here, I guess.”
“If I may,” cut in Mr. Brothers with a voice as refined as his suit. “You are the center of attention this morning, Steve.”
“Yes, just as everyone in this room was in the very beginning.”
“I’m sorry, the very beginning of what?” This might have been creepy if these people hadn’t seemed so nice.
“All of us here,” he explained, “have devoted ourselves, personally and professionally, to changing the world, in some way, for the better. We all strive to use what we have—talent, desire, resources, imagination, time—to make a difference, if I may use the cliché. To put it another way, to expand the rightness of things.
“We don’t consider ourselves to be naïve or idealistic, although others certainly may. We are pragmatists of the highest order. We believe there is nothing more eminently practical than looking at the world, asking how can this be better? And then holding ourselves personally accountable for getting it done.”
“So, what we have here, Steve, is a collection of businesspeople—some independent owners, some corporate executives, some employees, some social entrepreneurs— who all have one common desire: to help each other to help each other.”
I let that settle for a moment as I looked around the room for any signs of dissonance or cynicism. I saw none, so I gathered that this sharp-dressed dude was doing a good job as a spokesperson.
“What we also have here, Steve,” he continued after a short pause, “is an invitation. We are inviting you to join us.”
“Come again?” I said.
“Agnes gave us your background this morning. She told us a lot about you. Not everything, I’m sure, but enough for us to know that you would benefit from us,” he gestured to the group, “and we, from you. If you’d care to, that is.”
“Well, I’m honored, I think. But I’m not so sure what I have to bring to the… um… tables.”
“I think you have a lot,” Agnes chimed in. “But let us tell you what we’re all about, and then you can decide. Is that fair?”
I nodded. “Sure.”
“By the way,” said the Suit. “I’m Ronald Perricone. I’m an executive at Maritime and Son.”
My head snapped around to take him in again in a new, surprising light.
“This group, gathering, network—whatever you choose to call it—was founded many years ago by William Maritime and Agnes Golden. It started with the two of them at Agnes’s diner and expanded over the years from a duo to this group that you see here today, all through personal invitation.”
“Invitation based on what? How do you decide who gets to sit in the position I’m in right now?” I was also wondering about initiation or hazing rites, but I kept that to myself.
“There are no specific criteria, Steve. We don’t try to quantify the kind of colleague we want; instead, we look for someone whose intent to change the world is as deep as ours is. People tend to group with others who are most like themselves, and we don’t want to homogenize.”
My mind flashed back to the team of Jims.
“The only similarities we look for are intent and conviction. We are interested in those who strive—and that’s an important word—to change a piece of their world for the better. We’re not interested in talkers; only practitioners. And there’s one more critical factor.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Let me put it this way: when we get together it feels much more like a reunion than a work session. We love each other’s company; therefore, we only invite people whom we’re pretty sure we’re going to love.”
“Well… then I’m honored, I guess. I’m a loveable guy, that’s true,” I mugged. “But I don’t know if I qualify as a practitioner.”
“We think you’re underestimating yourself, but let me finish telling you what we do here. Once a month we get together and compare notes about what we’re seeing in the world around us and what we’re trying to do in response to it.”
That’s when I noticed that each person around the tables had some kind of notebook, pad, or electronic gadget placed on the table in front of them. Some were yellow legal pads, others were spiral or steno books, and a few electronic tablets and assorted laptops were glowing up at their owners. They were all variations, I gathered, of the same species: they were all WUPs.
“And then,” Ronald continued, “we try to come up with some solutions, some new ideas, and some breakthroughs for one another—”
“—in order to change things for the better” I added.
“Exactly,” said Ronald. “And at the same time add more value to our respective businesses and bring more joy to our lives.
“Changing the world is our ultimate responsibility as Extreme Leaders, but not at the expense of the other aspects of our lives. In other words, we change the world using the vehicle of business and the instrument of our individual uniqueness.”
“We’re tuned in to our own frequencies,” Agnes winked, making a knob turning motion with her right hand. “And we’re using them to change the world. Nothing more personally thrilling and rewarding than that, now, is there?” I took out my WUP and noticed several smiles and nods of approval.
“Good!” encouraged Ronald. “There are four change-the-world guidelines that we’ve agreed on so far, but we’re always open to more, and I’m sure we’re missing more than a few things. Let me spell them out for you.”
I wrote a heading and date on the top of the page.
“The first is to define what you mean by world, and get clear on how you want that world to be different from the current reality. World doesn’t have to mean the very fabric of human existence, although it certainly could be. It could be the world of your customers, neighborhood, industry or the world of one person, for that matter. You define it for yourself.
“For example, Stan over there is the CEO of an assisted-living company devoted to changing the world of senior care. When he first joined us, Stan said this: ‘When a person’s biggest risk is trying to get through the day without falling down, that’s not a great life.’ So, Stan and his team create an environment at his facilities where people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s are encouraged to take on challenges and risks. Stan is proving to his own customers that they’re still capable of living lives of great adventure and meaning, and he’s proving to the rest of his industry that there’s a better way to do things. And, by the way, he comes down here from Vancouver every month to join us.”
Ronald went around the table and gave a quick overview of the members and their businesses. Some focused on the world of their employees, and others on the world of their particular industry and some, like my friend, Mr. Garcia, on his own neighborhood.
“Raul Garcia, over there,” Ron pointed at him with a smile, “has a silk-screening shop in Mission Beach and probably sells more T-shirts than anyone along the boardwalk. He’s the best salesperson you’re ever going find, I’ll wager. His enthusiasm is contagious, and there’s no way you can walk into his shop without buying at least one shirt, and don’t be surprised if you walk out with a closetful.”
“One correction,” said Raul. “No one who buys a shirt will ever leave with just one.”
“That’s pretty confident,” I challenged.
“No, it’s a fact,” he countered. “You wanna know why?”
“You betcha,” I said.
“Because if they buy one, I’m gonna give ‘em another, whether they want it or not. I don’t advertise that. I want my customers to advertise it for me. I want them to go home and say, you gotta check this place out.”
I was impressed with this young dude who obviously had merchant stamped all over his DNA, but I had to ask one question:
“That’s very cool, Raul. But how, exactly, does that change the world?”
“It doesn’t,” he said. “But I got a hell of a business going, don’t I?”
Everyone laughed, including me, but I knew there had to be more to it.
“Seriously, though, dude,” Raul said. “I’m changing the world of my neighborhood by the way I hire my employees who are, by the way, the best salespeople in the world, next to me.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“They’re all homeless street kids when I first get a hold of ’em. Do you have any idea what kind of will and smarts it takes to survive on the street? I find kids with personality and drive, and I nurture it. I figure if I can channel some of that into something productive—”
His voice trailed off for a moment and then picked up steam again.
“Sometimes I get screwed, taken advantage of, ripped off, even, but that’s the price I pay to find the ones that pay off for themselves and for me. The street is filled with unbelievable talent. I know it firsthand.”
“Because that’s where I came from, dude. Lived on the streets from the time I was 11 years old until the day someone gave me an opportunity: the guy that started the shop; the guy that retired and sold it to me on my 18th birthday; the guy that changed my world. Now that’s the way I do it, too.”
Not profound, I know, but there was really nothing else I could say.
There was no doubt that I was in the presence of greatness, but it was—how can I put this—normal greatness. These were not extraordinary, saintlike people. They were just totally committed to making a positive mark on the world, and, from what I could tell, they were all doing very well in their businesses. At least they felt they were. And unless you’re a publicly traded company, that’s good enough in my book. Even so, I knew we were just scratching the surface.
“Second guideline is,” Ronald said, “act as though your every action has a direct impact on the world. In other words, you should perform every deed as if it will either improve the world or damage it.”
“But, that’s not true,” I argued.
“I didn’t say it was. I said act as though it were. There’s no downside to that, is there? It gives us the mindset that we need to keep trying, whether anyone else is watching or not. Personal—even radical—accountability is when you do what it takes to change the world regardless of what anyone else is or isn’t doing.”
“That seems like an impossibly high standard,” I said.
“If I may,” said Agnes. “It is a high standard that we may or may not be able to live up to. Nevertheless, it’s also our way of reminding ourselves that none of us are isolated; none of us live in a vacuum. And that is the truth. You can’t deny this reality, sweetheart, the world already changes because of your influence. Each person you touch, each comment you make, each action you take hits a button, strikes a chord in someone else, gets them to think a thought or do something—no matter how small—that they wouldn’t have done or thought if you hadn’t connected with them. You have no idea how far that influence goes. It may last a split second or it may take them on an entirely new course. It may be good; it may be bad. It may be nothing more significant than the flutter of an eyelash or a fleeting feeling. But you caused something to happen, and that’s the Lord’s honest truth.”
“You’re not talking about the butterfly effect, are you?” I’ve always been leery of the loose way people tend to use the principle.
“You mean because you pick your nose in Singapore someone hits the lotto in Poughkeepsie?” asked Agnes with forced seriousness.
“That’s the oversimplified way folks talk about it, yeah,” I laughed.
“Oh my, who knows, baby? That’s way beyond me, and that’s for certain. All I’m saying is you’re not alone on this planet no matter how isolated you may feel at times. So, instead, try to act like you’re connected because—well, because you are.”
Ronald picked up the thread from there: “Maybe your actions won’t even be a blip on the cosmic radar screen, but so what? At least you’ll have lived your life trying, and that’s the only thing any of us has any control over; which brings us, conveniently, to the third guideline.”
“Gimme one second, please,” I said as I scratched some hasty notes in my WUP.
Ronald waited, checked to make sure I was ready, and then forged ahead.
“Third,” he said. “Don’t judge yourself based on the outcome of your efforts.”
“Meaning you cannot ultimately control the end results. You do everything you can, you do your homework and your research, and you enlist the people you need to get the job done, whatever it is. Whether it’s senior care, selling T-shirts, or coaching people to be better leaders, whatever it is you’re trying to do. You define world, you get clear on how you want that world to change, you act as though all of your actions will make it happen, and then… then sometimes you succeed and sometimes you bomb, or maybe it’s somewhere in between, But in any case, you never, ever judge yourself based on the outcome. If you succeed, you don’t take credit for it; if you fail, you don’t blame yourself. The only thing you take credit for is the fact that you tried.”
I flashed back to last night’s fiasco at Agnes’s house. I’d wanted desperately to take credit for a miraculous transformation in the life of Cam Summerfield, I now saw. Moreover, I blamed myself for not making it happen. I have a little work to do on guideline number three, I thought.
“Like I said before, these are just guidelines, and there are, we’re sure, a lot more where they came from. They’re simple in concept and remarkably hard to practice, but that’s what we’re doing, practicing.”
“But you said there were four,” I remembered. “What’s the last one?”
“Never—never, ever—” he resonated, “try to do it alone.”
[Note: I’m excited to share my second book, The Radical Edge, in serial fashion here on SteveFarber.com! We’ll post one installment a week until the very end of the book. You can go back and read from the beginning here. If you ever get impatient and want to scarf the whole thing down at once, you can always just pop over to Amazon and satiate yourself.]