The Highest Rung on the Ladder of Individual Achievement

  What's behind the curtain?

Legacy is a question all humans approach in some way or another in their journey. They think about it a individuals, and they talk about it as organizations. Whether we want to change the world, or make it a better place to live in and everything in between — at some point, we realize there's more at stake than just us.

    Steve Jobs' consistent focus throughout his life was on the problem itself vs. the people. But over time, he learned to become more articulate and observant of people's feelings… learning to read the room. It wasn't so much a mellowing with age, as it was an active transformation.

    Pixar's Ed Catmull had front row seats to the process through his working relationship with Jobs. Some of his observations are worth reflection because they come from intimacy, working together for a big chunk of time:

He continued to engage; he just changed the way he went about it.


Perspective is so hard to capture. I worked with Steve for more than a quarter-century — longer, I believe, than anyone else — and I saw an arc to his life that does not accord with the one-note portraits of relentless perfectionism I've read in magazines, newspapers, and even his own authorized biography.

Relentless Steve — the boorish, brilliant, but emotionally tone-deaf guy we first came to know — changed into a different man during the last two decades of his life. All of us who knew Steve well noticed the transformation. He became more sensitive not only to other people's feelings but also to their value as contributors in the creative process.

His experience with Pixar was part of this change. Steve aspired to create utilitarian things that also brought joy; it was his way to make the world a better place.

    Eventually we run out of excuses, and get around to doing the real work of purpose and meaning. Leaders learn to be in conversation with this tension between individual achievement and broader legacy sooner rather than later — so they don't miss their lives and those of their loved ones.

    Doing the right thing and doing right by it is the essence of leadership.

    Excellence is one of the hardest things to define devoid of context. It is especially hard as we ride on the fast train of technology that accelerates our ability to see the terrain around us. The best we can hope for is accurate maps based on where we think we're going.

    One of the most critical aspects of good leadership we don't talk about enough is the passing of the baton. Developing other leaders who can take the torch forward and who understand and uphold the values on which an organization succeeds.

    Both HP and IBM have severely suffered since the loss of their founding fathers. There's a kind of intangible quality to vision that makes it a personal and individual story. Good leaders can go only so far if the organization is not following. Success also changes based on the strengths of the organization and what's required by the times.

    Tom Peters and Robert Waterman tried to define excellence based on a study of forty-three of America's best-run companies from a diverse array of business sectors. They distilled eight basic principles of management. Developing leaders is a bigger conversation, of which principles are a starting point.

    The hardest person to manage and develop is the one that stares at us in the mirror every morning. What will be left of our work and life is both a feeling, and a movie reel in the memories of others — each reel a different movie. But that's not the bigger reason why we think about legacy.

    According to Bruce Lee, the highest rung on the ladder of individual achievement was a commitment to honest self-expression. Lee believed that to achieve it, one needs to become “an artist of life.” In his view, we do that by making a rigorous commitment to spiritual and intellectual honesty.

    In other words, to understanding our purpose and making our work meaningful. We can get there through multiple paths, because all knowledge eventually leads to self-knowledge.

The way that I teach, all types of knowledge ultimately mean self-knowledge. So therefor my students are coming in and asking me to teach them themselves through some movement, be it anger, be it determination, or whatever. So, in other words, what I'm saying therefore, is that they're paying me to show them, in combative form, the art of expressing the human body. 

    This is the conversation. Organizations and individuals are on a quest of self-knowledge to pay off their need of self-expression. Business models enable the commercial aspect, stories reveal whether we understand the point of convergence between our aspirations and identity and those of our customers.



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