Youre never too old to learn

Dec. 21, 2004

We think with other peoples ideas, edited by us. Custom-designed for us, by us. Our lifes fabric is a continuous chain, a web of knits and knots, a patchwork of idea bits and bites carefully collected, usurped, borrowed, and shaped to create the you or the me we want to be. When I look inside myself, I see a whole lot of you in me. What have I learned from you?

  • I learned how to think with my head -- and when to think with my heart.
  • I found you care less about how much I know and more about how much I care.
  • I discovered that when I listened more than I talked, I learned new things about you -- and me.
This morning, I received word from The Guinness Book of Records telling me that I have been named No. 6 on its latest listing of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Yesterday I received a letter from the IRS saying, "We have received word of your untimely death. Please provide the date of your demise and a forwarding address. Your tax returns follow." Even the Social Security office is confused. Its letter says, "Your benefits will cease immediately because you have passed away. May God bless you. Should your circumstances change, you may reapply." Frankly, I havent been dead long enough to deserve accolades. I never think about age. I prefer to talk about youth, because I see youth as a state of mind. I know people who are old at 40 and others who are young at 90. I believe that executives dont grow old by adding years and experience to their ages. They grow old by subtracting purpose from their lives. Years may wrinkle our skins, but lack of enthusiasm wrinkles our souls. Commodore Vanderbilt added $100 million to his vast fortune after he was 80 years old. Tintoretto was 72 when he painted his 70-foot masterpiece called Paradise. Giuseppi Verdi wrote two of his best operas -- Otello and Falstaff -- between the ages of 74 and 80. And Tennyson was 80 when he wrote Crossing the Bar. Age causes some people to go to seed. My advice to young people is to use age and experience as assets to be treasured rather than neglected. Set your personal goals but dont be afraid to change them if circumstances stymie your growth. If you cant compete for speed on the superhighway, find a quiet byway or a tiny trail. No matter what your future plans may be, dont pull off the fast lane of your business life before you run out of gas. My pal Anonymous reminds us: "I sought my soul, but my soul couldnt see. I sought my God, and my God eluded me. So, I sought my work, and I found all three: my soul, my God, and me." For what its worth, my experience tells me:
  • Chief executives need 30 minutes longer to tell you what they think than what they know.
  • Dont tell your board your troubles. Half of them arent interested and the other half are glad to see you get whats coming to you.
  • Too many chief executives substitute "buts" for "guts."
  • Profit is the result, not the objective, of good management.
  • Serve your customers first if you want to serve your company best.
Im not too old to learn from a child. My neighbors have a grandson named Philip who they tell me is cute but a little slow. This admission from grandparents came as a surprise because they usually extol the brilliance of their progeny. They described how they offer him the choice of a quarter or a dollar whenever he visits them. He always takes the quarter. The following week Philip came to visit. His grandparents introduced him to me. I decided to test their story. I offered Phil a choice between a quarter and a dollar. True to form, he took the quarter. I said, "Philip, dont you know that a dollar is worth four times as much as a quarter?" Phil looked at me and said, "Yup, but if I took the dollar grownups like you and my grandparents would stop making the offer!" This kids going to make a great chief executive someday.

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