Albert Einstein

Show up

Woody Allen

Woody Allen (Photo credit: ThomasThomas)

“80% of success is showing up.”

I always thought that was an Einstein quote, but apparently it was Woody Allen. One of the things that I love about Woody Allen is that he’ll try anything. Some of his jokes are really stupid, but there are others that make me cry from laughing, and he seems to deliver both varieties with earnestness. It’s like he throws as many darts as possible hoping at least one of them will hit the target. I really respect that level of effort and candor.

I’ve been a big fan of this quote because I see it’s truth all the time.

The other day was a perfect example. While volunteering with Defy, there was competition to see which team of two could do the best presentation. Every team was going to have two minutes to make this presentation and since there were 50 people in the room, there would be five rounds. We had ten minutes to prepare our speeches.

When they asked for five teams to volunteer to go first I raised my hand immediately. This is not my usual mode of operation, but since I’m a mentor I thought it would be good to exemplify leadership behavior.

When the five teams went to the front of the room the moderator announced that competition was over and that the first group automatically won. The people who hadn’t volunteered were upset, but it was such a valuable lesson.

Sometimes you don’t know what you’re actually being judged on. One of my friends described an interview at Google where they asked a ridiculously hard question and it turns out they were judging how he reacts to pressure and not his actual answer. It turns out the competition was not about who can give the best presentation but about who was willing to take risks and step up to the plate.

How many times do we sit back and wait to be called on? How much time do we waste perfecting our arguments and never saying them out loud. This little social experiment was the epitome of Woody Allen’s quote. It doesn’t really matter if your the best, smartest, funniest, whatever. It matters that you’re eager, and ready to get in the game. The more time I spend with successful business people the more impressed I am not with their amazing intelligence or insight, but with their willingness to dive right in.

While we’re on the topic of Woody Allen, here are some other quotes of his that I love:

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

“My one regret in life is that I’m not someone else.”

The magic of 750

If you were to hack into my email account you’d find something very strange. For the past three weeks my fiance has been sending me a blank email with the subject line: done. I respond with the word ditto. You would have no idea that this simple exchange has helped me to write over 20 pages about Albert Einstein and has helped Mike create music.

Three weeks ago Mike and I were kvetching about how hard it is to motivate ourselves to be creatively productive – even though that’s the one thing we really want to do. We realized that one of the challenges is that it really doesn’t matter if we don’t produce. The world won’t stop turning, no one’s going to yell at us, and we’re not going to get an F on our report card. The only one who cares is ourselves, and when we don’t work on our creative endeavors it leads to guilt, and then doubt, and then we sit and wonder if we really want to be writers/ composers/ artists at all. It’s too hard to rely on intrinsic motivation. What we needed was some gentle external motivation.

That’s when I remembered an article I read in O magazine months ago. A writer made a pact with her friend that she would write 750 words a day, and when she was done, she would email her friend the word: done. She didn’t share the writing, just the simple fact that it was done. I didn’t think highly of the process when I read the article, but when Mike and I were trying to think of a way to motivate each other this came to mind.

Mike, who wants to compose music, said he would spend at least 30 minutes a day on it. I said I would write at least 750 words. We promised that we would each send each other an email when we were done.

I cannot tell you how much this has helped me. I had a very ambitious idea for a story, and I was too intimidated to start it. The first morning I checked my email and saw Mike’s done, I gritted my teeth and started writing. I had no idea what to write so I started writing about the character in my head. It’s been like this every day. When I get his email I reluctantly open my word document, but after about 200 words I’m totally engrossed. I usually end up writing far more than 750 words, but I still feel just as accomplished when I do the bare minimum – those are the days that I really didn’t feel like writing, so it means even more to me that I actually did it.

It’s a very small unit of work, but when done consistently it builds up quickly. The great thing about this tip is that you can do it with anyone since you’re really not asking them to do anything except receive an email from you once a day. If you start doing this, let me know how it goes!

Myth vs. the man

English: Albert Einstein Français : portrait d...

I’ve been doing a little research on Albert Einstein for a short story I’m working on, and I discovered something odd. I had always heard the story that Einstein was a terrible student and failed most of his classes. Before he realized that E=MC² he was working as a lowly patent clerk. Since I was a slow learner and late bloomer,  my teachers oftentimes told me this story, hoping it would motivate me. Perhaps I too would some day realize a crucial theory of physics…or not.

But this story, although enchanting, is simply not true. He always excelled in math and science, and published several essays in his teen years. The only reason why he was kick out of school was because he didn’t agree with the strict structure of some of his teachers; he didn’t think it was conducive for creative thinking.  When he was a “lowly clerk,” he was actually in charge of reviewing patent applications for electromagnetics,  a position that required great understanding of the field.

Einstein’s not the only myth we learn about. Van Gogh didn’t cut off his ear in a desperate act of passion for the woman he loved, he did to scare his studio mate, Gauguin, after a fight.  However, there’s something much more romantic about the unstable artist doing something crazy for the woman he loves, rather than what actually happened.

Why do these myths get spread? Why do we cling onto them even after we hear the truth? It’s simple: We need our heroes to be flawed. We need to relate to them so that we can dream to become like them. As history shows, we don’t really care about the truth…we prefer a good story.


Does anyone else get nauseous when they look at Romney? (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

I was reading an article in the New Yorker about one of the many reasons why Mitt Romney is soooooooooo unrelatable. It said that most politicians have a story of redemption. They were alcoholics, they sinned, they smoked pot (but they didn’t inhale). In the end, God, or this country, or their strong women saved them. However, Romney doesn’t have a tale like that. He doesn’t have a story of overcoming doubt, and that is just not relatable for the average human. His most difficult challenge  was when he lived in France and tried to convince people they shouldn’t drink wine. Big whoop.

With all the lies that Romney throws around you’d think he’d come up with a better myth. Not that I would ever put Romney on the same level as Einstein…or Big Bird.