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In Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making, former Apple employee and co-creator of the iPhone and iPod Tony Fadell shares lessons learned, mistakes made and advice for navigating the roller coaster of creativity. He writes about starting out in business, Joining Phillips as CTO at age 25, failing with General Magic, Joining Apple as a consultant, co-creating the iPhone and iPod, Starting Nest Labs and his life in building life-changing products. Fadell call the book “An advice encyclope­dia. A mentor in a box.”

American engineer, designer and entrepreneur Tony Fadell is often referred to as the father of the iPod. He joined Apple in 2001 and served as the Senior Vice President of the iPod and iPhone division. His team was in charge of building the hardware and foundational software for the iPhone and iPod. He left Apple in 2010 to start Nest Labs with Matt Rogers in a garage in Palo Alto.

Nest Lab was acquired by Google in 2014 for $3.5 Billion. Fadell has over 300 patents to his name and was named as one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2014.

Career Highlights: Lead software & Hardware Engineer at General Magic, CTO of Phillips at 25, Joined Apple in 2001 as a consultant, his team built the hardware and foundational software for the iPod and iPhone, Started Nest Labs in 2014 with Matt Rogers, Google acquired Nest for 3.2 Billion dollars.

“The day, and it was a day, that writing started to be fun for me, the day things began to really click, was the day I stopped trying to write sentences and started writing stories.”

James Patterson is one of the most prolific writers in the world with over 400 million copies of his books sold. He is also the first person to sell 1 million e-books. In his memoir, he writes about his humble upbringing to becoming the world’s most successful writer. Patterson shares his writing regimen, his life as an advertising professional, golfing with presidents, worldview and thought process. He had always wanted to write the kind of novel that would be read and reread so many times that the binding breaks and the book literally fall apart – so he did.

I wanted to write the kind of novel that was read and reread so many times the binding broke and the book literally fell apart, pages scattered in the wind.

James Patterson by James Patterson is a great book on how one of the most successful writer of a generation does it. Patterson’s strategies include telling stories, outlining and collaborating with co-writers.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads series is a collection of Harvard Business Review articles on a particular subject matter. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Business Model Innovation is a compilation of some of the best insights and strategies on Business Model Innovation. Every section starts with an idea in brief, the problem and proposed solutions.

The articles highlighted in the HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Business Model Innovation include:

  1. Why Business Models Matter by Joan Magretta
  2. Reinventing Your Business Model by Mark W. Johnson, Clayton M. Christensen, and Henning Kagermann
  3. When Your Business Model Is in Trouble: An interview with Rita Gunther McGrath by Sarah Cliffe
  4. Four Paths to Business Model Innovation by Karan Girotra and Serguei Netessine
  5. The Transformative Business Model by Stelios Kavadias, Kostas Ladas, and Christoph Loch
  6. Competing Against Free by David J. Bryce, Jeffrey H. Dyer, and Nile W. Hatch
  7. Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything by Steve Blank
  8. Finding the Platform in Your Product by Andrei Hagiu and Elizabeth J. Altman
  9. Pipelines, Platforms, and the New Rules of Strategy by Marshall W. Van Alstyne, Geoffrey G. Parker, and Sangeet Paul Choudary
  10. When One Business Model Isn’t Enough by Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and Jorge Tarziján
  11. Reaching the Rich World’s Poorest Consumers by Muhammad Yunus, Frédéric Dalsace, David Menascé, and Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot

Why Business Models Matter by Joan Magretta

Business models are, at heart, stories that explain how enterprises work. Like a good story, a robust business model contains precisely delineated characters, plausible motivations, and a plot that turns on an insight about value. It answers certain questions: Who is the customer? How do we make money? What underlying economic logic explains how we can deliver value to customers at an appropriate cost?

A business model isn’t a strategy, even though many people use the terms interchangeably. Business models describe, as a system, how the pieces of a business fit together. But they don’t factor in one critical dimension of performance: competition. That’s the job of strategy.

 A good business model answers Peter Drucker’s age-old questions: Who is the customer? And what does the customer value? It also answers the fundamental questions every manager must ask: How do we make money in this business? What is the underlying economic logic that explains how we can deliver value to customers at an appropriate cost?

A competitive strategy explains how you will do better than your rivals. And doing better, by definition, means being different. Organizations achieve superior performance when they are unique, when they do something no other business does in ways that no other business can duplicate.

Reinventing Your Business Model by Mark W. Johnson, Clayton M. Christensen, and Henning Kagermann

To determine whether your firm should alter its business model, Johnson, Christensen, and Kagermann advise these steps:

  • Articulate what makes your existing model successful. For example, what customer problem does it solve? How does it make money for your firm?
  • Watch for signals that your model needs changing, such as tough new competitors on the horizon.
  • Decide whether reinventing your model is worth the effort. The answer’s yes only if the new model changes the industry or market.

A successful model has these components:

Customer value proposition.

  • The model helps customers perform a specific “job” that alternative offerings don’t address.

Profit formula

  • The model generates value for your company through factors such as revenue model, cost structure, margins, and inventory turnover.

Key resources and processes

  • Your company has the people, technology, products, facilities, equipment, and brand required to deliver the value proposition to your targeted customers. And it has processes (training, manufacturing, service) to leverage those resources.

In just three years, the iPod/iTunes combination became a nearly $10 billion product, accounting for almost 50% of Apple’s revenue. Apple’s market capitalization catapulted from around $1 billion in early 2003 to over $150 billion by late 2007.

Patience is the Key

Successful new businesses typically revise their business models four times or so on the road to profitability. While a well-considered business-model-innovation process can often shorten this cycle, successful incumbents must tolerate initial failure and grasp the need for course correction. In effect, companies have to focus on learning and adjusting as much as on executing.

When Your Business Model Is in Trouble: An interview with Rita Gunther McGrath by Sarah Cliffe

Columbia Business School professor RITA GUNTHER McGRATH studies strategy in highly uncertain, volatile environments. She spoke with HBR executive editor Sarah Cliffe about how to recognize an oncoming crisis—and seize opportunities to get ahead of competitors

Idea in Brief

With product life cycles growing ever shorter and competition cropping up in unexpected places, nearly every industry is facing disruption. How can you tell if your business model is running out of gas? For starters, if your next-generation innovations provide smaller and smaller improvements and your people have trouble thinking of new ways to enhance your offering. Pay heed to the signs and start experimenting with several new options until you find one that will turn your threat into an opportunity.

What are the signs that a business model is running out of gas?

The first clear stage is when next-generation innovations offer smaller and smaller improvements. If your people have trouble thinking of new ways to enhance your offering, that’s a sign. Second, you hear customers saying that new alternatives are increasingly acceptable to them. And finally, the problem starts to show up in your financial numbers or other performance indicators.

Build mechanisms that cause you to reexamine your assumptions.

Four Paths to Business Model Innovation by Karan Girotra and Serguei Netessine

Idea in Brief

The Problem

Business model innovation is typically an ad hoc process, lacking any framework for exploring opportunities. As a result, many companies miss out on inexpensive ways to radically improve their profitability and productivity.

The Solution

Drawing on the idea that a business model reflects a set of decisions, the authors frame innovation in terms of deciding what products or services to offer, when to make decisions, who should make them, and why the decision makers choose as they do.


The Transformative Business Model by Stelios Kavadias, Kostas Ladas, and Christoph Loch

A Business Model describes how a company creates and captures value. The features of the model define the customer value proposition and the pricing mechanism, indicate how the company will organize itself and whom it will partner with to produce value, and specify how it will structure its supply chain.

Basically, a business model is a system whose various features interact, often in complex ways, to determine the company’s success.

In any given industry, a dominant business model tends to emerge over time. In the absence of market distortions, the model will reflect the most efficient way to allocate and organize resources. Most attempts to introduce a new model fail—but occasionally one succeeds in overturning the dominant model, usually by leveraging a new technology. If new entrants use the model to displace incumbents, or if competitors adopt it, then the industry has been transformed.

Competing Against Free by David J. Bryce, Jeffrey H. Dyer, and Nile W. Hatch

“The “free” business models popularized by companies such as Google, Adobe, and Mozilla are spreading to markets in the physical world, from pharmaceuticals to airlines to automobiles.

Four Tried-and-True Strategies

1. Up-sell

Introduce a free basic offering to gain widespread use and then charge for a premium version.

2. Cross-Sell

Sell other products that are not directly tied to the free product.

3. Charge Third Parties

Provide a free product to users and then charge a third party for access to them.

4. Bundle

Offer a free product or service with a paid offering.

Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything by Steve Blank

The lean method has three key principles:

First, rather than engaging in months of planning and research, entrepreneurs accept that all they have on day one is a series of untested hypotheses—basically, good guesses. So instead of writing an intricate business plan, founders summarize their hypotheses in a framework called a business model canvas.

Sketch out your Hypotheses

The business model canvas lets you look at all nine building blocks of your business on one page. Each component of the business model contains a series of hypotheses that you need to test.

Customer Development

Second, lean start-ups use a “get out of the building” approach called customer development to test their hypotheses. They go out and ask potential users, purchasers, and partners for feedback on all elements of the business model, including product features, pricing, distribution channels, and affordable customer acquisition strategies.

Listen to customers

During customer development, a start-up searches for a business model that works. If customer feedback reveals that its business hypotheses are wrong, it either revises them or “pivots” to new hypotheses. Once a model is proven, the start-up starts executing, building a formal organization. Each stage of customer development is iterative: A start-up will probably fail several times before finding the right approach.

Agile Development

Third, lean start-ups practice something called agile development, which originated in the software industry. Agile development works hand-in-hand with customer development. Unlike typical yearlong product development cycles that presuppose knowledge of customers’ problems and product needs, agile development eliminates wasted time and resources by developing the product iteratively and incrementally. It’s the process by which start-ups create the minimum viable products they test.

Quick, responsive development

In contrast to traditional product development, in which each stage occurs in linear order and lasts for months, agile development builds products in short, repeated cycles. A start-up produces a “minimum viable product”—containing only critical features—gathers feedback on it from customers, and then starts over with a revised minimum viable product.

Finding the Platform in Your Product by Andrei Hagiu and Elizabeth J. Altman

Idea in Brief

The Problem

Many companies that sell products or services either don’t realize they could turn their offerings into a platform business or struggle to do so.”

The Opportunity

By becoming a multisided platform (MSP) that facilitates interactions between parties, a company may be able to provide new revenue sources while also preventing competitors from stealing market share from its product or service.

FIVE OF THE TEN MOST VALUABLE COMPANIES in the world today—Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft—derive much of their worth from their multisided platforms  (MSPs), which facilitate interactions or transactions between parties. Many MSPs are more valuable than companies in the same industries that provide only products or services: For instance, Airbnb is now worth more than Marriott, the world’s largest hotel chain.

Pipelines, Platforms, and the New Rules of Strategy by Marshall W. Van Alstyne, Geoffrey G. Parker, and Sangeet Paul Choudary

Idea in Brief

The Sea Change

Platform businesses that bring together producers and consumers, as Uber and Airbnb do, are gobbling up market share and transforming competition. Traditional businesses that fail to create platforms and to learn the new rules of strategy will struggle.

The New Rules

With a platform, the critical asset is the community and the resources of its members. The focus of strategy shifts from controlling to orchestrating resources, from optimizing internal processes to facilitating external interactions, and from increasing customer value to maximizing ecosystem value.

Focus

  • Facebook, for example, launched with a narrow focus (connecting Harvard students to other Harvard students) and then opened the platform to college students broadly and ultimately to everyone.
  • LinkedIn launched as a professional networking site and later entered new markets with recruitment, publishing, and other offerings.

Permissionless Innovation

Some platforms encourage producers to create high-value offerings on them by establishing a policy of “permissionless innovation.” They let producers invent things for the platform without approval but guarantee the producers will share in the value created.

Airbnb and Uber rate and insure hosts and drivers, Twitter and Facebook provide users with tools to prevent stalking, and Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store both filter out low-quality applications.

When One Business Model Isn’t Enough by Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and Jorge Tarziján

Trying to operate two business models at once often causes strategic failure.

Yet LAN Airlines, a Chilean carrier, runs three models successfully. LAN has integrated a full-service international passenger model with a premium air-cargo business model while separately operating a no-frills passenger model for domestic flights.

LAN’s multimodel success comes from recognizing the complementarity of its two high-end services and the distinct, or substitute, nature of its no-frills offering. LAN came to that insight by analyzing the major assets that the models share and the compatibility of the models’ operational resources and capabilities. It recognized that the more the models have in common, the more likely they are to generate greater value together than apart; the less they share, the more likely they are to be best executed separately.

  • Netflix runs two business models for its DVD-by-mail and its streaming-video services.
  • In emerging markets a bank sometimes creates a separate company to offer credit to lowand middle-income customers, as Banco Santander-Chile has done with Banefe.
  • IBM and Compaq, for instance, supplemented their reseller distribution model with a direct-sell model to counteract Dell’s growth in the 1990s.
  • The forestry company Celulosa Arauco turns its trees into paper pulp under one business model and into wood panels for high-end furniture under another.

Reaching the Rich World’s Poorest Consumers by Muhammad Yunus, Frédéric Dalsace, David Menascé, and Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot

Idea in Brief

The Problem

Poverty reaches far beyond emerging markets. In the European Union alone, almost 120 million people—nearly 25% of the population—are deemed at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

The Current Approach

Corporations usually try to meet the needs of poorer consumers with low-cost, low-price offers while still making a profit. They have improved access to many products and services, but a substantial number of consumers are still largely excluded.

POVERTY IS NOT JUST AN emerging-market problem. In the United States more than 45 million people, or 15% of the population, are officially poor, according to the Census Bureau. What’s more, this percentage has increased every year but one (2006) since the 21st century began. At 16%, Japan is doing no better. And in the European Union almost 120 million people—one in every four—are classified as at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

Budget Market

Most automakers have offered low-budget cars for decades: The Model T Ford, the VW Beetle, the Mini Cooper, and the Citroën 2CV were in their time designed for what their manufacturers saw as the budget market. Low-cost “hard discounters” such as Aldi and Lidl in Europe and Market Basket in the United States have emerged relatively recently in the retail industry.

All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

We were “po.” That’s a level lower than poor.

In Finding Me: A Memoir, American actress Viola Davis chronicles her roller-coaster journey from growing up in abject poverty to Hollywood fame. Viola is deeply personal, vulnerable, reflective, funny and emotional about the path she took from being a scared young girl to becoming one of the most influential actresses of her generation. I am a super fan of How to Get Away with Murder, a legal thriller in which Viola stars as Annalise Keating, a law professor; the series is one of the few television shows that I followed religiously when it was airing. I teared up a lot reading Finding Me by Viola Davis as I could connect to her story of growing up in poverty, dealing with childhood trauma, family drama, struggle, determination and eventual triumph.

Success is absolutely wonderful, but it’s not who you are. Who you are is measured by something way more abstract and emotional, ethereal, than outward success.

Finding Me is one of the most inspiring autobiographies have ever read and I would recommend it to anyone that is feeling broken, doubting their greatness, and trying to find their place in the world. Viola shares her struggles of living in abject poverty as a child, her father’s alcoholism and violence towards her mum, bed wetting till 14, sexual abuse and childhood trauma, her healing journey, finding love, hysterectomy, child adoption, and family drama, Hollywood fame, among others.

When you haven’t had enough to eat, when your electricity and heat are cut off, you’re not afraid when someone says life is going to be hard. The fear factor was minimized for me. I already knew fear. My dreams were bigger than the fear.

Viola Davis is an award-winning actress who is the only African-American to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting – a term used in the American entertainment industry to describe actors who have won a competitive Academy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award in the acting categories.

 I was still that little, terrified, third-grade Black girl. And though I was many years and many miles away from Central.Falls, Rhode Island, I had never stopped running. My feet just stopped moving.

Competitiveness as a tool

 “I was being bullied constantly. This was one more piece of trauma I was experiencing—my clothes, my hair, my hunger, too—and my home life being the big daddy of them all. The attitude, anger, and competitiveness were my only weapons. My arsenal. And when I tell you I needed every tool of that arsenal every day, I’m not exaggerating.”

Memories are immortal. They’re deathless and precise. They have the power of giving you joy and perspective in hard times. Or, they can strangle you. Define you in a way that’s based more in other people’s tucked-up perceptions than truth.

Stop Running

At the age of twenty-eight, I woke up to the burning fact that my journey and everything I was doing with my life was about healing that eight-year-old girl. That little third grader Viola who I always felt was left defeated, lying prostrate on the ground. I wanted to go back and scream to the eight-year-old me, “Stop running!”

“I wanted to heal her damage, her isolation. That is, until a therapist a few years ago asked me, “Why are you trying to heal her? I think she was pretty tough. She survived.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was speechless. What? No poor “little chocolate” girl from Central Falls? She’s a survivor?

He leaned forward as if to tell me the biggest secret, or to solve the biggest obstacle of my existence.

“Can you hug her? Can you let her hug YOU?” he asked. “Can you let her be excited about the fifty-three-year-old she is going to become? Can you allow her to squeal with delight at that?”

“ The destination is finding a home for her. A place of peace where the past does not envelop the Viola of NOW, where I have ownership of my story.”

Radical Acceptance

As a child, I felt my call was to become an actress. It wasn’t. It was bigger than that. It was bigger than my successes. Bigger than expectations from the world. It was way bigger than myself, way bigger than anything I could have ever imagined. It was a full embracing of what God made me to be. Even the parts that had cracks and where the molding wasn’t quite right. It was radical acceptance of my existence without apology and with ownership.

As much as I try to chisel into MaMama to get at the core of who she is, I never can. There are decades of suppressed secrets, trauma, lost dreams and hopes. It was easier to live under that veil and put on a mask than to slay them.

Mother

My maternal grandparents, Mozell and Henry Logan, like the other sharecroppers, had a one-room house with a big fireplace. Their daughter, MaMama, the oldest of eighteen children, left school after the eighth grade because she got pregnant, but also because she was beaten a lot in school. I mean beaten to where it broke skin and she bled.

 My mother pushed on with her life, nonetheless. She was married and had her first child, my brother, John Henry, at age fifteen. She had my sister Dianne when she was eighteen, Anita at nineteen, Deloris at twenty, and me at twenty-two. Years later, at age thirty-four, she had my sister Danielle.

Father

“Unlike my mother, my father was a simpler man. Dan Davis was born in 1936 in St. Matthews, South Carolina. As far as I know, he had two sisters. For the life of me I can’t remember, but he had, I believe, a poor relationship with his stepfather, whose last name was Duckson.

Abuse elicits so many memories of trauma that embed themselves into behavior that is hard to shake. It could be something that happened forty years ago, but it remains alive, present.

Learned Helplessness

“My older sister Dianne retells a story of my mom and dad having a fight outside. My dad was screaming, “Mae Alice! You want me to stay or leave? Tell me? You want me to stay or go?” My sister was sending telepathic messages in her mind, Please tell him to go! Tell him to go, Mama! But MaMama just screamed, “I want you to stay!” It was a choice that had resounding repercussions.

Parent’s Trauma

I had two parents who were running away from bad memories. Both had undiscovered dreams and hopes. Neither had tools to approach the world to find peace or joy. MaMama worked sporadically in factories and was a gambler.

My father was an alcoholic and would disappear for months at a time when we were really young. He always came back, but by the time I was five I never remember him leaving for any long periods of time. Only later did I realize he was numbing, which is absolutely without question an understandable solution to dealing with a fucked-up world. Then, he would come back, from who knows where, and beat MaMama. Lashing out instead of lashing in.

He loved me. That I know. But his love and his demons were fighting for space within, and sometimes the demons won.

Childhood Imprinting

Imprinting

“I had to stand up to my father, the authority figure. The one who should be taking the glass from ME, teaching ME right from wrong. The most frightening figure in my life and the first man we all ever loved. Frightening?

Without knowing, I had already been imprinted, stamped by their behavior and all that they were. As much as I wanted my life to be better, the only tools I had to navigate the world were given to me by them. How they talked. How they fought. How my mom made concessions. How they loved and who they loved shaped me. If I didn’t bust out of all that, would this exhaustion and depletion be what I would feel after every fight in my life, even the small ones?”

As much as I wanted my life to be better, the only tools I had to navigate the world were given to me by them.

On Poverty – Poor vs Po

“We were “po.” That’s a level lower than poor. I’ve heard some of my friends say, “We were poor, too, but I just didn’t know it until I got older.” We were poor and we knew it. There was absolutely no disputing it. It was reflected in the apartments we lived in, where we shopped for clothes and furniture—the St. Vincent de Paul—the food stamps that were never enough to fully feed us, and the welfare checks. We were “po.” We almost never had a phone. Often, we had no hot water or gas. We had to use a hot plate, which increased the electric bill. The plumbing was shoddy, so the toilets never flushed.

You know, when you’re poor, you live in an alternate reality. It’s not that we have problems different from everyone else, but we don’t have the resources to mask them. We’ve been stripped clean of social protocol. There’s an understanding that everyone is trying to survive and who is going to get in the way of that?

 Actually, I don’t ever remember toilets working in our apartments. I became very skilled at filling up a bucket and pouring it into the toilet to flush it. And with our gas constantly being cut off because of nonpayment, we would either go unwashed or would just wipe ourselves down with cold water. And even the wiping down was a chore because we were often without towels, soap, shampoo. . . . I damn sure didn’t know the difference between a washcloth and a bath towel.

“Even on the best days, we never had the right size shoes or clothes. A lot of times, we couldn’t even find socks. We almost never had clothes that were new. Every once in a while, we would go to Zayre’s, a clothing store like J.C. Penney back in the day, and get something on layaway.”

The Paradigm Shift

Viola’s elder sister gave the advice that changed her outlook and sowed the seed for greatness in her. Dianne looked around at the disheveled apartment and said:

“Viola, you don’t want to live like this when you get older, do you?” she asked in a whisper. She didn’t want my mom to hear. “No, Dianne.”

“You need to have a really clear idea of how you’re going to make it out if you don’t want to be poor for the rest of your life. You have to decide what you want to be. Then you have to work really hard,” she whispered.”

“I remember thinking, I just want candy. I couldn’t understand the abstract. I was too young. But something I didn’t have the words for, yet could feel, shifted inside me. “What do I want to be?” The first seed had been planted. Was there a way out?

Achieving, becoming “somebody,” became my idea of being alive. I felt that achievement could detox the bad shit. It would detox the poverty. It would detox the fact that I felt less-than, being the only Black family in Central Falls. I could be reborn a successful person. I wanted to achieve more than what my mother had.

“From age five, because of Dianne, re-creation and reinvention and redefinition became my mission, although I could not have articulated it. She simply was my supernatural ally.”

Abuse Bond

“We were just ensnared in the trap of abuse. The constantly being beaten down so much makes you begin to feel that you’re wrong. Not that you did wrong, but you were wrong. It makes you so angry at your abuser, the one that you’re too afraid to confront, so you confront the easiest target. Those you can. Until your heart gets tired. No one ever, up until that point, talked to us, asked us what our dreams were, asked us how we were feeling. It was on us to figure it out.”

There is an emotional abandonment that comes with poverty and being Black. The weight of generational trauma and having to fight for your basic needs doesn’t leave room for anything else. You just believe you’re the leftovers.

Childhood Trauma

“In my child’s mind, I was the problem. I would retreat to the bathroom, put something against the door so no one would come in, and I’d sit for an inordinate amount of time staring at my fingers and hands and try to erase everything in my mind. I wished I could elevate out of my body. Leave it.”

Dreaming away their problem

“We dreamed away our problems. When Dad was drunk or there was turmoil, my sister Deloris and I would disappear into the bedroom and become “Jaja” and “Jagi,” rich, white Beverly Hills matrons, with big jewels and little Chihuahuas. We would play this game for hours. “Ooh my, Jaja,” Jagi would say, “I bought this fabulous house and my husband bought me this beautiful diamond ring.” We played with such detail that it became transcendent.”

Childhood Sexual Abuse

“We were left with older boys, neighbors who would “babysit” us and unzip their pants while playing horsey with us. My three sisters and I (Danielle wasn’t born yet) were often left unsupervised with my brother in our apartment—sexual curiosity would cross the line. He would chase us. We would lose. And eventually other inappropriate behavior occurred that had a profound effect. I compartmentalized much of this at the time. I stored it in a place in my psyche that felt safely hidden. By hiding it I could actually pretend it didn’t happen. But it did!”

Once again more secrets. Layers upon layers of deep, dark ones. Trauma, shit, piss, and mortar mixed with memories that have been filtered, edited for survival, and entangled with generational secrets. Somewhere buried underneath all that waste lives me, the me fighting to breathe, the me wanting so badly to feel alive.

Deloris, Anita, Dianne, and I were sexually abused. There was penetration with Anita and Dianne. Me and Deloris were touched.

School as a coping mechanism

School was our salvation. We coped by excelling academically. We loved learning. We didn’t want to end up in the same situation as our parents, worrying where the next meal was coming from. School was also our haven. We stayed late, participating in sports, music, drama, and student government. My sisters and I became overachievers, even in areas that didn’t interest us.

Fathers constant violence

“If I got two hours of full sleep, I was lucky. We’d be awakened by a scream, a screech. The only hope, the only blessing, was the fight that didn’t last long. But sometimes their conflicts would last all night or night after night, for days. If it lasted all night, we did not sleep. Imagine your father beating your mom with a two-by-four piece of wood, slamming it on her back, the screams for help, the screams of anger and rage. That trauma would keep me up at night and make me fall asleep in class.”

We were trained in the art of keeping secrets and we never, ever shared with anyone what went on in our home.

Scholarship

Eventually, I received a full ride to college with the Preparatory Enrollment Program scholarship. PEP, as we called it, was the sister program of Upward Bound. I started in a familiar place, Rhode Island College, and space, housing in the same all-girls dormitory—Browne Hall—where I’d spent summers in high school and visited my sister Deloris during the school year. I went into college at seventeen, and like a lot of kids, I wasn’t mature, but I definitely thought I was.

Dianne Inspiration

Even though my mom and dad didn’t go to college—didn’t finish high school—Dianne had driven it into us that We. Were. Going. To. College. She instilled in us that if we did not have a college degree, if we did not find something to do, if we did not focus, if we did not have drive, we were going to be like our parents. I felt if I did not go to college, if I did not get a degree, if I was not excellent, then my parents’ reality would become my own. There was no gray area. Either you achieved or you failed.

Working hard is great when it’s motivated by passion and love and enthusiasm. But working hard when it’s motivated by deprivation is not pleasant.

Exchange Program

My last year, I went on national student exchange to California Polytechnic University in Pomona. I went because I wanted to get out of Rhode Island, out of the cold winters. I just wanted a different scene. The greatest surprise of my life is that in one semester, I flourished. I performed in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, a George Bernard Shaw play. I was a part of an improv group. I took a life-changing public speaking class. I did very well academically and made wonderful friends. It was the first time I got a weave, which was a big deal back in the day. At the time, I felt cute; real cute. I kept that damn weave in until string was hanging down my shoulder.

Manifestation

“Manifestation has always been a part of my life. Either getting on my knees physically or praying silently. And God intervened. In my second year, Juilliard was offering a $2,500 scholarship for any student who wanted to do a summer program that opened them up as artists, helped with their growth, unleashed something within. We had to write a five-page essay explaining it. I wrote that I was lost. That there was no way to unleash passion when you were asked to perform material that not only didn’t touch your heart but wasn’t written for you. I told them of the burden and myopic scope of Eurocentric training. I got the scholarship.”

Pride in Africa

Africa Pride

“Africa made me giddy with joy. Every smell, sound, color affected my senses in a passionate way. No shade of yellow or green or blue was the same. Fabric artists made the dye themselves. They would then make lapas, kufi (hats), grad boo boos (muumuus). Beautiful dark skin was unapologetically darkened by the sun. Every child had many women who would mother them. The ease in which people served each other. The kinky, curly hair, the complexity of the rituals, the numerous different languages.”

Stop making love to something that’s killing you.

The Vicissitudes of Life

There is absolutely no way whatsoever to get through this life without scars. No way!! It’s a friggin’ emotional boxing ring, and either you go one round, four rounds, or forty rounds, depending on your opponent. And by God, if your opponent is you . . . you will go forty. If it’s God, you’ll barely go one because Big Daddy has rope-a-dope down! He’s a shape-shifter. You think you’re fighting him, screaming, punching, begging him for help. And he leaves you with . . . YOU.

Acting : 95% Unemployment Rate

Here’s the truth. If you have a choice between auditioning for a great role over a bad role, you are privileged. That means not only do you have a top agent who can get you in, you are at a level that you would be considered for it. Our profession at any given time has a 95 percent unemployment rate. Only 1 percent of actors make $50,000 a year or more and only 0.04 percent of actors are famous, and we won’t get into defining famous.

The 0.04 percent are the stories you read about in the media. “Being picky,” “dropping agents,” making far less than male counterparts. Never having any regrets in terms of roles they’ve taken. Yada, yada, yada.

Luck is an elusive monster who chooses when to come out of its cave to strike and who will be its recipient. It’s a business of deprivation.

Tough Business

For every one actor who makes it to fame there are fifty thousand more who did exactly the same things, yet didn’t make it. Most of the actors I went with to Juilliard, Rhode Island College, Circle in the Square Theatre, the Arts Recognition Talent Search competition are not in the business anymore. I think I can name six, and many, you wouldn’t even know. It doesn’t speak to their talent, it speaks to the nature of the business. Trust me when I say most were beautiful and talented, and some had incredible agents. It’s an eenie, meenie, miny, mo game of luck, relationships, chance, how long you’ve been out there, and sometimes talent.

You get auditions based on the level you are at. It’s hard to see when your journey to the top had more ease, but in reality, there is no ease. You do what the lucky person did, you have a 99 percent chance of it not ever happening for you.

Family Drama

When you’re making maybe $600 a week and you’re working more than anyone else in the family, they’ll ask for $20, $25. When you’re on Broadway, they’ll ask for $100 and $200. Family starts counting your money because they always feel like you’re making more than you are. Later, it starts getting into the territory of “Buy me a house. Buy me a car.” If you’re not careful, you will go under, because the need is too great, too consistent.

Lack of Boundaries – Inabilities to say NO

“Their burden became my burden. I didn’t know how to say no to requests for food, money, payment for utilities. The needs were so great and began to escalate. I didn’t know that my brother’s problems were not my problems. I had created a life for myself and I would ask God constantly, When do I get to enjoy it fully? Plus, I simply didn’t have the money.”

Studying People

An actor’s work is to be an observer of life. My job is not to study other actors, because that is not studying life. As much as I can, I study people. If you’re my audience, it’s not my job to give you a fantasy. It is my job to give you yourself. In people there is an infinite box of different types, different situations, different behaviors. Those types contradict perceptions. They tear down preconceived notions. They are as complicated and vast as the galaxy itself.

Annalise Keating character changing Viola

Annalise Keating released in me the obstacles blocking me from realizing my worth and power as a woman. Before that, I created a story. Sometimes stories are straight-up lies that you make up because you want what you remember to be different. Sometimes a story is simply how YOU saw that event, how you internalized it. And sometimes the truth simply is. Simply straight-up fact. I was erasing that made-up story. I decided it was time to tell my story, as I remember it, my truth.

All I’ve got is me. And that is enough.

Your depth of understanding of yourself is equal to the depth of understanding a character. We are after all observers of life. We are after all a conduit, a channeler of people. What you haven’t resolved in your life can absolutely become an obstacle in the work that you do.

All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

First published in 1965, A Technique for Producing Ideas is a classic book used by advertising copywriters, poets and writers to generate great ideas. Young’s thought on the technique for producing great ideas was first presented to graduate students in advertising at the School of Business of the University of Chicago and later before several gatherings of active advertising practitioners.

In A Technique for Producing Ideas, American advertising executive and first chairman of The Advertising Council, James Webb Young highlights a five-step process for generating great ideas. 

  • First, the gathering of raw materials—both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge.
  • Second, the working over of these materials in your mind.
  • Third, the incubating stage, where you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis. 
  • Fourth, the actual birth of the Idea—the “Eureka! I have it!” stage. 
  • And fifth, the final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.

In A Runner’s High: My Life in Motion, ultramarathoning icon Dean Karnazes chronicles his extraordinary adventures leading up to his return to the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in his mid-fifties after first completing the race decades ago. The Western States, infamous for its rugged terrain and extreme temperatures, become the most demanding competition of Karnazes’s life, a physical and emotional reckoning and a battle to stay true to one’s purpose. Confronting his age, his career path, and his life choices, Karnazes weaves a great story about the ups and down of long-distance running.

Built to Sell illuminates the qualities that business buyers look for in a company, by telling a story. Through the lead character, the advertising agency owner of Alex Stapleton teaches the fundamental lessons he learns to apply to any business and reading about. The book is about how to create a business that can thrive without you. Once your business can run without you, you’ll have a valuable—sellable—asset.

Four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion and world record holder Chrissie Wellington OBE chronicles her rise in the triathlon world and the roller coaster of long distance endurance running. Chrissie holds the world record for Ironman distance (8hrs, 18 mins) and she is the only triathlete, male or female, to have won the World Championship less than a year after turning professional.

The Ironman Triathlon.

Every October, the World Championships of the sport are held in Kona on the Island of Hawaii. An ironman is the longest distance of triathlon – a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles on the bike, and then you run a marathon.

“In an ironman, even the world’s best face a challenge just to finish.”

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle— when the sun comes up, you’d better be running. – Roger Bannister

In Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, Christopher McDougall writes extensively about the art of running, Tarahumara Indians, superathletes, and the rollercoaster of being a runner.

Running seemed to be the fitness version of drunk driving: you could get away with it for a while, you might even have some fun, but catastrophe was waiting right around the corner

Indian-American business executive Indra Nooyi was named PepsiCo CEO in 2006 making her the first woman of color and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company. In My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future, Indra chronicles her journey from growing up in India, going to America to school, lessons she learned on her way to leading a fortune 500 company, the challenge of being a woman leader in corporate America, managing work-life balance and leading with the heart.

Indra is one of my favorite business leaders, she seems sincere, authentic, and vulnerable.

If you live to be 80, you’ll have had about 4,000 weeks

In Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, British journalist Oliver Burkema highlights some great insights about the brevity of life. Burkema notes “If you live to be 80, you’ll have had about 4,000 weeks. But that’s no reason for despair. Confronting our radical finitude – and how little control we really have – is the key to a fulfilling and meaningfully productive life.”

He writes about the finitude of our existence, brevity of life,

In 2009, Ursula became the first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of the Xerox Corporation. In her memoir, Where You Are Is Not Who You Are, Ursula chronicles her story of growing up in poverty, being an outsider most of her life, her career trajectory, and the lessons learned leading a fortune 500 company as a black woman.

Burns writes about her journey from tenement housing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to the highest echelons of the corporate world. She credits her success to her poor single Panamanian mother, Olga Racquel Burns—a licensed child-care provider whose highest annual income was $4,400—who set no limits on what her children could achieve. Ursula recounts her own dedication to education and hard work, and how she took advantage of the opportunities and social programs created by the Civil Rights and Women’s movements to pursue engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York.

Life is an absolute trip and you never know what’s going to come next.

80-time Grammy nominee and 8-time Grammy award winner Quincy Jones share lessons learned insights, and strategies that have helped him lead a life of creativity. Quincy grew up with a workaholic dad and a schizophrenic (dementia praecox) mum that was taken away to a mental hospital when Quincy was 7. He grew up in a tough neighborhood in southside Chicago with his baby brother.

Quincy breaks down his principles, approach to life, and philosophies, along with standout stories from his journey in twelve chapters called “notes”.

Learn to deal with the valleys, the hills will take care of themselves.

On Creativity

Creativity is made up of two parts: science and soul (left and right brain). The scientific side is that which needs to be learned and practiced. But the soulful side (which is composed of emotions) is something that can’t be taught—it’s simply the essence of who you are as a human being.

Growing up in an environment that stripped me of all ability to control my circumstances, creativity became the only way in which I could gain even an ounce of stability.

The 12 notes: Recycle your pain, if you can see it you can be it, go to know, establish your guideposts, always be prepared for a great opportunity, sharpen your left brain, avoid paralysis from analysis, understand the power of being underestimated, do what’s never been done before, value relationships, and most important, recognize the beauty and inherent value of life.

The 12 Notes

Nadia Boulanger, Quincy’s former teacher in Paris, used to tell him, “Quincy, there are only twelve notes. Until God gives us thirteen, I want you to know what everybody did with those twelve.” Bach, Beethoven, Bo Diddley, everybody . . . it’s the same twelve notes. Isn’t it amazing? That’s all we have, and it’s up to each of us to create our own unique sound through a combination of rhythm, harmony, and melody.

Note A: Recycle your pain

In the midst of adversity, it’s easy to let disappointment or anger take center stage, but I have found that my purpose is so much greater than my problems, although it’s incredibly easy to place an emphasis on the latter.

“Your mama’s not well.”

A phrase I heard repeatedly throughout my childhood. A phrase that haunted me. A phrase that would subconsciously inform much of the way I operated in my later years. The crippling fear of developing dementia and becoming as crazy as she was began to set in and fill the crevices of my mind. Night after night, there seemed to be no escape. Even my waking moments were filled with my mother’s ever-present voices, enough to convince me that I was, in fact, going crazy.

Nuturing

I’m convinced there are two kinds of people: those who have been properly nurtured and those who haven’t. There’s really nothing in between. When you’ve been nurtured, you know it, and when you haven’t, you really know it. The after-effects start rearing their ugly head through the ways in which you see and treat others, and maybe even less apparently, the ways in which you see and treat yourself. It starts seeping through the cracks of the drywall you try to put up in your soul, and eventually it begins to leak into your every move, and unfortunately in my case, every REM cycle.

No Role Model

Seeing the woman who was supposed to care for and protect me get tied up and taken to a mental institution is enough to rattle any kid’s world, let alone a kid who also lived in the ghetto with no real role models. With no mother and a father who was always away at work, I had no compass, and at times, a pervasive feeling of hopelessness. Although my suffering and anger were real and valid, I learned the importance of not keeping it locked inside.

Seeing the woman who was supposed to care for and protect me get tied up and taken to a mental institution is enough to rattle any kid’s world, let alone a kid who also lived in the ghetto with no real role models.

As a result of my maternal void, I allowed music to assume the role of my mother, and it has been a guiding force in my life ever since. In all honesty, without enduring the level of pain that permeated much of my developmental years, I may have never found my medium of expression and applied myself to it in the manner in which I have.

Embrace the Struggle

With the inevitability of hardship in this often broken world, it’s important to understand what fills your voids and also where you are projecting yours. The moment you slip into a victim mentality, not only are you faced with having to deal with external problems, but you’ve also given yourself a whole new set of internal problems that will only stunt your growth as both a human and a creative being. You don’t have to let the anguish that has permeated pockets of your life completely take over.

Creativity is one of the most beautiful gifts we possess. If utilized properly, not only does it serve as an outlet, but it also holds the power to transform heartache into something beyond a singular sentiment

NOTE A#: If You Can’t See It, You can’t Be It

Personal growth is just a journey from mind pollution to mind solution.  In other words, you have to sift through the dirt of whatever situation it is that you find yourself in, so that your future isn’t polluted before you’ve even had a chance to create it. Whether it’s a past trauma or a difficult family situation, mentally overcoming such challenges is often the most important first step in personal advancement.

Personal growth is just a journey from mind pollution to mind solution.

You are not where you are

As the saying goes, “You want to be what you see,” but if there are no tangible examples of what your life can look like or attainable ways in which you can achieve that vision, it’s incredibly easy to believe that your current position is your only position.

You want to be what you see.

Exposure to Hope

I’ve noticed that one of the main factors in my ability to outgrow my circumstances was my increased exposure to hope, and my relentless pursuit of it. Some may use the word “opportunity” instead, but it’s important to note that without hope, opportunities do nothing more than demonstrate to a disadvantaged individual what they are unqualified to be.

Without hope, opportunities do nothing more than demonstrate to a disadvantaged individual what they are unqualified to be.

You want to be what you see.

We imitated what we saw members of the gangs from back home do, and retained the mentality that if you want it, you go out and get it, by any means necessary. Breaking and entering. Stealing and escaping. That was our life, day in and day out. Aside from school, there were no playgrounds, parks, or anything remotely safe to keep us occupied. All we had were miles and miles of evergreen trees in the wilderness and plenty of ways to get into trouble.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Youth is an extremely impressionable time of life, and while that can be a great asset, it can also be detrimental to your development if the things you are molding into don’t serve your best interest. You could have it all, in a material sense, but if you’re assimilating to the wrong crowd or not allowing the right things to come in, then you only block yourself from your potential.

Life is a beautiful responsibility, but it’s also a beautiful burden. It’s ultimately yours to protect for the time you’ve been given. Whether you’re on the side of seeking out hope or in a position to help spread it

You are more courageous than you think, wiser than you know, and more loved than you could ever imagine.

NOTE B : You Gotta Go To Know 

You’ve got to step outside of what is familiar to you because falling prey to comfort only prevents you from experiencing the fullness of life that different people, places, and languages have to offer. Not only will you be able to see more of the beauty that this planet has to offer, but, as a creator, you will in turn be able to reflect that in your art.

My creativity comes from my experiences, and without experiencing more of the world, I would only be able to create from a limited perspective.

Establish guideposts

Establish guideposts in order to stay grounded in who you are. If you haven’t properly set up a foundation for yourself, there’s really no point in trying to learn how to become the best musician, or businesswoman, or actor, or whatever it is you want to be because it’ll come crashing down once you reach the first intersection of struggle and desperation.

If you’re waiting until after your back is against the wall to establish your guideposts, the odds are sure to be in favor of your opponent.

NOTE C#: Always Be Prepared for a Great Opportunity

Good luck usually follows the collision of opportunity and preparation, so you’ve got to be prepared. Keep developing your skills, and then let whatever might happen, happen. It doesn’t matter what job title you have, or if you feel as though the work you do is insignificant; do it to the best of your ability.

NOTE #D: Sharpen Your Left Brain

Similar to physical exercise, the process of sharpening your left brain may be frustrating at times, but it functions like a muscle that builds strength over time. As with anything, the more you sharpen that left brain of yours, the easier your tasks will become.

Purposeful practice only leads to improvement, and you simply can’t have one without the other.

NOTE #D: Avoid Paralysis from Analysis

Move out of your way so that you can make way for what is to come naturally. Getting into a flow without giving your conscious mind a second to project internal judgments is the sweet spot, so even if a word or phrase doesn’t make sense in the moment, write it down! You are often your own biggest creative block, so stop monitoring yourself and let. It. Flow!

NOTE E: The Power of Being Underestimated

“Being underestimated is the best position to be in because it provides you with an opportunity to not only meet expectations but also to exceed them. Focusing too much on what others have to say about you will lead you down a path to defeat before you’ve even had a chance to act. You can either entertain their skepticism or remove the chains from your creativity by allowing yourself to rise to the occasion.

 Big dreams don’t come without big failures. Things will get tough and you will make mistakes. Repeatedly. We’re human and we’re going to flounder, but it’s what you do to get back up that matters.

Don’t limit yourself. Whether that’s in the area of pursuing equality, creative freedom, or whatever else that looks like for you, step into the roles that aren’t being filled. Oftentimes, our greatest creative challenges come from a place of inner change because we’re pushed, pulled, and stretched into shapes, corners, and directions we never thought we’d occupy.

It’s important to set lofty dreams in order to avoid outgrowing them because an ego is really just an overdressed insecurity.

NOTE F: Do What’s Never Been Done Before

Don’t limit yourself. Whether that’s in the area of pursuing equality, creative freedom, or whatever else that looks like for you, step into the roles that aren’t being filled. Oftentimes, our greatest creative challenges come from a place of inner change because we’re pushed, pulled, and stretched into shapes, corners, and directions we never thought we’d occupy.

It’s important to set lofty dreams in order to avoid outgrowing them because an ego is really just an overdressed insecurity.


NOTE F#: Understand the Value of Relationships

You must have humility with your creativity, and grace with your success. Feelings of invincibility may start to creep in when you reach certain levels of achievements, but money and fame don’t make you better than anybody else.

“Your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being.” – Nadia Boulanger

Everything in this business, and life, revolves around relationships—the people you meet, and most important, how you treat them. You’ve really only got one shot at a reputation, and how you handle the relationships you develop along the way fills a big portion of that equation.

Acting without integrity might get you to a certain point, but the consequences of your actions will always catch up to you.

NOTE G: Share What You Know

A mentor is simply anyone who can see the question marks or glimmer of hope in your eyes. There is no rulebook for how to be a mentor, other than the fact that you just have to stay true to a desire to make a difference in someone else’s life. There’s no secret to it. Oftentimes, all a person needs is a sense of belief.

You don’t need to be some type of celebrity or have a massive platform to be mentored or to become a mentor; it simply comes down to finding someone who believes in you, and finding someone else you believe in.

NOTE G#: Recognize the value of life

If you’re not careful, stacking up material accomplishments and possessions may provide a temporary sense of fulfillment, but only at the juncture of life and death did I come to learn that the simple, yet complex, gift of living life itself is the ultimate achievement.

Careers are volatile and status comes and goes, but when it’s all said and done, what legacy will you be proud to leave behind? And what will you be proud to have done with the time you’ve had?

The tricky thing about life is that you have to continuously reflect on your growth. A habit is a habit for a reason. They’re hard to shake, and it’s easy to forget lessons you’ve learned once they’re in the rearview mirror.

Life is an absolute trip and you never know what’s going to come next.

All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

In My Life And Work, American industrialist, founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford highlights his business and life philosophies. He chronicles his journey of founding the Ford Motor Company, developing the assembly line technique of mass production, introducing the minimum wage, reducing working hours, the five-day work week, and producing the first automobile (Model T) that the middle class could afford. Ford’s autobiography is a great read and a good historical book on running a business during the world war and producing a product for the masses.

As of April 2022 Ford has a market cap of $60.80 Billion and the world’s 252th most valuable company by market cap.

Revolutionaries aren’t born. Revolutions can’t be planned. Revolutions can’t be managed. Revolutions happen…… And sometimes, revolutionaries just get stuck with it.

In Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary, the creator of Linux Kernel, Linus Torvalds chronicles his journey of creating Linux and distributing it on the internet for free. On August 25, 1991, as a Finnish computer science student, Linus announced his hobby project on an internet messaging platform:

Hello everybody out there using minix – I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.  This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready.  I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

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