“Potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.” Darrell Royal
Few of us of us ever fully develop the potentialities that we possess at birth and I agree with Mark Walton that most (not all) human limits are self-imposed. This is what Henry Ford had in mind years ago when observing, “Whether you think you can or think you can‘t, you’re probably right.” So, the challenge is to develop a mindset that recognizes what is possible and a faith in what can be done with possibilities.
As Walton explains, “This book’s pages contain the real life experiences and pragmatic wisdom of uncommon men and women – people who have led the second half of their lives in an extraordinary way.” Each preferred to raise the bar rather than lower their expectations. Such people Walton “came to describe as [begin italics] reinventive, and, by extension, to label the nature of their pursuits reinventive work.”
Some of the most valuable material in the book is provided by five extraordinarily [begin italics] reinventive [end italics] people, their comments brilliantly framed by Walton, who generously share their thoughts and feelings about the rollercoaster life each seems to have lived. Sherwin B. (“Shep”) Nuland, Horace Deets, Marion Rosen, Gil Garcetti, and Rita K. Spina are kindred spirits with the seniors that Warren Bennis and Bob Thomas discuss in their book, Geeks & Geezers. “We believe that we have identified the process that allows an individual to undergo testing and to emerge, not just stronger, but better equipped with the tools he or she needs both to lead and to learn. It is a model that explains how individuals make meaning out of difficult events — we call them crucibles — and how that process of ‘meaning making’ both galvanizes individuals and gives them their distinctive voice.”
Walton recommends a process by which to “transform your brain, unleash your talents, [and] reinvent your work in midlife and beyond.” Make no mistake about how immensely complicated and frequently perilous this process is. That is why he provides a wealth of information, insights, and wisdom that, she fervently hopes, will help leaders and those aspiring to leaders to complete a transition from being limited by what James Collins
characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom” to the fulfillment of what Walton views as “boundless potential.”
Here are a few of the dozens of passages that caught my eye:
o “The years of midlife and beyond are simply a new developmental period. The key word here is ‘developmental.’” Sherwin (“Shep”) B. Nuland was a prominent surgeon and faculty member at Yale University Medical School and 64 when he wrote his first bestselling book, Pages 19-33 and 175-177
o “The Design of Reinvention,” Figure 3-1, Page 40
o “We divide life into: you learn, you work, you do leisure. No overlap, please. Well, that’s crap!” Horace Deets, Pages 66-70 and 92-94
o “Home Run in the Desert,” Pages 90-92
o Marian Rosen’s “Magic Touch,” The Rosen Institute and the Rosen Method (pain reduction and management), Pages 97-112
o “New Powers Emerge,” Pages 107-110
o “The Trilogy of Wisdom,” 127-128
o “I was forced [at age 70] to reinvent myself.” Gil Garcetti, former D.A. in Los Angeles (e.g. Simpson trial) who became a world-renowned photographer, Pages 146-156
o “The Eugeria Paradigm,” Pages 168-170 [Note: The word eugeria means "a normal and happy old age."]
o “For me, at any rate, I will just go on doing. Because I cannot imagine giving up on what’s still in my heart and in my mind.” Rita K. Spina, age 80. She earned BA, MA, and PhD degrees and retired from teaching (at age 77) to become a community activist to oppose uncontrolled growth., Pages 189-201
Walton concludes his book with several specific suggestions for his reader to consider. They are provided as “Lessons” and “Discoveries,” and best revealed within the narrative, in context. With regard to the title for this commentary, I selected it because it supports Thomas Edison’s observation, “Vision without execution is hallucination” and, more to the point, it also supports the values that Mark Walton and his senior collaborators affirm and exemplify throughout this book.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Niraj Shah, co-founder and C.E.O. of Wayfair.com, a seller of home furnishings, says it has a place where anyone can post praise of others’ accomplishments.
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
Photo Credit: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
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Bryant: What are some important leadership lessons you’ve learned?
Shah: One thing I’ve learned over time is that it’s important to take a minute and celebrate a win before you move on to the next thing you want to accomplish.
One of our values at Wayfair is that we are never done. That speaks to the idea of being tenacious — there is good, but you can do it even better. But you have to celebrate wins and let everyone who worked hard on something know that they were successful and that you’re proud of the team. When I was younger, I would just skip right over that. But now I understand that recognition is very important.
Bryant: You’ve started three companies. What did you do differently in terms of culture with each one?
Shah: When we started our first company, we didn’t really have a notion of what company culture was and how it mattered. We basically were figuring things out as we went along. As we grew, people were getting private offices and cubicles. But then you realize that people don’t have a good feel for what’s going on, and people weren’t really talking with their colleagues. All of a sudden we were in a place we just didn’t like.
When we started this company, one thing we decided early on was that we were never going to have offices. The culture here is about transparency, access to information, open collaboration.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.