Thursday 14 February 2008

Bigger Than Oprah, Better Than Facebook…

Dedicated to Lawrence and Lori Ann, successful according to any definition, for loving the world's children as their own, and for listening to so many of them at once while still managing to hear so much from each one.

Imagine All The People
Imagine, if you can, an individual with the personability of Oprah Winfrey, the depth of insight of John Lennon, and the clarity of purpose of J.K. Rowling, as the creator of and chief evangelist for a consumer product as addictive and ubiquitous as Facebook and as well conceived as the iPod. Such a person would either be very interesting, very dangerous, or a mixture of both. My aim with you today is to convince you by the end of this post that I am that person.

Screw Loose?
If you know me, you will likely recognize that this is the kind of statement I make on a fairly regular basis. It is fair to assume that the type of person that makes this type of statement on a regular basis is either a shameless, and rather clueless, self promoter, or he is the type of person who actually believes he speaks the truth. I can assure you that I am the latter. If you accept that, then the choices that remain in interpreting this type of statement are that the person who makes it is either completely right, partly right, or fully delusional.

Sign Your Name Across My Head
I can't see you from here, but I’m guessing that the odds are pretty good that you would lean towards the latter conclusion. If that is true, I would like to offer you a challenge. Read this entire blog, from the first post right up to the present post, in chronological order, and post a comment below that both proves you have read the entire blog and contains one single point that you believe qualifies my stated plan as delusional, or even as an act of clueless self-promotion. If you prove to be correct, and I fail to accomplish the goals that I detail in the rest of this post, I will, in one year’s time, post a video of myself shaving what hair remains on my hitherto unblemished head and getting a tattoo, a permanent signature if you will, of the name of each person who has posted such a comment.

For All of 15 Minutes
You would be right to question my motives for doing, or even promising to do, such a thing. You might speculate that such an act by a grown man is only slightly more sophisticated than a group of teens videotaping a beating and uploading it to YouTube, or dressing up for the American Idol judges. You might speculate that, in psychological terms, I am little more than a child jumping up and down for attention, or an infant alone in his crib crying to be embraced, all the more irresponsible because I do have actual children that require just that kind of attention.

Destination: Destiny
Well, as for the attention part, I can assure you that everyone in my life gets my full attention when we spend time together, and I get plenty of attention myself, as much as I want in fact. Well, almost. The fact of the matter is that I have spent much of my life striving to avoid getting more attention, because I know about all the bad stuff it can bring. If you are of the more skeptical variety, you will certainly doubt this, however if you are familiar, intimately familiar, with the concept of destiny, you may actually believe me. Destiny is held by some as something you either believe in or you don’t, as if it had something to do with the future. Destiny is not like that at all. Destiny is not about what you will do, or even what will happen to you; it is about who you are.

Future Proof
I believe in the concept of destiny, because I have always been able to predict my own future. Not to the last detail of course, not where I was going to be or what I was going to do, but certainly who I was going to be. Once the mold is cast, at some point on the road to adulthood, I think everybody has the ability to do that, anybody who knows who they are. I don't mean you can predict if you're going to get hit by a car or struck by lightning, but I think you can predict, based on your own tendencies if you really know them, who you are going to be. It shouldn't surprise you at all to consider that you are in control of who you are going to be. You control how other people are going to affect you, and even how every event except your own death will affect you. What made the names of the great, all the wonderful and horrible, Alexander the Great and William Shakespeare , Mahatma Gandhi and Adolph Hitler , Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King is not about where they were born or what they did, it is about who they were. The shape and direction of their own particular arcs through their eras may have been shaped by their circumstances, but these people happened to history, not the other way around. Those so blessed or cursed know who they are and, even if they had no choice in the matter, they understand what makes them different and what will happen to them when that difference is shown to the world.

By What Yardstick?
It may sound pretentious to you that I talk about greatness as if I knew what it were about, as if I can be so presumptuous as to assume that I myself belong in the company of any so far mentioned, however good or evil. You may even take it to mean that I think I am better or greater than you are. In a culture that has grown used to measuring success by the size of one’s bank account, the number of people in one’s congregation, or the number of awards and certificates one has achieved, it is easy to assume that those who are recognized in such a way have greater roles to play than most. First of all, I have never believed this, and hope I never will. Their roles are certainly different, but the magnitude of recognition has nothing whatsoever to do with the usefulness of the role. Is there not more greatness in the simple act of taking without shame a face disfigured by burns or disease onto a busy city sidewalk than in leading legions of people to a bunch of conclusions that they would have come to anyway? Second, I believe that every single living creature exudes greatness in at least one measurable way, and therefore the difference between the "greatness" of those mentioned above and the type exhibited by any other person is simply that one has been recognized and the other has not. Yet.

Swimming in Sludge?
Even if you were willing to grant me that attention or fame are not my primary motives, you might instead think of what you are about to read as some kind of sophisticated sales pitch. You wonder when the ads will start appearing in the sidebar, or when I’ll put up my phone number as a speaker at someone’s corporate event, or when I’ll start hawking the latest and greatest in the unending stream of billion-dollar schemes that ooze through the Internet like sludge through a sewer pipe. Well, I do have to plead partly guilty to that one, I do have the next billion-dollar scheme, but that isn’t the explanation for why I’m making this crazy proclamation.

True Confessions
The bold statement that begins this post, and its accompanying challenge, have a much simpler, more personal explanation. I’ve finally found what I want to do, and I just can’t wait any longer to do it, so I’m willing to do pretty much whatever it takes to start doing it. I have finally managed to reconcile two parts of myself, by managing to marry the person I am with what I actually do to fill my days. After 41 years, I actually know what I want to do with my life. This may not be particularly important to you, but is something that has long alluded me, so it's pretty important to me. I am not the kind of person who could ever lead a whole life without ever having tried to do exactly what I wanted.

Here's The Story
I have tried other ways; I’ve actually been trying to tell you all this for a while, but either you haven’t really been listening, or I haven’t been saying it properly. I think it’s the latter; I think I’ve been too subtle. Certainly, subtlety is a skill with which anyone who has a compelling message to convey should be familiar. A story is perhaps the oldest form of subtly conveying a message of profound import that is too painful, powerful, or complex to be conveyed directly. Our dramatists are doing it all the time, telling the story of their own live -- their relationships, their dreams, their perversions, and their secrets -- but they are encoding the information with stories. When you want to make a point about something, have you not ever attributed something you believed to someone else by telling a story, in order to give it more credibility? For example, you're having a debate with a co-worker, and you're losing, and you need a quick fact to back up your argument, so you invent the fact and attribute it to something you read. In other words, you tell a story. Or to test something that may offend, you say that a friend believes it, so you can disown yourself from it if the repercussions vibrate the strings a bit too much. If these to you are not stories but lies, then I regret to inform you that the world is filled with liars.

Blunt Force Trauma
The attention and accolades that we heap on all our storytellers from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg should be all the evidence you need of the value of subtlety in delivery. I thought that by choosing my own life as the story, I was removing a layer of subtlety, and therefore giving more direct access to the message. I chose my life as the subject of this journal because it’s completely unique, and I think it’s about as interesting as any of the other stories floating around out there. After all, all these stories that I am bombarded with are interesting and compelling, but they are not mine. If I am interested enough in a book or a movie, someone else’s story, to give it hours or even days of my time, you would think that I would be interested enough in my own story to give it the same attention. All those books and movies are simply stories of what their creators want to happen, and some truly great things happen in the stories that they create. But they happen to other people. For me, that has never been acceptable. So now I’m hitting you over the head with my story, and I hope it hurts.

So What?
Why should you care? What makes me think that my story is newsworthy, or even worth writing about? Why should what I do for a living or the contents of my philosophical noodling in private moments excite any interest in you whatsoever? Certainly, on the job side, I have done many – those for which I’ve been paid include mesquite cook, bartender, construction worker, consultant, safari guide, teacher, janitor, salesman, actor, musician, principal, film producer, mover, foreman, freight forwarder, motivational speaker, landscaper, painter, writer, business manager, greenskeeper, mergers and acquisitions broker, gift wrapper and the Easter Bunny – why should this particular one be of enough interest to you to deserve even as much of your time as I have already taken?

The Secret To Success
The answer is simple. Because with all my noodlings, my roamings and ramblings, what I have found is the very secret to success. I’m not talking about just having lots of money, though certainly financial success can be an important part of, and sometimes even comes inevitably with, personal success. Success though, really has nothing to do with money. It’s more of a cliché than ever that there are plenty of people who are personally successful without having much financial success at all, and anyway, if tomorrow we woke up to a world without the concept of money, most of the most successful people I know would be among the first to sing its praises.

Not Green, Orange
No, I’m talking about the secret to a different kind of success. The kind of success that resides in the sense of accomplishment that everyone recognizes after a sentence well phrased, a job well done, a personal encounter well joined, or a day well spent, enough of which, strung together, might even form the basis of a life well lived. I’m talking about a secret to success that someone like Tony Robbins or Oprah's current favourite Eckhart Tolle, might charge you money for (or at least make money from). And I'm pretty convinced this will work not only for me but also for you and for everyone else.

If You Want to Make God Laugh, Tell Him Your Plans
So, want to hear the secret, the master plan, my blueprint for accomplishing everything I wrote in the first paragraph of this post? Here it is, here’s my great idea, my 15-second elevator pitch, that is worth all those many billions, and will help me and everyone else finally pay off all those earthly debts and make us all as free as lottery winners. Lean close to your screen so you can hear it and don’t miss it.

$$$This is Worth Billions$$$
I’m going to get paid for just being myself and doing as I please, for doing just what I am doing right now. Imagine waking up every day and doing whatever you wanted to do, and not have to worry about getting paid for it. That is what I want to do.

That's It?
How’s that for a business idea? Brilliant, don’t you think? After 41 years of incredible experiences and deep thought in the midst of the most wonderful people, that is what I have come up with. If right now you are wondering why you have read this far down the page for that, you are most certainly not alone. You may grant that there are people out there getting paid for being themselves, but I'm quite sure you won't allow me to then infer that everyone can do it. Besides, even among those who could, how many are billionaires? Well, maybe Oprah, but I ain’t Oprah, so…

The Story of O
Well, it’s true, I’m not Oprah, but, if you’re an Oprah fan, you’ll find me every bit as interesting. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to limit her achievements any more than I want to celebrate mine. Everything she has accomplished has been about her sharing herself so that people could get to know her. Her success itself is amplified by how well she shares everything about it with everyone. She meets who she wants to meet, and asks those people the questions she wants to ask. She uses those opportunities as much to understand herself as she does to understand her world, and she then shares that understanding with her viewers. She doesn’t make you wonder what it must have been like to know Bill Gates in high school, or to grow up with Steven Spielberg. All such people do share of themselves certainly, that’s why they are where they are, but Oprah shares more. She really gives you the opportunity to know her. My goal is not that different. I want to give you the opportunity to know me and my world, and the relationship between the two.

Yardstick #1
But for this plan to work, your attention will be required, so the first yardstick against which to measure my tattoo challenge is the magnitude of your attention. The first part of my plan states that, in one year’s time, this journal will have 1,000,000 readers (it currently has fewer than a hundred).

Games With Toys
If you’re not an Oprah fan, if you are not a person who can be hypnotized by words, or if you are simply immune to my particular charms, I will endeavor instead to ensnare you with a product, with something that can actually be bought and sold. I intend to accomplish this the same way that a successful company leads you to cherish and even become addicted to your favourite power tool, your trusty late-night snack, your video game console, your car, or your brand-name handbag. I say this because I know what it takes to do this, and I aim to prove it to you not just by waxing egghead philosophical but by playing the game that everyone now seems to want to play, the one whose object is get all the coolest toys.

What a Tool!
I have a partner, and we have spent the past year or so developing just such an addictive little thing, more addictive even, in its finished form, than Facebook. It’s for bloggers, it’s for readers, it’s for music lovers, it’s for travelers, it’s for couch potatoes, it’s for everyone who ever wanted to be on television or on the radio; in short, it’s for everyone. Like any tool truly well-designed, this particular tool is also for my own use and pleasure, so not only will tons of toys be mine for the choosing because of it, but I’ll get to play with it myself, like Bill explores with Windows and Steve shuffles along on his iPod.

Yardstick #2
The second part of my plan, then, the second yardstick, is for the proliferation of this toy/tool such that, in one year’s time, at least 1,000,000 people will be using it regularly (it currently has only 2 users, me and my developer partner).

Painful & Permanent Consequences
If these two yardsticks, 1,000,000 readers and 1,000,000 users, have not been passed one year from the date of this post, I’m in for a painful and permanent experience. I would like to remind you that this is quite a reach; not only am I not a tattoo freak (I have but one, on my chest), but, to get into the millions of viewers and users, it took the Oprahs and Facebooks of the world considerably longer than a year.

How Do You Top That?
I also feel compelled to share with you the next part of the plan, assuming the first parts succeed. When I have you just where I want you, and I’m in a perfect position to take advantage of you, I want to break the spell that I have cast, and show you how important it is to be free of me and any salesmen of words and dreams like me. I am, you see, one of the naïve souls who chooses to believe that addictions can be broken, or at least well managed, and it never really does anyone any good to be addicted to anything.

Broadcast News
So, this goes out to everyone in my world, everyone listening to this radio show full of more confessions than would fill an endless succession of hurtin’ country songs, balls-out rock-and-roll and sung-to-the-rafters opera. It is being issued as a press release, to anyone who might listen – family, friends, former classmates, influences, business associates, people in my community, television, radio and Internet media outets. It is being sent as a press release because it is meant to be newsworthy. Yes, I admit it, I want to be in the news. I want someone else to start helping me tell my own story. Because if this isn’t news, I honestly don’t know what is. I don’t really care which news it is; weird science news, new age spirituality news, the 6’oclock news, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, or Enterainment Tonight. I just want to be news.

All Joking Aside...
Because at the end of the day, and the end of this post, after all the jokes have been made about me and my motives, the reason I want to be news is because I want the soapbox, not to collect followers or dollars, but to share a simple message that I think is critically important, and that (sniff) I think can actually help some people. It has been said before and will be said again, but I obviously believe that my way of saying it is unique. It is simply this.

To understand oneself is to understand one’s world.

Listen to What Confucius Say

I don’t express this as one of those profound pieces of fortune-cookie wisdom that have become so common, uttered as they are by sages in flowing robes and the blissfully ignorant alike, that they have lost all proximity to meaning. I say it because I know what I’m talking about. I say it because I understand myself, in a way that few people do. This may not mean anything to you at first glance, it may indeed sound hopelessly self-centred, and it may even make you turn away and stop reading, but I can assure you that, over the next few years especially, it is going to be quite important.

The Medium is the Product
It is going be important because it will define success. Our media, the channels that bring us not just our news but all the stuff for our minds and our hands and our lives, have given us an ability that we will no longer be able to overlook; the ability to reach, in so many ways, so many people, so successfully. As these media mature, as the ways in which we can speak to each other become more numerous, more and more people are becoming capable of reaching out en masse. Messages are marketable, and products are just tangible messages, so, whatever your measure of success, with the right message, there is an opportunity for success now such as has never existed previously.

Lots in Common
Even with common wisdom suggesting that, to be successful, you either have to be really smart, really lucky, or just know the right people, all that stuff about who you know is really just about whose language you speak. Certainly, if you were educated with someone, or grew up in the same neighbourhood, or are in any other way similar to someone you think can help you, you will have a better chance of being able to speak his or her language. But this is now a lesson, not a barrier. The great influencers, by communicating, create connections with those who believe they are like them, or share something with them, and the more potential points of commonality with the more people, the wider that person’s influence will be. We give them our time and our attention because, with whatever they have created, they have managed to put into words or form what we were already thinking.

Mind Meld
They know that speaking to many and actually having all those people listen isn’t about using fancy words or even about being smarter. They know that it has a lot more to do with pre-supposing and then removing objections and obstacles, often times unintentionally. Put someone who is possessed of this skill in a room with ten people, a hundred people, and a thousand people, and the message will change with the size of the audience, because the person either consciously or instinctively realizes that the delivery must be massaged accordingly. I know about this because I am one of those people; I have a meter on the acceptance and attentiveness level of anyone in any size of audience at any time. If you are reading this, then I have your attention, and I have therefore crafted a message that you and anyone else reading this will have accepted on some level, because it is something you have already thought.

Wire Tap
And you only need go as far as your computer, your next charitable donation, or a political demonstration, to see that even more of the most interesting and educational conversations are those that take place with things, actions, and the events those actions produce. We are taught that we are supposed to listen only to certain conversations; from our parents, from our teachers, but we often forget that authority is given not by those speaking but by those listening. The more things you do, the more people and actions you are involved with, the more conversations you are involved in at any one time. Successful companies are those carrying out the most conversations simultaneously, and great communicators are the ones who can simultaneously carry on conversations with the most people. They are talking to each other, through their work, through their scale, and through their understanding. Eavesdropping on them and really understanding them feels like sitting in a room full of people listening to someone speak and being the only one clued in enough to get an inside joke made by the speaker.

Method to the Madness
Of course, it’s very hard to hear these conversations if you don’t know how to listen to even the conversations taking place within your own head. Just as it's easier to be a comedian if you think your own jokes are funny, it’s a small step, with understanding of one's own internal conversations, to realize that to understand one’s world is to empower oneself to change one’s relationship to it, but without it, no other conversation will ever make much sense. Whether the method to attain such understanding is science, religion, just plain intuition, or just to ignore those voices, it doesn’t take a degree in sociology to see that the bottom line of listening to ourselves think is to come to some type of understanding of where we fit in, and how we can make the best of that fit. My point in framing this as a media conversation is simply that there is no longer any excuse, as a group if not individually, for the absence of that understanding.

"Pleaaasse, Make The Voices Stop!"
If you don’t know what I mean, imagine easing your head slowly upward through layers and layers of tiny increments of space, and at each layer, each time you inch your head up, you hear something else, in a different language, and all of it makes sense. That is not only Orange Life but it is becoming the life of everyone, snippets of conversations that resound like familiar tunes on a whole spectrum of cosmic radio stations.

Wavemakers & Puddlejumpers
The conversations themselves, and the voices that have them, aren’t cosmic at all. They’re the voices of everyone in our world, from the biggest wavemakers to the smallest puddle-jumpers. My secret, if you accept that I have one, is to listen on one level, to eavesdrop as it were, interpret what I have heard, and then give it back to the world in the fashion that will reach the most people. You may not be very interested in the secret to success if you are already successful, if you already hear these conversations, but if you are one of those whom circumstance has bypassed, there’s a good chance that you really, really want to understand it. My mission, my calling, my passion is to try to decipher that conversation and help you understand it. Because I think that everyone, absolutely everyone, has the right to be successful.

And, if you still doubt me, what better way to prove it than to show you.

So, let the games begin!

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1 comments (I love them - please leave one here):

Oryx Orange said...

I feel compelled to leave a comment on this post, a little more than one year after I wrote it. I meant to write on the one-year anniversary, but, that being Valentine's Day, I had someone more important to attend to.

Clearly, I was not able to accomplish the goals as specifically stated in the post. You might think that I'd be crushed, but I don't feel that way at all. That's the thing about goals. As long as you realize that setting them and pursuing them is just as important as reaching them, you really have nothing to lose by putting them out there.

So, the timeline of reaching these goals has been refined, but pursuit of them continues unabated. One thing I know for sure - I'm a lot closer to reaching them now than I would have been had I never set them.