Four simple, yet profound, lessons from an ancient philosopher still ring true today.
“Of every hundred men, Ten shouldn’t even be there
Eighty are nothing but targets
Nine are real fighters…We are lucky to have them…
…They make the battle.
Ah, but the One, One of them is a Warrior…
…and He will bring the others back.”
–Heraclitus (circa 500 B.C.)
These powerful words are widely attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Nothing of what he wrote survives, so we have to rely on other philosophers who quoted him. While the “Warrior” Heraclitus refers to is presumably an armed combatant, his observations apply readily to the battlefield of the business world today.
“Of every hundred men, Ten shouldn’t even be there”
We’ve all known and worked with people like this. You wonder, “How the heck did he get this job?” or “Why is she still here?” There are many reasons but they are not worth some pre-Socratic contemplation. The incompetent have always been in the workplace— at all levels— but their days are numbered.
“Eighty are nothing but targets…”
Organizations are filled with many good people, hard working, and dutifully putting in their time. Unfortunately, they can be oblivious to changes taking places both inside and outside the company. They are often the ones trusting safety in numbers, banking on the ax falling on someone else. If you are among their ranks and tempted to keep your head down and nose clean, don’t count on this approach to keep working. Your only ally is the luck of the draw, and Lady Luck hasn’t been too kind lately.
“Nine are real fighters…We are lucky to have them……They make the battle.”
The fighter is who we want to be, perhaps who we imagine ourselves to be. These are people willing to take chances and look for new opportunities. They’re in the game, working smart and hard, and getting demonstrable results. The company can’t grow without them. But it can and does replace them, either when they fall or when their usefulness ends.
“Ah, but the One, One of them is a Warrior…and He will bring the others back.”
The One. That one. The person who doesn’t just inhabit his job but makes his role come alive. While he might be irreplaceable he knows that he can be replaced so he is constantly updating his skills, reading, keeping up with trends, always with an eye out for storms and opportunities on the horizon. He knows a moving target is tough to hit. He has an engaging, positive outlook even when the going gets tough. He helps pull others up, even as he plots his next foothold on the corporate edifice. He knows being The One is not easy, and there are never any guarantees.
Heraclitus believed change to be the sole constant of the universe. The One is always preparing and adapting to it. Perhaps it’s time to focus on becoming “The One” at whatever it is we do. Or else we might wind up as Heraclitus himself did. Angry, bitter, and wandering the rock-strewn badlands of his ancient world, eating grass.
It turns out “shock rocker” Alice Cooper is not exactly what you think. But who is?
Flipping channels the other night I happened across an interview with Alice Cooper. I recognized him right away. He’s that rock star who’s been around forever, the one with macabre stage theatrics that feature giant snakes, guillotines, electric chairs and fake blood. The songs are staples on rock radio, “Schools Out,” “Poison,” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” He had a record called, “Welcome to My Nightmare.” I figured I knew most of what there was to know about the guy, and anything left probably qualified as some variant of twisted hedonistic rock excess.
Watching the interview for two minutes though I learned that Alice Cooper isn’t his real name, he was born Vincent Damon Furnier. I also learned that the stage name, “Alice Cooper,” is also the name of the band (like Jethro Tull and Marilyn Manson). And as for the presumed wild lifestyle, well it turns out Cooper’s been sober and married to the same woman since Ronald Reagan was president.
Apparently the guy checks the leather clothes and makeup in his dressing room and prefers watching “The Simpsons” to partying. And, to top it off, the so-called “Godfather of Shock” doesn’t practice any dark arts either, instead he’s a regular church goer.
I was never a big fan of Alice Cooper, but I thought I had him all figured out. Why complicate things by learning more? To our ancestors, making snap judgments came in handy. Determining the difference between friend and foe by someone’s war paint kept you alive a little longer.
But today, how often do we put some one in a category based on what we see or hear, especially if that’s the image they want to portray? Catching this interview with Mr. Cooper was a little reminder to me that when it when it comes to understanding our fellow humans, well, school’s never really out.
These days it isn’t too difficult to see what might have tempted men (and some women) of centuries past to succumb to the lure of the pirate life. Ahhh, the freedom and salty air of the open seas, the chests of gold coins and precious gems, the ruffled shirts and earrings…well you get the idea.
Who cares that buccaneers were once the scourge of the 18th century, we love pirates. We name sports teams after them; on Halloween we don patches and bandanas and stuff pistols and cutlasses in our our belts; at Disneyworld we Fastpass the legendary ride; and we look forward to the next movie with Johnny Depp. We even promote silliness such as Talk Like a Pirate Day.
As it happens, pirates of yore offer tips we can use to liven up our own day-to-day lives. Here then, are the steps you can take to add a little piracy to your own life, even at the office.
1. Dream big. Pirates were people who looked to the promise of the horizon. They defied a status quo that favored the upper class, the rich, the corrupt, and the well-connected. As buccaneers they eschewed the hopeless lot of the masses, one that accepted a pittance in exchange for harsh working conditions at sea and brutal treatment by their superiors.
Becoming a pirate meant charting your own course and breaking free of what society said you were meant to be, and becoming something else. It meant being OK without a lifeline. Your first step as a would-be pirate is to not only desire a better life than swabbing decks—but to be willing to do something about it.
2. Let your freak flag fly. American satirist H.L. Mencken wrote, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” He meant we long for the call to adventure and nothing says that like a Jolly Roger.
You probably dutifully unfurl “Old Glory” on July 4th and Memorial Day, but what about the rest of the year? Mix it up a bit on that flagpole by getting your own pirate flag (try here or here) and let your neighbors know you are a pirate at heart all year round.
Give the flag a meaning to your friends and family, that something fun is about to happen. Plus, who knows, maybe the burglar will think twice.
3. Know your rules and live by them. From the fictional guidelines of Pirates of the Caribbean to the real-life Articles of Bartholomew Roberts pirates did indeed “keep to the code.” A successful pirate ship was a well-run operation.
They had agreed-upon codes of conduct covering everything from bedtime (The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights) to the settling of disputes (None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man’s quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol).
You can draw up your own “pirate articles” for your family, club, or team at work. It sounds more fun than “rules” doesn’t it?
4. Know what motivates your crew. “Such a day, rum all out—Our company somewhat sober— A damned confusion amongst us! —Rogues a-plotting—Great talk of separation —So I looked sharp for a prize. Such a day took one—with a great deal of liquor on board—so kept the company hot, damned hot; then all things went well again.” So wrote none other than Edward Teach a.k.a. “Blackbeard” in his journal.
Blackbeard was a giant, ruthless man. But even this fearsome pirate captain (who was known to intimidate others by lighting gunpowder fuses in his beard) knew that he had to maintain morale. If you rely on a crew of your own, running a tight ship isn’t enough. Do you know what keeps them loyal and happy? Not knowing that can lead to a mutiny on any ship.
5. Hang around with like-minded shipmates. Life wasn’t much fun aboard a Royal Navy Man O War or merchant ship in the 1700’s. A captain’s authority was unquestioned, and the officers enforced the rules of the ship without mercy. Sailors could be whipped or keel-hauled for the slightest infraction.
Pirate ships were purposefully far different. Wary of the power of an unchecked boss to deliver misery, Pirates crews elected their captain and he was only vested with total authority during instances of battle. If the crews were unhappy with a captain, they could replace him with another of their number at any time by democratic vote.
Interestingly, long before affirmative action and EEOC regs, pirate ships were equal opportunity workplaces. Beneath the unfurled skull n’ crossbones one could find Europeans, West Africans, Carib Indians and Asians all as equals, united in their common pursuit of—as Roberts was fond of saying—”a merry life and a short one.” What mattered on a pirate ship was one’s ability to hoist a sail and wield a cutlass. Take a cue and try associating with other rogues not afraid of hard work and bucking the trend.
6. Stash some coins for a rainy day. Legend has it pirates buried their treasure, though historians debate the frequency of this practice. (Captain Kidd was the only pirate known to do this, and that loot has never been found.) Still, the wisdom of stashing cash for the future is a prudent one, as you always need to keep an eye on your hard-won plunder.
So whether you set up some automatic deductions from your paycheck and invest it, or get yourself a wooden chest and hide it, make it a point to have some loot to tide you over until the next prize is won.
7. Dress with a bit of flash. In Pirates of the Caribbean at World’s End, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards portrays Jack Sparrow’s dad, “Captain Teague.” This was an homage to the notion that pirates were the rock stars of their day. In those times “sumptuary laws” prohibited those of the lower classes from wearing fine clothes and jewelry.
Pirates flouted these laws by dressing up in garish outfits and jewelry in the manner of the “free princes” they believed themselves to be. (Granted their hygiene probably had a lot to be desired but they made do with what they had.)
You don’t have to saunter into work in full Jack Sparrow regalia to show your pirate side. Why not add a splash of color with a new tie or scarf, or sport a skull ring, or accent that suit with some new crossbones cufflinks.
8. Make it happen. What if you really want to find wealth and freedom beyond your wildest dreams? What if you really want to be a pirate? I asked Richard Zacks, author of The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd and he offers the pirate recipe for success:
“A dash of insanity mixed with relentless perseverance, topped off with an ‘I’d-rather-die-than-fail’ mentality usually yields results…or death.”
Aye, are you ready to sign up?
These days we seem to be looking for our leaders on reality TV. Who are these campy characters we root for from our living rooms? I decided to find out firsthand by attending the casting call for the latest season of Donald Trump’s NBC show The Apprentice.
I awoke at 4 am, donned a suit, and took the 5:04 train to Penn Station, New York. From there I hopped a cab to arrive at Trump Tower before 6:30. There was already a line. A looong line. Stacks of empty pizza boxes and lawn chairs meant a number of intrepid souls had spent the night on Fifth Avenue and made a party of it.
Banishing a momentary impulse to bail, I took my place at the end of the queue. Trump had thrown down the gauntlet so as far as this motley assemblage was concerned, it was game on. I started out by making some new friends. There was the blonde twenty-something nurse and her downsized sales rep friend who had made the midnight drive from Massachusetts. There was the determined, square-jawed buttoned-up MBA candidate. Then the outspoken lady microbiologist from Latvia, and a working suburban mom (shaken from a fender-bender on the way in from Jersey), and a strange, self-professed computer genius who rambled on about how the FBI was after him. Just the folks you’d expect to meet in The Big Apple.
The serpentine line moved glacially slow, reminding me of Star Wars 1977, or Disney World before Fastpass. About an hour into the scene there was a mix-up in the line and 50 people wound up jumping ahead. There were mutters of displeasure as we rued our chances of getting a coveted wristband that would assure a first-round interview.
As we slowly shuffled forward we were approached by camera-toting foreign tourists asking what we were waiting for. Our reality show explanations were met with confusion but they all understood the name “Trump!”
The morning dragged on. One of the greatest tests of endurance is to stand for hours at a time with absolutely no idea of how much longer you’ll have to wait. It should be an Olympic event.
At 11:30 we finally wound our way into the lobby of Trump Tower where our applications and consent forms were double checked. Then seven of us were seated at a table and a Trump aide took our applications and shuffled through them before passing them to Donald himself. He looked through the papers then asked a single question, “Health Care Bill…for it—or against it—and why?” The Latvian microbiologist took the cue, jumped in, and she made an eloquent case in favor of it, citing Eastern European health care successes. Then the MBA candidate fired back with a powerful free market argument against the bill.
Then we all weighed in while Trump and the aid watched and after several minutes the signal indicated our time was up. If we were picked, they’d get back to us. I had a sense they knew just what they were looking for, and I figured the paranoid computer FBI fugitive was a shoo-in.
Behind us, the line of other hopefuls waited their turn. Walking out of Trump Tower we passed all the Trump souvenir baubles and shameless “You’re Fired!” t-shirts for sale. No matter how high class we might think we are, we all have to hawk something.
I came away from the experience with a respect for the perseverance of reality show candidates, even the goofy or “untalented” ones often mocked on these programs. They’re all people willing to dedicate time and effort to chase a dream against the odds. And that’s really the only way it can be done.
Do you sometimes wish you could don a fedora, grab a bullwhip, and add some adventure to your life? Here’s how to tap some of Indy’s best traits as you tackle each day.
Indiana Jones is everyone’s favorite big-screen hero who uses his wits as well as his fists to get what he’s after.
One of the most interesting aspects of the character is that Indy doesn’t have any super-powers, he gets knocked down over and over just like those of us in the real world.
While the character’s exploits are created on storyboards, there’s no reason you can’t work on the script of your own life as well. Here are some tips you can use to start putting your own plan into action.
What do you treasure? When asked the importance of the “Shankara” stones by Short Round—the pint-size Temple of Doom sidekick—Indy replies, “Fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory.” Have you taken time to decide what you really want out of life? What does fortune and glory mean to you? Do you have a plan on how to get it, and what you’ll do with it?
Write it down. In most adventure movies, the call to action usually begins with something in writing: a mysterious old map, a cryptic code, or ancient runes on a tablet. We intuitively know that when something has been written down—or set in stone—it’s tangible.
This is true in the real world, what gets written down tends to get done. You can put this power to work for you by making your big goal come alive with a written mission statement and a business plan. If you like paper, use a classic Moleskine notebook. If you prefer pixels, try the Nightingale Conant mission-statement builder. Or go ahead and knock yourself out with a chisel and slab of basalt.
Face your fear. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy is shocked to find his pilot Jock’s pet snake “Reggie” in the cockpit. “I hate snakes, Jock, I hate ‘em!” To which Jock replies, “C’mon show a little backbone, will ya!” It’s a humorous scene that sets up a fear the hero’s going to have to face down as the film progresses.
Indy will take on Nazis, but snakes will stop him in his tracks. Indy’s ophidiophobia presents a particular challenge since his exploits require that he enter dark passages where snakes like to hide.
Quite often we also have fears linked directly to our professional pursuits, fears that are holding us back. Fear of starting that business, a fear of public speaking, a fear of rejection. Sometimes even a fear of success. What scares you? Identify it and take steps to face it down and vanquish it.
Be an open-minded skeptic. As a scientist, Indiana Jones is suspicious of “magic and superstitious Hocus Pocus.” Yet it is revealed time and again that there are mysterious forces at work in the world. You don’t need a PhD to adopt an inquisitive mindset. Make an effort to regain the sense of wonder and amazement you once had as a child.
Study a new language or learn a new skill. Become an expert in something. Train for a marathon. Read passages from the teachings of different faiths. Look up at the night sky and marvel at the same stars the ancients saw. Visualize your place in the universe and get excited by the possibilities.
Take your lumps. “Dr. Jones, once again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.” Who can forget the opening sequence in Raiders when Indy reluctantly hands over the golden Chachapoyan idol to his rival Belloq?
A trademark of the Indiana Jones movies is that despite Indy’s Herculean struggles, he often loses the very thing he’s after. The mystical Crystal Skull is returned to the temple, the U.S. government confiscates the Ark, and the Holy Grail is hopelessly lost in a crevasse. Along the way Indy ends up getting punched, shot, beaten, and whipped. But he doesn’t give up, and it’s that relentless nature and ability to adapt that sets him apart.
Don’t let the prospect of failure dissuade you either. Others will take their shots and you’ve got to roll with the punches, dust yourself off and jump right back in. In most cases you’ll come away from the experience stronger and wiser than if you hadn’t dared at all.
Know what you do. What Indiana Jones does for a living is nicely summed up in one scene by army man Major Eaton; “Dr. Jones, professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and obtainer of rare antiquities.” It’s a great “elevator statement” that introduces us to the character of Indiana Jones and tells us everything we need to know about him.
Regardless of what you do for a living, you need a short, snappy way to sum up your expertise and what you can offer others. It should establish your credibility and succinctly tell others what it is you do. (Click here for tips on writing your own.)
Be focused on the moment. In Temple of Doom lounge singer Willie tells Indy, “You’re gonna get killed chasing after your damn fortune and glory!” To which he replies, “Maybe. But not today.” Indiana Jones is a man who—as Eckhart Tolle would say—understands the power of “the now.” Indy is all about surviving and moving ahead but to do that he needs to stay focused on the urgency of the moment.
Too often we’re distracted by persistent thoughts of the past and the future. Neither will help us through the current predicament. Make an effort to be in the moment and give whatever you’re doing your full attention and effort. You’ll get more things done and enjoy life more.
Get away from your desk. In his day job as a professor at Marshall College, Dr. Jones has mundane lectures to prepare and stacks of papers to grade. He has busy work just like the rest of us. But to find valuable treasures, Indy knows he can’t spend all of his time at a desk or podium. He needs to get out of the office to make things happen. This isn’t easy, even for Indy. In The Last Crusade, he resorts to dodging appointments with a crowd of students by escaping out of his office window.
Your life is playing out in real time, and you have to make the most of it. Do something today to break out of your comfort zone. Make getting out of your office to learn new things, meet new people, and follow up on leads a part of each week. You’ll be surprised how interesting things start happening.
Decide on a bold objective. All of the Indiana Jones plots contain what legendary director Alfred Hitchcock called a “MacGuffin.” A MacGuffin is the object of the hero’s quest, such as the Ark of the Covenant, or the Holy Grail. It has to be compelling and pose a challenge to obtain. It’s what keeps the story moving and the main characters motivated.
So what’s the MacGuffin you want to chase? What gets you moving and motivated? Decide what it is, and go after it with Indy’s same grit and persistence.
Bullwhip or not, you may find you can really become an action hero in your own life.