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Can you Prepare wonder?

by | Dec 18, 2020 | Nat King Cole, Preparation, wonder

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If you sized Fannie Mae on its impact, influence, and swagger in the Housing Market, it is a giant, like the huge Georgian Mansion that it occupied on Wisconsin Ave.  But as a company, it was actually very small – around 5,000 employees.  As such, it didn’t command much influence with IT vendors – other than it was a marquee account, and our CIO knew how to leverage that to the hilt.  We were already one of the biggest customers of NeXT, and an important customer to Sun who was now trying to get into the software industry.  And why the corporate attorney for Fannie was wondering why I was in his office with a leader from Sun and their attorney on the other end of the phone line… 

Sun had decided to port NeXT to run on their Sun Workstations, and as a customer of both companies, we were going to be a Beta site for that software.  Early access like this is common to ensure that the products work well, and also that key customers can influence the outcome. And as “big” companies, the attorneys of each had advised each of us that it was not a good idea, and neither supported signing the agreement.  The keyword in that sentence is “advised”.  By this point in my career, I had seen a lot of legal agreements, and what they did and did not actually do, and also realized that “the business’ was taking the risk – not the attorney.  And as I have repeatedly said, risk-taking is in my nature, so it was no wonder why my partner and Sun and I set this meeting up exactly this way – on purpose. 

wonder is thinking about what could be, or might be, and then realizing it is not actually as hard or as crazy as it sounds.  Preparing to wonder is harder to do…learning to suspend disbelief, unlearn things that get in the way of creativity.  I recently listened to a class on “neuro-leadership” and we now know that kids’s brains literally are blossoming with creativity…. until they become adolescents.  

The analogy is a bush that is on MiracleGrow – literally having all these neuron “bushes” growing.  As hormones kick in, and people get into their teens, the brain starts to trim the “bushes” of branches that are no longer needed because they are unused.  It is the brain focusing on “utility” vs. “someday”… and because our culture mostly focuses on risk aversion, creativity is given a back seat, and more people than not grow “up” without wonder… 

Natalie Cole was an adolescent when Nat died… right during that “trimming” season.  I can’t imagine losing a parent that young, particularly a fixture in your life, mentoring you on singing and taking you on trips to see him perform in Vegas.  She started to find her own voice in college, and went into rock and funk, and even pop music to steer clear of her Dad’s songs and influence.  She also developed a crippling drug addiction that had her in and out of rehab through most of her 20’s and 30’s.  As she got sober, at 41 she was approached to do an album of her Dad’s music… and jumped at the chance to reclaim that legacy. 

The album was released in 1991 when gangsta rap and grunge were taking over the radio, and the idea that she would put out an album of jazz and classic standards, particularly songs of her father’s, was very risky.  True, Linda Rondstadt had a huge hit with her Nelson Riddle release in 1983, but this was a step in a new direction for her.  Natalie’s album received widespread acclaim, and won Record of the Year, and the performance with her own Dad was a wonder not just of technology, but also “why didn’t they do this before??”  Interestingly – it was Elvis Presley’s musical director that had the idea, and convinced everyone it was possible…

My contact at Sun and I had worked together long enough that we saw the potential for a great partnership, agreed that the risk was reasonable, and now orchestrated a “duet” with both attorneys present at the same time to hear us both say “We accept the risk” to our own attorney… and then to sign the document in both of their presence. Done – my favorite 4 letters. The look of wonder (and disdain) on my attorney’s face is another corporate “Instagram” I wish I had.. 

As we anticipated, there were no legal problems moving forward, and the work together only got more interesting as Sun then purchased a small startup in the DC area, one of the early developers on the NeXT platform …that we had been “beta” users with extensively.  The wonder then was their leader, a good friend of ours, eventually became CEO of Sun after being a software developer Prepared him for a series of moves through the leadership levels that are reminiscent of today’s song.

I worked with another gentleman who had the term “scheduled invention” – which I thought sounded crazy.  His point was that often to get from where you are to where you need to be will take some breakthroughs… so why not Prepare for them?  He used it more as a comedic device, but I took it seriously.  Looking around you, what are the things that appear to be impossible, but seen a different way, invite a wonder that can be reframed as remarkable?  And who around you is having the “crazy” ideas that could turn out to be the breakthrough you will need soon? How do you Prepare your own vision, and those of your team to be ready for a year that will be … like this top 10 Grammy Moment… Unforgettable?


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