The beginning of everything

Our words and actions are the beginning of everything. This post is inspired by Jim Collins’ podcast conversation with Tim Ferriss, and by the words of my friends Kate Griffiths-Lambeth and Neil Morrison.

What we say matters as much as what we do. This is Neil Morrison on The Power of Language:

“Language is powerful, it has the power to change the way in which we think, believe, live and even dream.”

Inspiration can come in many forms. An image, a word can spark thought, creativity, curiosity. To feel inspiration is to breathe in magic. The words we choose to breathe out can manifest that magic in this world. Words can change everything. The words we choose are everything.

Curiosity fed big questions

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Where do inspiration, words and action begin? What is the beginning of everything?

“In my case, it’s curiosity fed big questions. It all starts with: ‘What am I curious about?’ That has to be at the beginning of everything.”

This is author Jim Collins, speaking on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Collins has a wide-ranging intellect and a great facility with words. He explains how he has structured his life to make best use of his time. He seeks to make his every moment (and therefore his every word and every action) contribute to his goals. We might summarise these goals as taking that which is good to that which is great.

The Peter Drucker mic drop

Collins is a great storyteller. He describes a pivotal moment in his life and work. He had the opportunity to meet perhaps the most inspiring figure for his own life and work, the author Peter Drucker.

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Drucker was an elderly man when they met. But Collins could sense the energy, curiosity and intelligence that had driven Drucker to sustained achievement over a long period of time. Drucker was seated in his famous wicker chair. At the end of their meeting, as Collins was leaving, Drucker offered some parting advice (“the Peter Drucker mic drop,” as Ferriss puts it):

“Peter said to me: ‘I do have a request. That you change your questioning a little bit. It seems to me you spend a lot of time worrying about whether you will survive. Well, you will probably survive. And you spend too much time worrying whether you will be successful. It’s the wrong question. The question is how to be useful?”**

You will probably survive. I love Drucker’s suggestion that we should focus on how best to be useful to the world, to others and to ourselves. Collins believes that Drucker’s life and work (39 books written over a 65-year period) were driven by curiosity fed big questions. Collins says:

“I think he was in pursuit of a giant question. And the best way I can articulate that question is: How do you make society both more productive and more humane. And if you think about it, that is one of the great social questions. How do you make our society both, simultaneously, more productive and more humane?”

For Collins, Drucker’s every word and every action were in pursuit of this question.

Each person’s every word and every action has the potential to be a beautiful expression of their own core values.

It seems that Mr Collins approaches his life and work in just this way. So inspired was I by the Ferriss/Collins conversation that I wanted to share it with the world (well, with that small subsection of the world that might see my tweets). I was delighted when my friend Kate Griffiths-Lambeth*** responded with the surprising tale that she had met Mr Collins. Kate says:

“I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jim at a production of War Horse – he was a delightful companion in the interval and genuinely interesting to talk to about a wide range of subjects – he was also very generous and even sent me a few of his books. A great memory :-)”

I love that the selfsame charm, curiosity and conversational verve that shine through from Collins’ conversation with Ferriss were equally present and correct when Kate met him.

Their meeting came at an important moment in Kate’s life. For me, this makes it all the more pleasing that Collins so inspired Kate:

Set the tone

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How we see the world, what we want to give to it and get from it comes through loud and clear in our every word. It is wise, then to give thought to how exactly we express ourselves.

Collins shares some oft-overlooked wisdom for writers on judging not only what we say, but the length of our words:

“A piece of writing has a natural length. A symphony has a length. Gimme Shelter by the Stones* has a length. Writing is like music. It has an appropriate length for what the music is trying to do, to be.”

Neil Morrison offers excellent advice on how the words we use set the tone for our lives:

“The language that we use sets a tone for who we are, but more importantly it allows others to come along with us. If I understand, if I connect, if I feel, then believing becomes much easier to achieve. Sometimes it isn’t how clever the message is, it’s how simply you can convey it.”

What we say matters as much as what we do.

This is the beginning of everything.

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FOOTNOTES

* I love that Jim Collins picked The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter as his example here. This is a truly perfect piece of music. I particularly love the moment when – on her final “MURDER” -the backing singer strays to the very limit of what a human voice can express while still remaining musical, and Mick Jagger responds with an almost off-mic whoop. Musical perfection. And yes, as Collins notes, this work of art is precisely the length it needs to be.

** In his excellent foreword to the 50th anniversary edition of Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, Collins writes of his meeting with Drucker, and lists 10 lessons he took from Drucker. Collins says:

“We are all given only one short life, composed of the same 168 hours a week as everyone else. What will it add up to? How will other people’s lives be changed? What difference will it make? Peter Drucker – one man with no organization, a modest house, and a wicker chair – models how much one highly-effective person can contribute, and that we should never confuse scale of impact with scale of organization. He was, in the end, the highest level of what a teacher can be: a role model of the very ideas he taught, a walking testament to his teachings in the tremendous lasting effect of his own life.”

*** Kate was this week announced as a recipient of “the Freedom of the City of London award, as part of the City of London Corporation’s ‘100 Women for the Freedom’ campaign.” I am so delighted that Kate has been honoured in this way. I learnt this lovely news on International Women’s Day (Friday 8 March 2019). It fair brought a tear to my eye.  Congratulations, Kate!

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