Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
It’s Good That It’s A Struggle
Trees live off sunlight. Nutrients produced through photosynthesis fuels a tree’s growth. But easy access to light does a tree no good. Ideally, trees spend their first decades in their mothers’ shade. Because in the struggle for light, forester Peter Wohlleben writes in The Secret Wisdom of Nature, “they develop wood that is incredibly dense.” Youngsters free from this struggle for light grow fast. That means they develop wood that is airy, with plenty of room for fungi and yeasts and smuts and molds and mildews. A tree that doesn’t have to struggle, in other words, rots. “Developing mighty trunks,” Wohlleben writes, “takes a great deal of energy.” It requires that a tree “struggle for every ray of sunlight.” It’s good that it’s a struggle, which I wrote more about here.
Appreciate The Nail
Our appreciation for small things that make a big difference will not end with butter and toenails. After Hurricane Marilyn ravaged the Caribbean in 1995, Clemson Wind Load Test Facility engineer Ed Sutt voyaged to examine the wreckage. Most people hear about a Category 1 wiping out some 80% of an island’s buildings think, ‘what a natural, totally unpreventable disaster.’ Not Ed. Not a Ph.D who studies how much wind some wood can withstand. And so Ed flew to the Virgin Islands. The Popular Science report hit the nail (foreshadowing) on the head: “The destruction was so complete in places that it was almost surreal.” Still, Sutt waded through the debris. Building after building, he observed the same thing. “It wasn’t the wood that had failed,” he’d later say. “It was the nails that held the wood together.” For the next decade and a year, he’d work on designing a nail that wouldn’t fail the wood. In 2004, he unveiled the HurriQuake nail. Tests were conducted. The HurriQuake nail could sustain 20,000 pounds of force, some 50% more than your typical nail. Nails are the most important part of a buildings structural system, Sutt said, “but no one appreciates them.” Not so fast. In 2006, the HurriQuake nail was Popular Science’s Innovation of the Year.
Just Think of the Opportunity
After some sixteen years of acting, Clint Eastwood read a script he thought he might like to direct. The script was titled “Play Misty For Me.” Universal owned the rights. Eastwood went to the head of Universal, Lew Wasserman, and pitched him on why he was the man for the job. The script was near the bottom of Wasserman’s pile of scripts. But Eastwood was established enough an actor for Wassermon to be intrigued. And ever the business man, he saw an opportunity to get the movie made at a bargain. Wasserman asked Eastwood to see the door. He wanted to have a word just with Eastwood’s agent, Lenny Hirshan. After a few minutes, Hirshan walked out Wasserman’s office. Hirshan had bad news. Because Eastwood had no experience directing, he was only getting the job if Wasserman didn’t have to pay him. Hirshan advised him to tell Wasserman thanks but no thanks. “Of course,” Eastwood said years later, “Lenny was thinking of his ten percent. I was just thinking of the opportunity.” He told Hirshan, “He shouldn’t have to pay me. I should have to pay him for the opportunity.” Eastwood directed “Play Misty For Me.” It was a box office and critical success that led to Eastwood directing lots of movies and Lenny getting lots of ten-percents for the next 50-plus years.
You’re Missing It
I went to the Dallas Stars/Philadelphia Flyers game last night. A guy sitting two rows down from me had his phone out trying to capture everything—filming this play then that play then the jumbotron then a zoom-in pan of the team’s benches, on and on. And I thought of Jason Segel. All in one weekend in 2011, Segel was going to be on Letterman then host SNL then meet President Obama. Before this pinnacle of a weekend, a friend told him, “Be present for all of it. You’re not going to post-enjoy it.” Segel uses the analogy of filming a concert, “You don’t go back and watch it. You’re missing it. If you’re not enjoying the stuff while it’s happening, you’re missing it.”
Just Keep Bumbling
In his acceptance speech for the SDForum Visionary Award, billionaire VC Vinod Khosla said, “I still don’t really believe in vision.” He elaborated, “I believe in bumbling around long enough to not give up at things. And eventually success comes your way, because you tried to fail in every possible way, the only way that’s left is the one successful way…You just keep failing and failing enough and not giving up…So, I like to say that vision is about more shots on goal, more at bats at the plate.” He kept the speech brief then said, “That’s really all I want to say.”
Leading up to running the first sub-four-minute mile, Roger Bannister said, “I had done nothing for five days. I hadn’t trained. I just rested. And so I felt very full of running.” In the first lap, Bannister signaled to his pacers—Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway—faster, faster! “In fact,” Bannister said, “they were going at exactly the right pace. It was just that I was so full of running, I didn’t feel I was running fast.”