Superachiever Connie Rice on Partnering with Enemy Number One

Constance Rice

How to fight for Justice

When we spoke to civil rights activist and lawyer, Connie Rice (second cousin to Condaleezza), for our book, Rice gave us a manifesto on how to fight for justice.

In her mission to serve what she calls the impoverished “invisible people” of L.A., Rice had waged war for decades against the entrenched power centers of L.A.—the city, the LAPD— with innovatively crafted lawsuits. But after time she saw that although she was winning in the courts, she was losing in the streets.

Rice told us: “If you see a need for change, you have to ask yourself, ‘Who has the power to get it done?'” Continue reading

This is What FAILURE Looks Like

failure the art of doing

A raw, uncensored look at a startup, going down, told by a guy who takes responsibility for everything that went wrong.

In the research for our book the superacheivers we spoke to told of us past failures. What set them apart was their honesty about how they had contributed to their own failures. Because they challenged their beliefs, they were able to reinvent themselves and find entirely new ways of approaching their work. (Which we wrote about here.)

On the Tumblr blog, My Startup Has 30 Days to Live by an anonymous author about an unknown company, we are witnesses to a moment of real-time failure. What strikes us is the author’s brutal honesty about what has gone wrong. He is in the throes of defeat so he doesn’t yet have any answers about how to reconfigure his strategies—but based on how important we found that self-assesment is to success we would guess that he has a good shot at eventually sorting out what went wrong and figuring out how to do it differently the next time.

Subtitled “In 30 Days My Startup Will Be Dead,” the fascinating blog post recounts the rise and fall of a startup. It begins as most startups do. Continue reading

What the Creators of IVF Can Teach Us About Innovation

Robert Edwards 2,500th child.Dr. Robert Edwards spent decades trying to solve the riddle of infertility with IVF. His innovative approach was a lot like any you could find in a modern-day startup—underfunded, scrappy and improvised.

It was in the mid-1950s when Robert G. Edwards, a young post-grad student who worked menial jobs to pay for his tuition at the University of Edinburgh, got a crazy idea.

Working on a genetics project with mouse embryos at a university lab, Edwards wondered if he could “pluck the egg from the ovary [of a woman] and fertilize it in the laboratory,” he wrote in his book, A Matter of Life. More importantly, he thought, if he could transfer the resultant embryo back into the woman’s womb, he’d solve one of mankind’s most vexing biological problems–infertility.

Considering this leap from mouse to man, it was an audacious thought, and a highly unlikely goal for a young scientist-to-be. But nearly 25 years later, in 1978, Edwards’s dream came true when the first child was born through in vitro fertilization.

The history of every innovation is unique with its own idiosyncratic quirks, characters, and defining cultural moments. But when we look back on ideas that were mere visions before they were embraced by the public, such as IVF, it can be helpful to see how an innovator like Edwards (who died earlier this month) pulled it off. Here are some lessons any entrepreneur or visionary can borrow from Edwards’s quest: Continue reading

How Tennis Legend Martina Navratilova Went from Good to Great

Photo Carol Newsom

Most of us strive to be the best at what we do, but even those with the greatest advantages don’t necessarily rise to the top and stay there—what makes the difference?

Born with incredible athleticism, by her late teens, Martina Navratilova was one of the top players in the world. But in her early twenties, Navratilova played with uncertain commitment and was prone to puzzling losses.

When we interviewed Navratilova for our book, she told us about a fateful meeting with Nancy Lieberman a one-time pro basketball player that changed the course of her career. At Lieberman’s urgings, Navratilova, who had previously practiced for about an hour a day, took up weight training to achieve peak conditioning, running and basketball to improve reach and footwork and began a daily four hour, on-court practice regimen. Navratilova told us,

“All that training improved my reaction time and speed. I could hit the ball harder. I could run just as hard at the end of a match as I did at the beginning.”

At the time, this form of cross training was unheard of on the pro tennis circuit. Players hadn’t yet conceived of a physical regimen to achieve peak fitness. Because Navratilova was the only player training this way, she had a tremendous physical advantage, which allowed her to dominate the sport.

Once she began to win consistently, Navratilova told us, she “got religion.” She applied the same rigor to improving her diet as well as the mental, strategic and emotional aspects of her game. Navratilova went on to become one of the greatest tennis players ever, winning a record 59 Grand Slam titles in a career that spanned four decades.

What made the difference? Of course, it was the rigorous training that today is understood to be a necessary component of every elite athlete’s success. But just as with an innovative entrepreneur who creates a new business model, Navratilova had the self-awareness to recognize what was lacking in her game. With no precedent or model in her field, Navratilova had the creativity to evolve new ways of achieving her goals and the tenacity to carry through, which put her and kept her at the very top of her game.

We wonder, who is out there today, in tennis or any other sport, who will be tomorrow’s game changer?

Navratilova Records: Most singles title wins—for men or women (167), most singles match wins (1,442), longest match winning streak (74) and only player to win Grand Slam titles in four different decades.