New York Times Story: Old Masters

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Ellsworth Kelly, 91 Photo by Erik Madigan Heck


After 80, some people don’t retire. They reign. 

A few weeks ago, I (Camille) got a call from The New York Times Magazine to interview people in the 80’s and 90’s who are still doing what they do and doing it well. Despite the time constraints, it was a dream job to talk to over a dozen “Old Masters” to find out where they are in their professional and personal lives, what they’ve learned, how they maintain their level of excellence.

I’ll be sharing some of the themes of our discussions in the coming weeks, but for now, I wanted everyone to get a chance to see the gorgeous results of photographer/filmmaker Erik Madigan Heck‘s portraits, Lewis Lapham‘s insightful essay and my interviews with fifteen amazing Old Masters including architect Frank Gehry, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Actress Betty White and many others.


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Christopher Columbus, Startup Entrepreneur



We all know that Columbus sailed the “ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two,” but beyond the facts that he didn’t actually discover the Americas and that he dealt deplorably with the indigenous people he encountered in the New World, most of us don’t know much about Columbus’s history-making startup that he called, “Enterprise of the Indies.”

His entrepreneurial journey offers lessons for anyone trying to innovate today.

Go Where the Action Is  Continue reading

How a Small Company That Lets Kids be Kids Struck a Chord with Families

Bratayley girls

Zylie fans the Bratayley girls take their bears on adventures

How does a family start-up with a throwback idea and not a lot of capital break into an industry dominated by corporate giants? 

Five years ago, Mary Beth Minton and her son Matt McCarty started their company Zylie & Friends around a single product, a teddy bear that Minton had sewn herself.

Now their award-winning bear, Zylie, and a growing pack of stylishly dressed toy bears, each with a passport, map, and a travel diary, hailing from foreign countries, are in over 600 stores nationwide.

Zylie has appeared on national television, on a recent TEDx stage during Minton’s talk “Unplug to Play,” and has fans around the world–from the YouTube celebrity family the Bratayleys (with half a million followers) to the thousands of ordinary kids who follow Zylie on Instagram.

Not bad for a little bear created as an antidote to too much screen-time.

So what can the rest of us learn from Minton and McCarty’s experience? Continue reading

Seeing Double, What We Can Learn from Dynamic Duos

John and PaulLennon and McCartney, Buffett and Munger, Jobs and Wozniak, Watson and Crick—how creative pairs come together and create together and why greatness so often arrives in two’s.

We have long been under the influence of the myth of the lone genius that toils in isolation and one day emerges with the brilliant creation. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that a great achievement—the groundbreaking scientific discovery, work of art or technological breakthrough—is often the result of two individuals who come together as a pair to form a joint creative identity.

In his new fascinating and meticulously researched book, the Powers of Two, Josh Wolf Shenk writes about dozens of creative dyads. Shenk’s analysis of the inner workings of some of the world’s most famous creative pairs—why some work and others don’t and why some that once worked, break apart—is a goldmine of information for any two people wanting to become the next John and Paul or Jobs and Woz.

Even though he spent six years writing and researching his book, Shenk told us, he’s been astounded to find that the creative dyad phenomenon is even more widespread than he thought. “Ever since the book came out, people have been contacting me with stories of famous collaborators,” he said, “when all along I had thought it been just been the one guy.”

Here are Shenk’s four steps of the creative dyad life cycle: Continue reading

3 Lessons on How to Beat the Competition from World-Cup Winning Joachim Low


Joachim Low, coach of the winning German men’s soccer team, knows a few things about leading a team for a high-stakes performance. 

Joachim Low was a mediocre professional soccer player. As a coach he had only middling success. When he was promoted from assistant to head coach of the German National Team in 2006 he followed in the footsteps of the much-revered coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Low was a tactical mastermind. As Klinsmann’s chief game strategist and as head coach himself, Low had ditched the static and defensive style of the German team and replaced it with a relentless fluid style of attacking football. The German team’s success raised the collective hopes of the nation, but they always lost the critical games. After a disappointing loss to Spain in the semi-finals in the 2010 World Cup, Low was reviled in the German press. It became a national sport to question Low’s ability to bring home the cup.

In a pre-tournament poll, Germans had so little faith in Low’s leadership that only 6% of the country expected the team to win the 2014 World Cup. But apparently Low knew a thing or two about beating the competition because in front of a billion viewers of the final game, Low proved 94% of his countrymen wrong.

So what can we learn about competing from this footballing philosopher? Continue reading

Five Startup Lessons from America’s First Cofounders


In the late 18th century, a motley crew of lawyers, farmers, merchants, and disruptive freethinkers had an idea for a startup. Few of them figured the fledgling startup had much chance of success. They came up with many names–including Columbia, the United Colonies, British America, and United Statesian–until they finally settled on the United States of America.

But how exactly do you go about starting up a government, especially if it is unlike any other that has existed before? It wasn’t as if they could go online and read up on how to do it.

The Founding Fathers were an exceptionally innovative collection of men. Not only has the government they conceived of lasted for more than 200 years, but it’s a model of democracy around the world.

It’s fascinating to realize that the political strategies the founders argued passionately about are still being argued today in business schools, boardrooms, and in the garages and basements of those aspiring to become the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. Continue reading

What Happened to Child’s Play?


Sports legends Yogi Berra and Martina Navratilova offer lessons against specializing kids in youth sports

Just as your little soccer star is about to kick off a summer of U6 soccer drill camp or your ten-year-old tennis player is back on the courts for eight straight weeks, comes the message that specialization in youth sports in America is harming kids.

“Children are playing sports in too structured a manner too early in life on adult-size fields — i.e., too large for optimal skill development — and spending too much time in one sport,” writes David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, in a recent article in The New York Times.

This, Epstein argues, can lead to serious injuries and, a growing body of sports science shows, a lesser ultimate level of athletic success.

“We should urge kids to avoid hyperspecialization and instead sample a variety of sports through at least age 12,” says Epstein.

Baseball legend, Yogi Berra and tennis champ Martina Navratilova would agree. Continue reading

Maya Angelou RIP


Born in Missouri, Maya Angelou was a fry cook, prostitute, streetcar conductor, single mother, nightclub dancer and performer, cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a magazine editor in Egypt and Ghana during the days of decolonization. She was an actor, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. From 1982, she taught American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights movement, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She was the first poet to make an inauguration recitation (at President Bill Clinton’s 1993) since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s in 1961. Her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings about growing up in the Jim Crow South, was the first book by a black woman in the 20th century to reach a wide audience.

About her, New York Times journalist Margalit Fox wrote: ‘Throughout her writing, Ms. Angelou explored the concepts of personal identity and resilience through the multifaceted lens of race, sex, family, community and the collective past. As a whole, her work offered a cleareyed examination of the ways in which the socially marginalizing forces of racism and sexism played out at the level of the individual.

There has been a lot to say about Maya Angelou since her death last week. And more will be said at her memorial service at Wake Forest this Saturday, (which will be live streamed). But about what life has taught her, perhaps Angelou says it best. Continue reading

Why Making Something Simple Is So Complicated


“A Subtlety” Or “The Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined
our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World
on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” -Kara Walker, May thru July 2014, Domino Sugar Factory

Kara Walker was asked to create a public work of art in the sprawling industrial ruin of the soon-to-be demolished Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, New York that dominates the waterfront across the East River from Manhattan.

Walker’s 35-foot tall, 75-foot long bright white Sphinx layered in powdered sugar, lording over the factory like a deity from an alternative universe, seems like an inevitability. After seeing it, it’s hard to imagine that she could have made anything else.

We’re always surprised (and a bit envious) when someone comes up with an idea so basic, so elemental and stripped down that it seems to have been plucked readymade from the collective unconsciousness—Warhol’s Soup Cans, the phony-hating Holden Caufield, the Empire State building, the iPhone, Twitter­. We sometimes imagine that the creators of these concepts must have conjured them out of thin air.

Think again. Continue reading

How Can You Learn to Think Like a Freak?


For more on Stephen Dubner, read our chapter on him “How to Write a Runaway Bestseller,” in our book.

The Freakonomics Authors’ New Approach to Creative, Productive Thinking

The phenomenally successful Freakonomics platform–two bestselling books, a blog, a number one podcast, a radio show, and a consulting business–was built on the principle of looking at the world through the filter of economic theory.

Authors Steven Levitt, a behavioral economist, and Stephen Dubner, a journalist, believe that an “economic approach” to thinking shouldn’t just apply to economics, but to problem solving in general.

In their new book, Think Like a Freak, the authors show us that by applying these theories, we can all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally.

Here are three ways Dubner and Levitt encourage us to “think like a freak:” Continue reading