Where The Honesty Happens Matters

Posted on July 6, 2014 by Josh Linkner

A sealed bottle of water will break even the strongest containers when placed in a freezer and allowed to expand. The extra pressure created just has to come out, one way or another.

The same is true for honest feedback, critique and assessment. The real question in your organization is … where does it come out?

In the knowledge age, corporate battles are won through creative thinking and fresh human innovation, not by bending steel or cutting costs. Accordingly, business cultures that support, nurture, and harness their team’s best creative ideas are the winners of photo-finish victories. Creative ideas are rarely born as fully developed and fully defensible. Rather, they are nascent sparks that must be refined and shaped to bring their full power to life. Unfortunately, many organizations neuter their best ideas because politics impede honest feedback that could help jettison mediocre concepts.

A good barometer to gauge the potency of your creative culture is to observe where the honesty happens. In many hierarchical structures, sycophants quickly nod their heads to the boss’s idea, holding their own opinions back instead of challenging and elevating the ideation process. Like the frozen water, the honesty must come out somewhere, so it ends up spewing out as finger-pointing criticism among colleagues at the water cooler or the nearby lunch joint.

If the organization has reached a Defcon 5 level of dysfunction, honesty among colleagues becomes too risky and the distance for its release expands outside company walls to neighborhoods, sharing concerns with friends and family. If authentic relationships are void at that level, honest feedback gets released to therapists, strangers at the bar or as anonymous blog posts.

The key point is that the further the honesty is removed from the source, the worse it is for everyone. The bitch-and-moan club produces no tangible results, and isn’t even fulfilling for its participants.

As leaders in our organizations and communities, we must work hard to structure cultures and relationships that revere honest feedback rather than punish it. If thoughtful and candid feedback happens in real time at the point of ignition, creativity and results both soar. Unproductive gossip helps no one. Let’s insist on sharing candid and direct viewpoints in order to drive progress. Proximity matters. After all, wouldn’t you want someone to point out you have spinach in your teeth instead of laughing about it later behind your back?

Fight to move the honesty close to the source and you’ll enjoy a significant boost in performance. Honest.

What We Can All Learn From A Janitor

Posted on June 29, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Gac Filipaj, a refugee from the former Yugoslavia, arrived in America not knowing a word of English.

He came here with nothing but a dream and an unwavering commitment to realizing it. He landed a job as a janitor at Columbia University, doing the most unpleasant tasks such as emptying trash and cleaning toilets. Rather than feeling victimized or hopeless, he viewed this work as a platform for growth.

Filipaj ended work each night at 11 p.m., which is when his schoolwork began. While others were watching late-night television, Filipaj was routinely engaged in all-night study sessions. This determined soul worked hard and sacrificed. He fought through the setbacks and had the persistence to continue even when it was uncomfortable.

Twelve years after his journey began, at age 52, Filipaj graduated with honors from Columbia University. As others with privilege complained about their meal plan at the dorms or a bad night at a fraternity party, Filipaj relentlessly forged ahead, pursuing his vision with reckless abandon. And he has no intention of slowing down now.

Gac Filipaj

“I would say that I have fulfilled half of my dream — going to graduate school would complete it,” he said.

Throughout my career, I’ve been constantly told all the things I lack. I live in Detroit instead of Silicon Valley or New York. I didn’t go to Stanford or Harvard. I don’t have a degree in computer science. Starting out as a jazz musician, I didn’t have the right connections.

All these observations are correct. Yet what the detractors discounted the most was pure old-fashioned grit. Lucky for us all, grit doesn’t come from social class or some exclusive country club. In fact, grit is the great equalizer. It’s what allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

A vision for positive change combined with commitment, persistence and resiliency has been the winning formula for nearly all human progress. We all crave for a better world. Let’s use Filipaj’s example of grit and determination as a springboard for change.

The possibilities are limitless if we’re willing to do whatever it takes to seize them.

Reinventing The Wheel

Posted on June 22, 2014 by Josh Linkner

“Stop trying to reinvent the wheel,” Bob says in a snarky tone. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Tell that to the researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who designed the Copenhagen Wheel. Quite literally, they reinvented the wheel, the very device we’ve all been admonished not to disrupt. The Copenhagen Wheel fits on most bicycles delivering a giant leap forward to the rider.

The Copenhagen Wheel

When going down hills or when breaking, excess energy is captured and used to charge the integrated lithium battery pack. Conversely, when riding up a hill or experiencing more difficult pedaling, the energy is released, giving the rider a motorized boost. Smart controls are integrated into the driver’s mobile phone, allowing the rider to control the level of power assist along with several other factors. In cities that rely on bicycle transportation, this breakthrough is poised to make a transformational difference.

Old wives tales designed to protect the past have lost their luster. In today’s fist-fighting economy, we no longer have the luxury of coasting on previous innovations. In our companies, careers, and communities, it is our responsibility to embrace the concept of continuous reinvention.

Many say that success is a permanent condition; as if you’ve cracked the code on a vault full of cash that will continue to deliver indefinitely. Don’t drink that moonshine. Truth is, success is a temporary condition in the context of many external factors that today are changing at a faster rate than any other time in history. Now more than ever, we must leverage each success as a jumping-off point for renewal instead of trying to protect that which cannot be protected.

It’s easy to think you’ll have plenty of time to react once things take a turn for the worse. Too often, however, decay builds undetected as you ride the wave of previous accomplishment.

When decline finally sets in, it is hardly gradual. The downward plummet can happen so quickly and with such ferocity, it may require superpowers to conquer. In fact, once an organization embarks on a turnaround effort, it is only able to regain its leadership position 10% of the time.

Change is inevitable. The question is, will you drive that change or be driven by it? In our hyper-competitive world, your choice is simple: disrupt or be disrupted.

The good news is that each of us is well-armed to realize our own creative transformation. The required tools are not money or power, but the raw human creativity that we all possess (even if it’s been dormant for years). It’s time to architect the future by proactively reinventing each aspect of your business and your life. Nearly every industry is in the midst of massive upheaval. Therein lies your opportunity.

Yes, it’s time to reinvent the wheel. And the auto business. And tech. And financial services. And telecommunications. In fact, there’s never been a better time to reinvent … for us all.

Why I Lost My Bieber Fever

Posted on June 14, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Justin Bieber is a very talented musician. He’s a gifted singer, instrumentalist, dancer and entertainer. With youth, talent and success, he should be admired and respected by all. Instead, he’s doing a spectacular job of squandering the incredible opportunity at his disposal through his narcissistic displays of immaturity.

Artists create not only to indulge their own desire for self-expression, but also to positively impact the world around them. Some perform music to delight audiences and help people celebrate the best of life. Others write provocative novels or enchanting poetry that point out the flaws of humankind and teach us to reconcile our own frailties. Comedians help us laugh while dramatic playwrights make us cry. Ultimately, art in any form should leave the world better off than without it.

When an artist, business leader, politician, author, or inventor reaches a certain level of recognition, that person has a responsibility beyond their art. High achievers serve as role models and are often emulated. In other words, their influence transcends their craft. How they behave in and out of the spotlight can greatly impact thousands around the world.

Aspiring jazz musicians in the 1950s abused heroin because Charlie Parker, the most admired jazz cat of the day, was an addict. Alcohol and cigarette brands famously used celebrities to push their wares as adoring fans followed suit despite the obvious heath risks. In our always-connected world, we’re only a tweet, Facebook post, Instagram photo or TMZ feature away from the most noted — and notorious — luminaries.

However, with great success comes great responsibility. If a person reaches icon-like status, he or she no longer has the luxury of acting like a spoiled brat. In the same way Bieber would never sing out of key or disrespect his fellow musicians by blowing his big finish, he should exhibit the same concern for the impact he’s leaving on millions of fans worldwide, especially kids. Indulging in every temptation, mocking society’s norms, and behaving like an infant shows a total disregard for those who might follow his influence. Instead of using his music as a platform to elevate humanity, he’s used his talent to gain a megaphone to negatively influence others.

Cult leaders and dictators have often used their charisma and talents to captivate and then manipulate others into following negative and divergent paths. Honestly, I don’t think Bieber is nearly that calculating or malicious. I believe he’s so self-consumed and impulsive that he just doesn’t seriously consider the impact he’s leaving outside his music.

My advice to Bieber — and to anyone else who will listen — is to carefully examine the impact you’re leaving on others outside your chosen field. You don’t need to be a celebrity to make a positive difference in the world. Architect that influence purposefully and take personal responsibility for how you’re affecting the world around you. Even the most notorious offenders can reform quickly and start leaving a positive fingerprint. Let’s all make a change for the better, even Justin Bieber. I’d be thrilled to once again catch the fever.

Great Things Are Made of Little Things

Posted on June 8, 2014 by Josh Linkner

At a recent lunch in downtown Detroit, I received a very thoughtful fortune inside my after-meal cookie. Unlike the platitudes that often fill these crunchy treats, this ‘fortune’ really got me thinking. The crumpled white paper read, “Great things are made of little things.”

This simple, yet profound thought stayed with me for days. It got me thinking about success, health, relationships and our community. When we dream about the changes we want in our lives, we visualize the enchanting end state. We’re all billionaires with chiseled bodies. We enjoy idyllic relationships with our spouse, friends, family and neighbors. We live in a utopian community. Few of us have a hard time dreaming big dreams; the challenge is going from here to there.

Too often, we look to the other side of most fortune cookie discoveries — the side that offers us the winning lottery numbers. In other words, we hope that some gigantic, onetime, effortless force will propel us to fame and fortune. These show up as get-rich-quick schemes, temptation to cut corners, or relying on hope instead of action. When our every desire fails to materialize with the snap of a finger, we can feel deflated, incensed and rejected, causing us to stop trying and stop dreaming.

The seven words of wisdom from my fortune cookie last week illustrate a better approach. The small decisions we make combine to form bigger outcomes. Each little step in the right (or wrong) direction shapes our bigger future. The daily habits we practice are the ingredients of the success we seek, not random chance as some may think. As Aristotle so perfectly stated, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The real wisdom lies in knowing that anything worth doing requires work, sacrifice and discipline. So if we want to enjoy the spoils, we need to break down our big goals into small, manageable pieces and then attack them with vigor and persistence. The great things we want in life are there for the taking. To seize them, focus on conquering the little things with rhythmic consistency.

Let’s stop waiting for a big bang of sudden change. Wishful thinking is not a winning strategy. Instead, pursue the measured approach of systematically delivering on the small things. You’ll soon find the big things are revealed over time, in the same way a sculptor’s work takes form after chiseling away consistently.

The wisdom from my cookie is easy to understand and embrace. Simply delicious. Almost as delicious as my Szechuan chicken with fried rice.

Attack The Problem, Not The Person

Posted on June 1, 2014 by Josh Linkner

“Jim, we’re in this mess because of you!”

“I told you we’d lose the client, Jane. This is all your fault. You never get it right!”

“The kids wouldn’t behave this way if you weren’t such a bad father, Bill.”

We’ve all heard words like this from bosses, parents, spouses, teachers and colleagues. I’m sure many of us have bitterly spoken them as well. It’s easy to play the blame-game when our backs are up against a wall and we feel threatened, defeated or helpless. The problem is, cutting down others is completely unproductive. Not only that, personal attacks also leave emotional bruises that can take months or years to heal, if they heal at all.

The primitive parts of our brain can unconsciously tell us to lash out, in the same way dogs impulsively bark at squirrels. Luckily, we’re not cavemen and we’re not forced to follow our crude instincts. We have the ability to choose every word we speak; to select the approach that will yield the best results.

Instead of telling Jen she’s a total idiot for missing a deadline, attack the problem. Did she have the adequate time and resources to complete the job? Was there some unforeseen factor that caused the delay? Did she clearly understand the scope and time frame? Did others on the team carry their own weight? Attacking Jen with stinging insults doesn’t finish the project, and it certainly doesn’t enable her to perform better next time. If, in fact, the setback actually was due to Jen’s shortcoming, you can hold her accountable without cutting her down. Help her learn and grow instead of shaming her while she’s down.

Pour all your energy into conquering the problem, not the person.

Your primary job as a leader is to help those around you achieve their best. The best leaders serve instead of control. Empower instead of subjugate. Build up instead of tear down. When those around you stumble, it is your platform to help them reach their potential, not an opportunity to administer a beating. And you don’t need a fancy title to be a leader. We all can and must lead in our families, communities and professions.

We live in challenging times and face a string of daily challenges. Let’s stop blaming and focus more on solving the task at hand. You’ll enjoy better results in all areas of life. Others will look at you with gratitude instead of fear, and you can be sure they’ll return the favor the next time you botch something yourself.

Simply put … attack problems, not people.

The Road to Reinvention

Posted on May 25, 2014 by Josh Linkner
Dear weekly blog readers… It’s hard to believe it has been over three years since the launch of my book on creativity and innovation, Disciplined Dreaming. Today, I am thrilled to announce the debut of my new bookThe Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation.
The Road To Reinvention
I’m proud of the work and truly believe it will make a difference for you. Placing your order today will help launch the book and send a powerful message to the world that innovation, creativity, and imagination are alive and well.
Here’s a brief summary along with some early reviews. Thank you so much for your support, and I know you’re going to enjoy the book.

Companies, communities, and individuals fall for many reasons, but one of the most common—and easily avoidable—is the failure to reinvent. When people and organizations rest on prior successes rather than driving purposeful transformation, they discover too late that they have lost their market position altogether to competitors and external forces.

The most successful companies, brands, and individuals make reinvention a regular part of their business strategies. Transformation demands an ongoing process of discovery and imagination, and The Road to Reinvention lays out a systematic approach for continually challenging and reinventing yourself and your business. Venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Josh Linkner identifies six elements in any business that are ripe for reinvention and shares examples, methods, and step-by-step techniques for creating deliberate, productive disruption.

Throughout The Road to Reinvention, Linkner also explores the history—the great rise, unprecedented fall, and now rebirth—of his beloved hometown, Detroit. First rising to greatness as the result of breathtaking innovation, Detroit had generations of booming growth before succumbing to apathy, atrophy, and finally bankruptcy. Now, the city is rising from the ashes and driving sustainable success through an intense focus on reinvention. Linkner brings an insider’s view of this incredible story of grit, determination, and creativity, sharing his perspective on Detroit’s successes and setbacks as a profound example of large-scale organizational and personal transformation.

Change is inevitable. You need to decide: Will you drive that change, or be driven away by it? Will you disrupt or be disrupted? By choosing to deliberately reimagine your own status quo, you can secure a strong future for both your company and your career.



“Continuous reinvention has become a critical strategy to win in these challenging times. In The Road to Reinvention, Josh Linkner lays out a powerful and cohesive path to help you drive your own creative disruption.”
—Steve Case, cofounder, AOL

“Josh Linkner is a truly special entrepreneur, part of a rare breed that understands that the most important lesson on how to win in business, and in life, is to never give up. The Road to Reinvention is filled with practical tidbits for those fighting every day to become successful.”
—Eric Lefkofsky, CEO, Groupon

“In this compelling book, Josh Linkner reminds us that no business can afford to pause in the headlong drive to meet new challenges to the status quo, that to reinvent the workplace, we have to reinvent ourselves continually as leaders. The Road to Reinvention is a must-read.”
—Deborah Hopkins, chief innovation officer, Citibank

“Reinvention can be both exciting and challenging, but successfully reinventing one’s self, a business, an industry, or a community can also be truly rewarding. We are in the midst of a positive reinvention in Detroit and throughout Michigan, and I encourage you to head down Josh Linkner’s road to reinvention.”
Rick Snyder, governor, State of Michigan

The Road to Reinvention shows why great people and companies go stale—and how to stay fresh. Josh Linkner reveals what it takes to reboot your products, reshape your services, reengineer your operations, rethink your brand, and restart your career. This bold, uplifting book will reinvent the way that leaders and entrepreneurs do business.”
—Adam Grant, professor, the Wharton School, and author, Give and Take

“Josh Linkner has laid out a comprehensive framework for reinvention and operational innovation, which is a must-read for all leaders. With numerous inspirational examples and straight talk on what you can do to reinvent your company, The Road to Reinvention should be mandatory reading for your entire team.“
—Tom LaSorda, former CEO, Chrysler

“The Road to Reinvention is a must-read if you want you and your team to reach the next level. Full of practical advice and engaging, illuminating anecdotes, Linkner’s message is powerful, relevant, and inspiring.”
—Keith Ferrazzi, author, Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back

“In The Road to Reinvention, Josh Linkner creates a clear path for how to achieve transformative change—the key to all future growth and success.”
—Bill Emerson, CEO, Quicken Loans

“Through clear principles and examples, Josh Linkner makes it easier for anyone to reinvent their brand, company, or even career. The Road to Reinvention creates a template to understand the critical leadership challenge of the decade: disrupt or be disrupted.”
—David Butler, VP, innovation and entrepreneurship, the Coca-Cola Company 

“Don’t let your competition read this book before you do. The Road to Reinvention offers powerful insights and navigable paths forward for both personal and business reinvention. Josh Linkner is a singularly thoughtful entrepreneur who understands how to illuminate a vision of the possible.”
—Don Katz, CEO and founder, Audible

“Protecting your existing model is no longer an option. The Road to Reinvention provides the tools you need in order to be the disruptor instead of becoming disrupted. A must-read.”
– Steve Blank, professor, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, and author, The Startup Owner’s Manual

“As someone who has had to reinvent many times to stay on top, I highly recommend Josh Linkner’s book. The Road to Reinvention will help you come out ahead, even when facing the roughest circumstances.”
—Les Gold, star, Hardcore Pawn, and author, For What It’s Worth

“With the pace of innovation and resulting changes in consumer behavior, no company can afford to sit still. Growing a successful company requires creative assessment and disruption. In The Road to Reinvention, Josh Linkner illustrates how to lead your employees not only to accept but embrace the need for continuous reinvention.”
—Carol Kruse, global CMO, Tough Mudder, and former CMO, ESPN

The Road to Reinvention is a powerful wake-up call for any organization, whether already thriving or looking for inspiration. It’s also a toolkit for entrepreneurs seeking to build the next big thing.”
—Andrew Yang, founder and CEO, Venture for America, and author, Smart People Should Build Things

“The Road to Reinvention is a valuable guide for renewing your organization in this age of disruption. Josh Linker, having created a wide array of successful businesses, shares his proven methods for leading innovation. The Road to Reinvention is a must-read for anyone who needs transformational tools to remake their organization.”
—Jeff DeGraff, professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and author, Innovation You

 “Josh Linkner is one of the most creative thinkers on the planet. The Road to Reinvention contains his prescriptions for changing your product mix, your approach to the marketplace, and even your customers. Read this book if you want your company to thrive in today’s crazy competitive marketplace.”
—Nick Morgan, president, PublicWords, and author, Power Cues and Trust Me

“Already in a creative field, I found the tools and exercises in The Road to Reinvention encouraged me to think about things differently, from songwriting to expanding my business and brand. Thank you for a great follow-up to Disciplined Dreaming!”
—Earl Klugh, GRAMMY® Award–winning guitarist, songwriter, and producer

“Innovative approaches are the drivers of all human progress. In The Road to Reinvention, Josh Linkner shows you exactly how to reinvent your business and career with stunning precision.”
—Brad Feld, cofounder, Tech Stars and Foundry Group, and author, Do More Faster and Venture Deals

“The Road to Reinvention reflects true insight from a successful entrepreneur who has spent a career in the trenches of creative disruption. Josh Linkner has taken the concept of reinvention and broken it down into actionable, specific insights that can be put into practice on a daily basis.”
—Al Callier, VP, strategic innovation, Universal Studios

“The Road to Reinvention gives readers a clear path for renewal and resilience that is compelling, insightful, and practical. Josh Linkner presents a blueprint for leaders to follow so they are able not just to stay in the game but to stay ahead of it.”
—Brian Owens, head, global brand strategy, eBay Inc.

“Josh Linkner is among a rare breed of entrepreneurs. Driven and successful, yet reflective, cognizant that personal growth and professional success are intricately linked. In The Road to Reinvention he provides the most compelling case I’ve encountered for approaching today’s increasingly complex business environment in a disruptive manner, all while inspiring us to truly begin living the life we’ve imagined for ourselves.”
—Dave Zilko, president and vice chairman, Garden Fresh Gourmet

“The Road to Reinvention is a thought-provoking work that offers a clear process for ongoing creative disruption. Josh Linkner has lived the process of leading a hyper-growth organization. The Road to Reinvention provides insight and inspiration through engaging stories, powerful examples, and easy-to-follow processes. Highly recommended.”
—Scott Dorsey, CEO and cofounder, Exact Target

“Josh Linkner is an expert on reinvention, and this book is a must-read. The Road to Reinvention is a fascinating new roadmap to help you envision the future and control your own destiny.”
—Michael Abrashoff, US Navy Commander, and author, It’s Your Ship

What Your Kids Can Teach You About Leadership That Your Boss Cannot

Posted on May 18, 2014 by Josh Linkner

When we think of leadership, we often gravitate toward lessons learned from our bosses (past and present). Generally this practice makes a tremendous amount of sense — longstanding success and a pattern of winning matter. However, by narrowing our focus to only learn from the tenured few, we miss out on many other lessons to be learned.

For me, my children have taught me more about leadership than any boss ever could. Children aren’t tainted by their 9-5 cube farm job or a stack of bills to pay. Here are some of my favorite lessons that my two kids have taught me:

Compassion. Most kids are incredibly kind people. They welcome others into their circle, they’re big hearted, and they want to make a difference. We’re all born with the capacity to be kind, but over the years we are hardened by life experiences. Instead of making a curmudgeonly comment about a potentially negative situation caused by a team member, look for the positive thing that person did. Remember, nobody is a number — everyone comes with her own burdens and baggage.

Wonder and Curiosity. Kids have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, perhaps even to the point of parental frustration. Everything is a new, exciting experience, so everything creates a sense of wonder — and a desire to learn more about it.

Lack of prejudgment. Until proven otherwise, kids assume that someone is well-intentioned, interesting, and fun. It’s only when someone gives them a reason to think differently that they then judge the person according to that person’s actions. If you approached an interview (or any business interaction) like a child would, you would pick up on someone’s great qualities before judging what you see first off.

Being in the moment. I sit in a meeting on my phone — checking e-mail, texts, the weather, you name it. It’s a habit I’m working to break, because I realize that I’m not fully present in the moment. If you allow yourself to disconnect from anything else happening in the world and focus — like children do — on the one thing you’re doing, your productivity will soar.

Focusing on the possibilities. When children are presented with the chance, they think big — and dream even bigger. They allow themselves to focus on the possibilities of the future, since they haven’t learned the downside. If you’re the first person to say “no, that won’t work because it’s too risky,” you’re stifling your team’s ability to produce something great. Instead, try thinking about “yes, that just may work because … ” and see what you come up with.

Learn from your kids. They’ll teach you more about life and leadership than any boss could. As Marianne Williamson put it perfectly, “Children are happy because they don’t have a file in their minds called “‘All the Things That Could Go Wrong.’”

Four Lessons I Learned From My Mom

Posted on May 11, 2014 by Josh Linkner

As the Mother’s Day brunches and barbeques come to a close, many of us spend a few minutes reflecting on the impact our moms have made.  They sacrificed and worked around the clock in a thankless job to prepare us to lead productive adult lives.  This hilarious video illustrates just how outrageous the demands of the world’s toughest job can be.

In my case, I thought back about the powerful lessons I learned from my mom.  Sadly, her life was far too short having lost her fight to cancer 18 months ago, just after her 65th birthday.   I especially missed her presence at this year’s festivities and began to think about the big ideas she passed along that have shaped my life.  I wanted to pass along four of her most powerful lessons, so that we can all learn from this giant who stood only five feet tall:

Stand up for your beliefs.  Back in the 1960’s, my mom was a vocal advocate for women’s rights, the anti-war movement, civil rights, and many other causes.  She challenged those around her to do the right thing, even in the face of opposition. She attended protests and marches, burnt her bra, and spoke out against social injustice. She made it clear that standing up for core beliefs is both important and non-negotiable, even when it’s difficult or out of favor.

Develop curiosity and a love for learning.  One of the most curious people I’ve ever known, she would interrogate nearly everyone with questions.  She taught me to be a lifelong learner and to use each moment as an opportunity for growth.  She was fascinated by the way the world worked, and passed along the love of knowledge to all who would listen.

Use grit and determination to craft the life you want.  As a broke, single mother in the early 1970’s, the obstacles of pursuing an advanced degree seemed insurmountable.  Yet she put herself through law school, raised her son, and managed to keep a roof over our heads.  Instead of caving to the forces against her, she tapped an immense reservoir of persistence and managed to become a successful attorney in a male-dominated field typically inaccessible to most in her economic situation. Through her example, I learned that nearly any goal is achievable despite the intimidating odds.

Follow your passion.   After practicing law for ten years and achieving financial success as a trail lawyer, she completely walked away from that lucrative area of the law.  She felt she could make a bigger impact by helping to create families, so she became a pioneer – and ultimately a leading expert – in the field of adoption law, even though the pay was dramatically less. She taught me that making an impact is far more important than maximizing cash flow, and that the purpose of life is a life with a purpose.

While she’s no longer with us in person, Monica Farris Linkner has certainly left an impact on those she touched. I sure miss that tenacious, passionate, idealistic, inquisitive, wicked-smart woman.  I hope her wisdom makes a difference for you as it has for so many others.

Avoid The Complexity Trap

Posted on May 4, 2014 by Josh Linkner

A marble rolls down a ramp until it triggers a spring that lights a match, which, in turn, ignites a candle. The heat from the candle inflates a balloon, which expands until it pops. The burst of the balloon moves a lever that lifts a barrier holding back a live mouse. The now-freed mouse heads down a small passageway to access a piece of cheese.

As the mouse grabs the cheese, the weight of his foot triggers a string to pull down on a counter-weight, which then triggers a golf ball to roll down a track, hit a pendulum, which, in turn, strikes the “on” switch of a coffeemaker. Now you can enjoy a freshly brewed cup. Easy!

We’ve all seen these devices in cartoons and on TV. The fanciful contraptions are known as Rube Goldberg machines, paying homage to the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Reuben (Rube) Goldberg (1883-1970). Goldberg was well known for drawing complex and convoluted contraptions that performed simple tasks, such as turning a page, opening a door, or using a napkin.

These wacky contraptions are so enthralling, that the board game Mousetrap was crafted in their likeness. There are hundreds of officially sanctioned Rube Goldberg Machine competitions held around the world each year. Honda even made a brilliant TV commercial using such a device. We are fascinated with transforming the simple into the wildly complex.

As someone who has spent his whole career building start-up companies and working with entrepreneurs, I can tell you that this particular whimsy can actually become a dangerous trap. Fancying ourselves as ‘groundbreaking innovators,’ we have a habit of adding complexity to products, business problems, team dynamics, and pretty much anything we can get our hands on. Frankly, many of us in the business world suffer from Rube Goldberg Syndrome.

The best of the best, however, do the opposite. They find the easy way to solve challenges rather than injecting unnecessary complexity. Instead of fighting incredibly hard to get customers to buy something they don’t want, why not offer something that’s in high demand? Instead of building a website with technical wizardry that requires a PhD to navigate, why not make it 6-year-old simple?

In your own business, life, family, and community, you are constantly facing difficult challenges. Resist the instinct to muck up an otherwise simple solution.

Yes, the road less traveled can make all the difference, but you don’t win extra points for taking a dirt road instead of the freeway. Actually solving a problem, closing the deal, or driving meaningful results are far more rewarding than falling short in an elegant manner.

In the words of legendary jazz bassist Charles Mingus, “Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”