At 22 weeks gestation, she only weighed one and a quarter pounds. She was so tiny. Encouraged by the nurse, I reluctantly eased my arm through the sleeve of the incubator, and I gently placed my little pinky in Rose’s hand. She latched on like her life depended on it.
That floored me; that experience has changed me forever.
But at that moment, I realized we needed to put the mission of the March of Dimes in the hands of our leaders. So we held our next board meeting at the hospital, right across the hall from the NICU, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
And before starting our meeting, we all walked across the hall to meet baby Rose, each of us experiencing her fragility, watching her cling to life. Rose humanized our vision by giving every baby a healthy start at life, but we knew we had to start hitting our financial goals to continue funding that vision.
And so, we gathered the relevant information, which led to our insight of focusing on corporate donors. Our innovation was developing a brand new corporate sponsorship package and pitch, and baby Rose was at the center of our new story.
I remember meeting with the CEO of an insurance company. I shared my story about baby Rose. We only talked for a few minutes. He wrote a check for $5,000. Within one year, we had increased our corporate sponsorship revenue line by over 400%.
I also want to acknowledge that we would not have achieved that breakthrough growth without a dedicated board and a very amazing staff.
While Rose was the inspiration, our team orchestrated the breakthrough. The formula for breakthrough growth is not limited to corporate applications. My wife Sandra and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary soon. We have been – thanks, yeah. You don’t know; you’re about to!
The important part here is that we’ve worked together as business partners for 20 of those years. Now, I know, I’m not recommending that couples work together. It’s a tough balancing act, especially when one of you is a Type A controller. I’m not going to say which of us is the Type A.
Oh, you’re making this too easy. Only the last Christmas, Sandra bought me a sign to hang in my office that read: “Well, I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.”
Hey…You’ve only had to put up with me for nine minutes. Imagine a quarter-century of this!
So, every year, Sandra and I conduct a business planning retreat. Last year was the first time that we emphasized our personal planning. And we stated a vision of putting more time in our marriage and less time in our business. The conversation that followed was revealing and quite painful for me because my insight was that I had been an absent husband and father.
When our kids were young, I wasn’t around much. I was so focused on building my career, I lost sight of what truly mattered.
Here’s a key point: going through the formula helps you focus on what really matters.
So, the innovation: simply a new routine. Sometimes a small change can make a big difference. Every workday evening at 6:00 PM, I hit a chime. We have home offices, and we meet at the island in our kitchen, uncork a bottle of wine, and we cook dinner together. We started weekly date nights and get out of town one weekend a month.
I just love this new routine… mainly because I’m so deeply grateful for my wife and children, and being present for them is what truly matters.
What I’m suggesting here is that breakthrough growth can often be an ongoing process. I have to work every day at being present. The irony is that with the focus on our marriage, our business has never grown faster. Double breakthrough.
So I’ll reveal my new vision, and that is that Sandra will put up with me for another 25 years.
OK, I started this talk by sharing I wanted breakthrough growth for you. I said that because sometimes, breakthroughs aren’t just good for our business or for our personal lives. Sometimes breakthroughs are necessary for our survival.
A story of another nine-year-old: me in third grade. Way back in the ’60s. My teacher informed the principal and my mother that I was mentally retarded. That teacher wanted me placed in a special school for kids with developmental delays because I couldn’t read, spell, or do math as well as the other kids.
My mom didn’t believe I was delayed, so she had me tested. Turned out that I had a severe case of primary dyslexia. That’s a genetic dysfunction that never improves with age. It never goes away.
Through the rest of my school years, I experienced relentless ridicule and humiliation, even from three of my teachers. Third, fourth, and eighth grade.
By the age of 16, I dropped out of school because I just couldn’t see life getting any better. I contemplated suicide. But I loved playing the drums.
And I had a vision, literally a mental image of performing live on stage in front of a packed concert hall, like this, because I thought if I could accomplish that, people would stop judging me as stupid.
But I knew to achieve that vision and that level of performance that I needed to sharpen my skills. So I learned how to read music. I studied under two instructors and put hours of practice in every day. And the insight that came from all of that practice was when I hit a plateau. I just stopped progressing.
So I innovated a new way of practicing the drums. I’m right-handed. I switched to a left-hand drum set. And as difficult as that was at first, my dexterity and coordination went through the roof.
By my early 20s, I had toured throughout North America and Europe, performing in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and recorded albums with four different bands. I didn’t realize it then, but breakthrough growth probably saved my life.
Now, this formula is not about me. I share my challenges, my failures, and my breakthroughs only as an example to show you how this formula can work in all of our lives.
Because if I can do it, I know you can do it.
I also know that the feeling and the fear of failure can leave us overwhelmed and feeling content with the status quo, maybe even give up.