Unconventional Advice For You & Your Children

We are looking for the Holy Grail, the formula that helps us achieve what we want. It could be wealth, success, respect, love, peace and more. But such a formula does not exist; instead we have lots of platitudes; lots of often contradictory assertions; platitudes that are applicable in some situations, not in others. But seemingly they are all competing for importance without any clear cut directions as to which one works where. Just about anyone can become a guru in this age of social media and blogging and set forth 10 bullet points that show you how to become successful.

But what matters, and that which is missing in all these assertions is a sense of perspective. None of them are wrong or right, but they are applicable under certain circumstances, in a certain way. It's this sense of perspective; the nuances, the details, the inspiration that matters. A single statement may mean nothing to you, like saying "innovation is the key to success". It could be totally ineffective from the point of view of pushing you to take action in a certain way, because the knowhow quite often is very simple. It's the act-how that really matters, that's what pushes you to take action in a certain way.

And that's the gap Fred Cook fills with his book "Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO". It's a profound book by an extraordinary man, who has lived an incredible life. Fred's been a pool hustler, cabin boy, chauffeur for drunks, Italian leather salesman, and a doorman. He is now the CEO of a multi-award winning PR company and provides counsel to blue-chip companies like Nintendo, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, BP, and Toyota. Fred has also worked personally with Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and Michael Eisner. And thankfully he has gone ahead and put down his experiences in a book that is every bit as unconventional as the man himself. He provides you with a clear and hard hitting perspective emanating from his wide and varied, well-lived through experiences.

At its core, the central idea that Fred presents is, you can take anything and mold it into something else – you can make something happen. It does not matter what you have, whatever it is you have been given is sufficient to create something. Whatever it is that you are doing, if you do it slightly differently, creatively and continue to improvise, you can create something extraordinary. And that's when you would achieve true success. Take the example of Cirque du Soleil which turned the circus business – an industry that was pretty much dead, into an extra ordinary success.

Fred is concerned about how everybody is reading the same books, learning the same things, watching the same movies and so on – the result is we are getting commodities out of colleges rather than people filled with wild, unique and powerful ideas. He is respectful of people who are trying to figure out things for themselves rather than moving down the predictable beaten path presented to them. These maybe graduates fresh out of college, or entrepreneurs, looking towards forging their own paths and making a contribution. This book is not just for them; it's also for people who are stuck in a rut, say somebody in their forties who feels that he has not achieved anything in his life. For them, Fred makes for an inspiring example as he started from scratch in the business that he is in today when he was 36 years old.

Fred talks about examining life from various perspectives. What he thinks is critical for innovation is having a wide exposure to the world, to lessons, to how things work, and the greater the exposure the more is your probability of connecting the dots that you could not see otherwise. He tells you to do things that you have not done before, befriend the kind of people you have never been with before. Travel; soak in different cultures, geographies, languages and expand your mind. You need to learn what's out there before you can contribute to the world. The more variety you have in your life, the more inspired you will be. What's more important is that you will add to your repertoire of creative tools that will help you bring into the world something that's uniquely yours. It's like you need to learn the alphabet and then the words, before you attain mastery over a language and create incredible literature. The literature is already within you but if you do not know the language you will not be able to bring it out into the world.

The coolest thing about this book though is how Fred has intertwined the lessons he has learnt with his life's story. It's a vivid recounting of a person who has lived a full life, who has done it all, has experienced things that most people would not experience in a single lifetime. You learn tremendously by reading his book because it does not offer theoretical advice, rather it presents vicarious experiences and classic street smart advice. The kind of stuff you do not normally find in books. I think one of the most important comments I'd make is that this man has had more experiences in one lifetime that most people would not have in multiple lifetimes. So in a single person all these experiences coming together clearly creates a sense of perspective that is astounding. Go ahead and read the book, but before you do that check out our conversation with the man himself and do share it with your children!