5 Lessons on Innovation from Outlander’s Diana Gabaldon

A Creative Force

One of the most innovative people I have ever met is my friend Diana Gabaldon. Last year, her wildly popular Outlander novels became even more popular as the new television series was released. Whether you are reading her Outlander series or her Lord John novels, you will be hard pressed to categorize her writing. Most critics give up and classify her work with a list of descriptive words ranging from historical fiction and romance to mystery and adventure.

However you describe her novels, you may find it even more challenging to describe the author. Diana is equal parts scholar, writer and historian. Mix in a bit of archivist; stir in comic book writing, and the unique recipe begins to take shape.

When I first met Diana, I had not read any of her books. She captivated me by the way she told a story. How she went from college professor to best-selling author was a story I will never forget.

Here are a few lessons I learned from the impossible-to-describe creative force named Diana Gabaldon:

 

Lessons from A Creative Mind

1. Try….why not take a chance? 

It seems that most people have an idea, think they should do something, and then push that dream into a drawer. They never really give it a go.

Years ago, Diana read comic books. She felt the writing quality was declining and that she could do it herself. Have you ever felt that way? You see something and think, “I can do better.” Most of us have. What sets Diana apart is that she didn’t stop there. She investigated. She found out who was in charge and then turned in a submission.

Years later, Diana would take a different chance. She thought that she would like to try writing a novel. That try, what she calls the novel she was writing for “practice,” became Outlander.

What idea have you had that you have left in that drawer? What could you do to give birth to something new?

 

2. Study…for the love of creating.

Long before her mega success as an author, Diana spent years as a university professor.  She has a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. She also holds degrees in marine biology and zoology. That type of academic success shows an underlying love of learning.

And it’s that same love of learning she uses in the meticulous research for her books.  Her fiction books are known for their accuracy, and it is no wonder.  Her personal library includes thousands of books. Her Arizona home alone contains over 1500 reference works on topics such as warfare techniques, poisons and history. Some of the topics are very specific, such as the art of passementarie (the knotted tassels on 18th century furnishings) or the 126 books on herbals. If you have been searching for Sam Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) or Captain Francis Grose’s A Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), look no further.

Often people look for the shortcuts to success. You may hear that Diana decided to write a book and then found herself on the NYT list. The truth is that great public success is almost always the result of planting, tilling and working in private.

Diana Gabaldon's bookcase, Used by Permission Diana Gabaldon’s bookcase, Used by Permission

 

3. Fail…and keep going!

The Only Question that Matters in Personal Branding

Managing A Personal Brand

My friend Robert D. Smith is a master of branding and a creative force. For decades, he has managed the career of best-selling author and speaker Andy Andrews.  In addition to his work with Andy, he is regularly sought after by some of the biggest names for his expert advice, creativity, and innovative approaches.

 

“Whether you think it or not, you are a brand.” @TheRobertD

 

Recently, I spent some time visiting with him in his home and office in Tennessee.  Most people know Robert as THE Robert D.  His energy is so intense that, to prepare, I downed a double espresso before our interview.  I shouldn’t have bothered because just talking with him is like plugging into an unending energy source.

In our video interview, you will hear THE Robert D’s advice on building a personal brand.

What’s the number one question that THE Robert D asks himself to know whether a person will succeed?  Drum roll….

Are you coachable?

Interestingly, when I hire an executive, that is also my number one question. Because if you are not teachable, it usually means you are arrogant. If you aspire to serve others, you are always trying to remain coachable.

 

“Winning is defined by the legacy you create.” @TheRobertD

 

Here are a few highlights from our discussion:

  • Anyone can have a personal brand. “Whether you think it or not, you are a brand.” How you look, dress, talk is part of your brand.

Best Quotes and Sayings about Books

(C) Joy Prichard Studios

Image courtesy of Joy Prichard Studios

 

It is no secret that I love books.  Though I prefer the printed book, I also have electronic collections on every advice imaginable.  From speaking about the future of books or how books make a better life to visiting bookstores and libraries around the globe, I share this passion with many of you.  And it’s not just about the content inside.  I also love collecting my favorite book covers each year.

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones was one of my great influencers.  He repeatedly said that, “You will be the same person you are today in five years but for two things:  the people you meet and the books you read.”

Books change lives.

Here are some of my favorite quotes about books:

 

“I cannot live without books.” –Thomas Jefferson

 

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” -Abraham Lincoln

 

“I often carry things to read so that I will not have to look at people.” –Charles Bukowski

 

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” -Walt Disney

 

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” -Henry David Thoreau

 

“Books open your mind, broaden your mind, and strengthen you as nothing else can.” -William Feather

 

“A book worth reading is worth buying.” -John Ruskin

 

“All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened.” -Ernest Hemingway

 

“So many books, so little time.” -Frank Zappa

 

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” -Cicero

 

“Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.” –Stephen King

 

“Books are mirrors. You only see in them what you already have inside of you.” -Carlos Zafon

 

“You are today who you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.” -Charlie “Tremendous” Jones

 

“My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.” –Abraham Lincoln

 

“Be awesome! Be a book nut!” –Dr. Seuss

 

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog it’s too dark to read.” -Groucho Marx

 

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” -Ernest Hemingway

 

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” –C.S. Lewis

 

“Classic – a book which people praise and don’t read.” –Mark Twain

Out Execute the Competition

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Irv Rothman is the president and chief executive officer of HP Financial Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard Company. Prior to joining HP, Rothman was president and chief executive officer of Compaq Financial Services Corporation where he led it from its founding to growth of over $3.7 billion in total assets.

Irv is the author of Out-Executing the Competition.  What I really admire is that Irv is donating all of the royalties he earns on the sale of the book to Room to Read, an organization dedicated to children’s literacy.

 

The best way to out-execute the other guy is to know your customer’s business as well as you know your own. -Irv Rothman

 

Attracting the Right Talent

Much of success in business is about finding and cultivating the right talent.  How did you attract and retain the talent needed to accomplish your goals?

Attracting and retaining the right people starts with a leadership commitment to first develop high performers in-house.  And this has to be more than an annual “talent management” exercise.  It’s an activity that leadership must consistently demonstrate is important by developing people and promoting from within.  This sends key messages to an organization:

1)   Leadership can be trusted to do as they say they will.

2)   Career opportunities exist…. No need to look elsewhere.

3)   Leadership recognizes and acknowledges that outside hires are a 50/50 proposition.

In short, provide an atmosphere where people can learn and achieve advancement based on merit.  Not only will the good people stick around, their hearts will be in it.

 

Developing a Culture of Execution

 

Out-Executing the Competition

Your book title is all about execution.  How do you develop a culture of execution?

A culture of execution starts with devotion to the customer.  Since it is theoretically easier to keep a customer than to find a new one, all messaging and reward systems need to be packaged around a “customer for life” philosophy.  And a pay-for-performance compensation system is a must.  Moreover, it can’t be black box; people need to be clear as to what rewards can be expected from results and behaviors.  Once you’ve got all that organized, creating an environment where people have freedom to act on behalf of the customer is crucial. You can’t have a circumstance where people are bound by the linear strictures of a traditional command and control organization. It not only frustrates your employees, it also makes for dissatisfaction on the part of the people on the other end of the phone.

3 Ways to Achieve Your Goals

Goals 2014

Happy New Year!

The other day I posted the best book covers of 2013.  The artists and designers who create book jackets deserve recognition for the outstanding job they do.  Whether we realize it or not, the cover is often responsible for drawing us in.

Kicking off 2014, I am thinking about the goals I have for the year.  The book covers offer a metaphor for our goal-setting process.

Glancing at a book cover, we judge the content and the author.  When strangers look at us, like it or not, they often judge us in the same way.  They take a look, and judge on our appearance.  Unfortunately, this is common before anyone even understands our story.

MOST NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOCUS ON THE COVER

Is your goal this year to lose weight? Stay on that diet?  Exercise more?  Eat healthier?  Like a book cover, we often focus on how the world sees us by focusing on our physical appearance.  We don’t stop there.  We also think about our reputation.  Reputation defender services now help combat unwanted or unfair reviews online.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. -Lao Tzu

I can hear some of you saying, “Wait.  Skip, it’s the inside that matters!”  Some of you may be thinking about the verse in Samuel: “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

That’s true.

I love what Jim Rohn said about that thought.  He said, “Work on the outside for people.  Work on the inside for God.”

NEW YEAR GOALS

If your life was a book, you would want the cover to be an award winner, and you would want the narrative to be superbly written.  Design your goals the same way.

Keep your external goals.  Losing weight may be just what you need.  Regular exercise may just save your life.  Eating more vegetables is always a good idea.  But make sure to add internal goals to your list.

1. Divide your goals into two lists:  the cover and the story.

A COVER goal is anything that is visible.  This list could include such things as quitting smoking, getting a better job or obtaining your ideal weight.  Anything that is seen by other people and the outside world goes in this column.

A STORY goal is what’s on the inside and goes into the second column.  Do you want to be a better friend?  How about being less critical and more positive?  What are your spiritual goals?