You Can Do It, Sam I Am
It was, so the story goes, a wager in the amount of $50, which would be more like $500 in today’s money. Knowing the two men involved, I’ll wager that alcohol played a part in this bet as well.
The story, recounted by James Clear, says the bet was between polymath Bennett Cerf in his role as founder of Random House Publishers, and Dr. Seuss, who needs no further introduction. Cerf bet Seuss couldn’t write a children’s book using only 50 different words.
Seuss took up the challenge and won the bet by writing “Green Eggs and Ham,” the best-selling book of his career. Of course, the amount of the bet was infinitesimal compared to the profits both men made over a lifetime from sales of that book.
It was obvious to Bennett Cerf that Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was a talented writer of children’s books. He knew that Random House’s recently launched Beginner Books line, which specifically used vocabulary words appropriate for children just learning to read, had been surprisingly successful, but had the potential to go much further.
His challenge to Dr. Seuss, rather than a restriction, turned out to be the very formula for success.
As a writer, almost everything I am paid to write is constrained by word count. Oh, the brilliant things I could say if only I could use twice as many words. Oh, the works of genius I’ve deleted because there wasn’t room in an article for all my brilliant thoughts … or so my fantasy goes.
The reality is that having specific limitations in word count forces me to distill my thoughts down to their bare essence. My focus must be razor-sharp. As a result, my writing is much clearer than it would be were I allowed by my editors to run off in all directions.
Overcome Perceived Barriers
There are limitations to everything we do. Time and money, or lack thereof, are most commonly cited as holding us back. Live with it. Instead of wishing away your life, your business or your dreams by saying, “if only … ,” try working within your limits.
Constraints will always be there. Ever watch an “Iron Chef” competition? The premise of such events is the same as the Seuss/Cerf bet. Sometimes the results are awful, but sometimes sublime.
In all cases, the winning concoctions would never have been created, nor even imagined, if not for the limitations placed on the chef.
As a young printer, I noticed that time always seemed to be the enemy. “If only those darn customers would give us more time,” I constantly heard. The customers, likewise, felt limited by their printers. “If only those print shops could get our work done on time,” was their refrain.
The standard printing industry practice of missing promised delivery dates led to the standard client practice of fudging deadline dates. What if deliveries could be made on time? It couldn’t be that hard. What if customers trusted their printer enough to give them the real deadline dates, instead of building in extra time to allow for untrustworthy promises of delivery?
I started my company, Copresco, determined to embrace, rather than fight, deadlines. You want it when? By gum, you shall have it! Overnight? Sure! Using conventional methods where possible, unconventional methods where necessary, and dedicated to working with our clients’ time constraints, our entire business model is built around turnaround. Deadlines and time limitations have proven to be a bonanza for my company.
School of Hard Knocks
Spring training is just starting for baseball season. Take a look at Major League managers and coaches. Almost all are former players. In their playing careers, the majority of managers were noteworthy only for their mediocrity. These are men who love the game but were held back from superstardom by lack of innate talent.
Unlike the MVPs, the lesser lights were forced to study the game, to examine its nuances, to consciously apply hard-earned lessons to their play rather than relying on instinct. Their frustrating struggles in the school of hard knocks is just what made them into good coaches.
Wise men tell us, “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” Business down? Profits tight? Stop complaining. Work with it. Study the situation. Says Jon Kabat-Zinn, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Steve Johnson, president and CEO of Copresco in Carol Stream, Ill., is an executive with 40 years of experience in the graphic arts. He founded Copresco, a pioneer in digital printing technology and on-demand printing, in 1987. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.copresco.com