One thing I've learned about business after covering the security world for the last three years is that the good managers always steal from other people. I think some people have the idea that successful business people are just visionaries who have great ideas strike them like lightning, mavericks (oh, how that word has been degraded) who don't need anybody's help.
But I don't think that's often true. Sure, there are some people who follow pretty much exclusively their own path and strike gold, but I haven't met many of them. Most of the smart people I know have a mentor they often talk about, or have a few authors they admire, or are just generally on the lookout for good ideas they can steal.
That's why I love this op-ed
that came across my desk, written by Mark Thompson, owner of a security firm in Plano, Texas, called Smith Thompson Security
. It's a great story about how he admired Southwest honcho Herb Kelleher so much that he decided to write him a letter and ask him to lunch. Lo and behold, Kelleher accepted and the two of them ended up talking for two hours over lunch.
That must have been a blast.
So, who would you love to have lunch with from the business world? My pick would have to be Black Swan author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. There aren't many people out there I'd label as geniuses without ever meeting them, but this guy really changed the way I think on a regular basis, right down to common every day occurrences. He basically posits that trying to predict the future is pointless because it's always the unpredictable occurrence that shapes the future, and, further, the way we predict the future (based on history) is fundamentally flawed.
My favorite example of this is when something breaks around the house. Recently, our beloved waffle maker just decided one day, after nine years (it was a wedding present), that it didn't want to get hot anymore. My wife lamented, "It's worked every time we've plugged it in for nine years, why would it just stop working?"
Well, it's exactly because we've used it so often for nine years that it stopped working. Each day it became more likely that it would stop working, not the other way around. It's the most sensible thing in the world that a relatively cheap waffle iron would crap out after about 2000 waffles. But that's not the way we think. We think, "Well, because it's worked every other day, it will work today." When we should be thinking, "Well, it's worked every day so far. Maybe this will be the day it fails."
When you begin to think like that, you're much more flexible and ready to adapt to change because you're not surprised by it, you're expecting it.
I'm not surprised at all, by the way, that Taleb has made huge bank
on the recent financial crisis. Rather than expecting the market to continue to soar, he expected that it would eventually fail and was ready for it.
So, yeah, I'd like to have lunch with Taleb. In fact, I wouldn't mind being offered the opportunity to intern for him for free (and I don't work for free).
Who'd you want to take to lunch? Is there someone in the industry you'd like to have a couple hours with? Is there someone you're hoping to seek out at a show and get a drink with? What about outside the industry? Who's a businessperson who, like Thompson, you definitely steal ideas from?