Preface to Extraordinary People
There are a lot of ways to learn how to succeed. One way is to be thrown into deep water and being forced to swim, even when you don’t know how. That has happened to me many times and was one of my earliest career experiences.
I hadn’t graduated from college in large part because I had too many interests—I couldn’t pick a major because everything from being an anthropologist to a concert pianist fascinated me (for the same reason, I earned just about every merit badge the Boy Scouts offered). But then I didn’t attend class very often anyway—I was too busy organizing special interest clubs or protesting some university policy
So by the time I was 22 and married, with a son on the way, I thought it was time to focus. I had always been a natural leader—my parents had instilled lots of self-confidence, telling me I could do anything, which meant one summer turning our backyard into a version of Disneyland’s Jungle Ride. But safari leader positions being scarce, I cast about for something interesting and thought of my cousin who was managing a natural food store and would go on to become a chiropractor. I believed this industry, just becoming cool in the early 70s, would have enormous growth, so I started calling around to see if I could start as a box boy.
On my first call, I got the owner of a couple of stores on the phone and my enthusiasm somehow convinced him to hire me as the manager of both, even though I had never even worked in retail. But by the end of the conversation I found out there was a slight complication: this was Dave’s job. They’d had a falling out, but Dave had already decided to leave anyway, so he stuck around for a couple of weeks and trained me. I learned an enormous amount and kept from drowning.
I went on to run or own a dozen small companies, from the publisher of a national newspaper to a marketing consultancy. When I became a full-time freelance journalist in 1997, I had the hands-on experience to realize that too many reporters didn’t really understand business management, which gave me an edge when I interviewed CEOs.
Recently, I’ve been a freelance contributor to the “Leaders & Success” column of Investor’s Business Daily. If you’re not familiar with it and are ambitious, you need to subscribe, since it shows readers how certain personality traits andbehaviors have helped famous people succeed in every kind of endeavor, whether they had to manage wars or top corporations, write bestselling novels or create blockbuster movies.
Gradually, I learned what differentiates those who win with honor and those who either don’t win or don’t care how they do. Part of getting on the right road is about modeling the right people.
That’s the central subject of this book, taking an in-depth look at people past and present I admire. Human nature hasn’t changed a lot since the cave man days; we just have more tools and toys, so historical figures can shed light on our current circumstances.
I’ve grouped each one under some attitude or action that propelled them to the top, though this was, of course, only one characteristic that made them such high-achievers. The difference between success and failure is often just a matter of psychology, so we need all the inspiration for our current project that we can absorb. Some of these
ideas are embedded in the story of their lives and I add some takeaways (the most important of which is that you can learn from imperfect people—just like we all are).
Along the way, I hope you’ll also be as fascinated as I was in researching this, with the times, places, and careers few of us know much about. Broadening our horizons provides context for our experiences and helps us relate to others. I’m hoping that in sequels we can explore other ideas and individuals, so if you have suggestions, send them to me.
Thanks for participating,
Scott S. Smith
Check out what reviewers are about Extraordinary People on Amazon:
"Scott Smith is a storyteller who distills resilience, transcendent success, and profoundly simple lessons from some of the world’s best-known leaders. He has picked up the clues success leaves to develop the themes into powerful principles."
"Insightful and concise - a book I will return to over and again. What I loved most was the insight into each of the subject's motivation and drive that Scott provided. It helped to make each of these figures real, rather than simply figures from history."
"The Author has done a great job of picking people from all walks of life and clearly identifies what we can learn from these folks. Very crisp and well written.
Aun Sun Suu Kyi Myanmar Leader
John Quincy Adams
6th U.S. President
Antoine de Saint-Expury
Civil War General
Native American War Chief
General in 3 Wars
Dr. Toby Cosgrove
S. American Liberator
John F. Kennedy
Catherine the Great
What do high-achievers have in common? Which of their attitudes and actions can be emulated to help any career? Extraordinary People answers these questions in brief chapters, drawing lessons from the trials and achievements of great leaders. Learn not only from resourceful CEOs in business today but also from leaders of other fields and from historical figures who teach the universal and enduring lessons.