On Topic: Book views attitude and vision for business

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Lewis Schiff starts his book, “Business Brilliant,” writing about football.

He recalls how Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs yearned for a better way to spot upcoming college talent than SAT scores, which of course measure academic skills, not on-the-field, muddy-cleat-wearing, split-second decision-making abilities.

So in 1984, Schiff notes, Gibb began working with a pair of George Washington University optometrists — that’s right, optometrists — to determine baseline examples of what to look for in potential recruits.

The resulting test they put together looked at sight as well as coordination, motivation and a player’s ability to keep his wits about him.

Schiff, executive director for Inc. magazine’s membership organization, uses this example for his premise — that being “smart” in one area, say, school, is not an indicator of being successful in, says, business. After all, the writer claims, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and serial thrill seeker, can’t read a spread sheet.

His book, published in March, breaks down “business brilliance” into principles to improve your career, boost your company's performance or maybe just help you make more money — an all-purpose elixir. And a lot of these practices are about attitude.

Much of Schiff’s thinking comes from a survey conducted in 2009. (You remember those distressing days, when the U.S. markets nose-dived to a 14-year low and some analysts wondered aloud if the lights would come on the next time we flipped a switch.)

One telling figure from the Business Brilliant survey was this: 7 out of 10 so-called middle-class respondents said that doing what they loved, then trusting the money would follow, was important to them. (The aphorism came from a cheery book on which so many self-help guides have been hung, like twinkling bulbs on an overstuffed Christmas tree.)

But — and here’s the thing — only 2 out of 10 of the self-made millionaires who also took the survey agreed with that notion, Schiff found.

To make his point, Schiff examines the rags-to-riches tale of Guy Laliberté, the French-Canadian founder of Cirque du Soleil, the strange but delightful circus-performance art extravaganza that stopped by Cedar Rapids this past June.

The whole enterprise suffered years of bounced checks, departing talent and near-collapse before Laliberté hit it big with 30 sold-out performances in Los Angeles in 1987 that in turn set Cirque on its assured road to fame and solid fortune.

Today Cirque annually rings up some $800 million in ticket revenue and boasts a staff of 3,000.

Was this a case of Laliberté, who’d started out as a fire-breathing busker in London, doing what he loved and allowing the money to follow? Not exactly, counters Schiff.

It wasn’t simply that Laliberté was a masterful showman with an exotic vision. Throughout those troubled times, Laliberté courted government officials would could help secure grants and schmoozed with influential — and rich — celebrities. Anyone would could help his company, then or in the future.

And he doggedly held onto a large equity stake in Cirque over the years — “even increasing it along the way at the expense of his other partners.”

He followed his passion. But, as Coach Gibbs would appreciate, he also kept his eyes on the ball.

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