How the First Apprentice Winner Became an Entrepreneur
(No, The Donald Didn’t Help):
Bill Rancic readily admits he wasn’t the smartest guy on the show. But in his subsequent career, he has become very smart about getting the most out of the people around him.
At 1871, we had the opportunity to host Bill Rancic for a keynote speech about what he’s learned from several important mentors. Bill was the first winner on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice television program, but didn’t mention The Donald, which isn’t really that much of a surprise. He talked about how he started and built several entrepreneurial ventures, and about a very important lesson that he took away from his triumph on the TV show in 2004.
I thought that his explanation for how he won the Apprentice competition was highly enlightening.
- He didn’t say he worked the hardest.
- He didn’t say he wanted it the most.
- And he certainly didn’t say he was the smartest guy in the room.
Be the Conductor
Bill’s winning edge was something that we talk about every day at 1871: Nobody does anything important and worthwhile all alone. If you have a dream, you need a team—that is, if you want to make the dream come true.
Bill said he tried to be “the conductor” just like the main man at the symphony. He brought everyone together so they could make beautiful music. He knew—just like in an orchestra—that he didn’t personally have the special skills or the same abilities that each of the other members of his team possessed. But he got them all moving in the right direction. He brought out the best efforts that each team member had to contribute.
The most amazing things get done when no one cares who gets the credit. Harmony trumps hubris. And Bill never spent his time blaming others when things went wrong. That would have been a waste of breath and energy. When facing confrontations and tough sledding, he kept in mind what Robert Schuller said: “Tough times never last, but tough people do!”
Learn from Others
Bill was fortunate to have some great people to learn from, whose examples he follows to this day. And he knew not to do things on his own until he really knew what he was doing. He needed to play a role for a while before he tried to roll his own—even though one of his first ventures was in the mail order cigar business. Today, he’s also a restaurateur. (See Entrepreneurship: Will You Sink or Swim?).
Bill had a very clear idea of where he wanted to end up and even how he thought he’d get there. But he knew these things were going to take time. The smartest thing he could do was to concentrate on learning something from someone every day on the journey. It’s important to have a mental roadmap, but patience is also essential. (See Why You Need a Reverse Roadmap).
Make a Start
One of his father’s rules was “practical execution.” All talk is simply that—results and actions are the things that make a difference. His Dad used to say, “Show me, don’t tell me” or as I like to say, “You can’t win a race with your mouth.”
There’s no simple playbook or set of rules for how you invent the future – you’ve got to get the ball rolling, keep your eyes on the goal, and be agile and flexible all the time. But it won’t ever happen if you don’t get started.
Bill said, “When we’re born, we’re only afraid of two things – falling and loud noises. From then forward we learn to be afraid of other things and too often allow those fears to keep us from stepping out and taking the kinds of risks that are essential to succeed.” He quoted Emerson as saying you needed to do what you are afraid of—and if you do—success will find you. The key is not to avoid every possible risk, but to recognize and manage reasonable risks so you can convert them into opportunities and rewards. The ship that stays in port is the safest, but it doesn’t get anywhere.
Don’t Ask Why
Finally, there is the business with the bumblebees. For years scientists figured bees were never supposed to be able to fly. The ratio of their wing size to body weight was all wrong. The laws of physics decreed that the bees couldn’t generate enough power to lift themselves into the air. Like so many entrepreneurs who do every day what others think is impossible, no one ever told the bees they couldn’t fly. But off they went.
Today, no one says that the bees are defying physics or nature. They are defying convention. We’ve finally figured out that just because the bees don’t fly the same way that fixed-wing airplanes do doesn’t mean gravity doesn’t apply to them. The fact is that bees—just like entrepreneurs—have figured out a different way to solve the problem. They fly by rapidly rotating their flexible wings; that’s how they get lift.
Every day entrepreneurs are doing the same thing. We look at the same problems that millions of others have observed from new and different perspectives and come up with novel solutions that are often obvious in retrospect. This is because we don’t ask why; we ask, why not?
Howard Tullman is a the father of 1871. For more from Howard, go to
Read his bio: http://tullman.com/resume.asp
Images: Greg Rothstein, Cloudspotter/1871,
Howard Tullman, MS Office
This article is adapted from Inc Magazine
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