Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, is no stranger to rejection. China’s richest man wasn’t the greatest student. He scored a whopping 1 on a 120-point college entrance math exam and was rejected by Harvard 10 times. Ma settled on majoring in English at the appropriately named Hangzhou Normal University. After getting his degree, Ma applied for thirty jobs and received thirty rejection letters. Prospects were so thin that Ma interviewed to work in the kitchen at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Twenty-four others applied at KFC with Ma and twenty-three got jobs. Jack Ma was not one of the “lucky ones.” The only work Ma could find was a twelve-dollar-a-month gig teaching English.
Even when Ma had the idea of using the Internet to connect Chinese businesses with the rest of the world, Alibaba was something of a flop. The industrial-sized eBay didn’t show a profit for its first three years and was eighteen months away from bankruptcy. Now Alibaba is worth about $250 billion. Why? Jack Ma credits a portion of his success to Forrest Gump.
As ludicrous as it sounds, the film version of Forrest Gump’s simplistic “box of chocolate” witticisms gave Jack hope to remain persistent in his vision. The lesson here is not persistence— that’s the common denominator in examining any visionary’s success. The lesson is to draw inspiration anywhere you find it. Remove the blinders and look around! If you are always seeking out gurus living on mountaintops for guidance, you’re missing out on messages that are in your world every day. From a line of a cheesy pop song to a word of encouragement from your usually annoying neighbor, inspiration can be all around you. Are you ready to listen?
Inspiration is All Around You: Accelerators
- About three weeks ago, you identified areas within your work or business where you are prone to “give up” prematurely. What actions have you taken in the past three weeks or so to display common persistence in those areas? Do you need to renew your commitment in this regard?
- Look back over your life and career. Where have you experienced temporary setbacks, yet reigned triumphant in the end? What inspired you to keep going? From where did this inspiration come?
- From where do you normally derive inspiration today?
- In what areas of your work or business do you need inspiration now?
Dr. Jeff D. Standridge is the best-selling author of “The Innovator’s Field Guide” and “The Top Performer’s Field Guide.” He serves as Managing Director for the Conductor and Innovation Junkie, and teaches in the College of Business at the University of Central Arkansas. Jeff helps organizations and their leaders generate sustained results in the areas of innovation, strategy, profit growth, organizational effectiveness and leadership. Learn more at InnovationJunkie.com.