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A Conversation with Stephen Shapiro

Stephen Shapiro, author of 24/7 Innovation and former head of Accenture‘s process excellence practice, stopped by Fast Company‘s Boston office for a brief meeting earlier this afternoon.

Currently researching his next book, Creative America, Shapiro has traveled more than 12,000 miles in the last 90 days to interview almost 150 people. Along the way, he’s identified a dozen patterns that are “common among uncommon people.” While his travels and research will continue, the common principles currently are:

  • Find your purpose: passion, stand, dreams
  • Learn from masters and mistakes
  • Want what you have
  • See the world
  • Live a goal-free life: Focus on the journey
  • Measure life by your own yardstick
  • Collect and connect relationships/network
  • Embrace your inadequacies
  • Clear your heard; cleanse your soul
  • Avoid structures that stifle growth
  • Displine required; no pain, only gain
  • Creators are not neccessarily innovators

One of the most interesting parts of our conversation over coffee was Shapiro’s explanation of the need for leaders and innovators to embrace their inadequacies. One subject he interviewed worked as a cabbie for years. He always told passengers jokes and eventually realized that what he was really good at was comedy. But when he had a chance to perform as a standup on a late-night TV show, he froze. That cabbie-turned-comedian spent the next 25 years researching cognitive theory, performance anxiety, and stagefright. He learned that success boils down to inadequacy. You’re more likely to succeed if you can harness your inadequacies, not just be aware of them. There’s an ongoing tension between passion and the attempt to escape what you’re afraid of — or don’t want.

In your work, are you moving away from a fear — or toward a goal? What are your inadequacies?

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