The Pursuit of Greatness: Tipping Point’s Salute to Entrepreneurs

What inspires you? Are you deeply committed at work? Have you ever tried operating at full throttle? Ever pushed your engine to the limit?

For me, the pursuit of greatness really took shape in the spring of 1981. I took a course in Shakespearean plays with Dr. Edward Chalfant at Hofstra University. My expectations were low as I had never really developed a love for Shakespeare’s work, certainly not in high school and not in the few plays I had read in college. Dr. Chalfant changed all that. He was a man bursting with energy from the moment he entered the classroom. He paced back and forth, not on occasion but constantly. The class was far more of a conversation than a lecture, as Dr. Chalfant asked question after question as to what Shakespeare could have been thinking. What was really behind the motivation of the characters and the author himself? This wasn’t a man simply teaching. He was fascinated with the plots, the character struggles and the author. We weren’t being taught but rather invited into a discussion of human behavior. Our viewpoints as students were not only welcome; they were essential.

There was no final exam. Instead, we were invited to write papers on three different Shakespearean works. Dr. Chalfant’s method of evaluating our papers matched his classroom style. He used a red pen and wrote with the same frenetic energy he displayed in class. His comments were more a continuation of the classroom conversation than a critical view of your work. It was as though he was speaking to us as peers who had something to contribute in the struggle to figure out what was really happening in the plays and with Shakespeare himself. Dr. Chalfant’s energy was contagious. It was impossible to attend his class or read his evaluation of your work and not want to get more involved. Whether fifty people showed for a particular class or seven, as once happened on an icy February morning, he taught exactly the same way. He was determined to honor not only Shakespeare’s work but the commitment of students to the journey of exploring great literature.

My life-changing moment in Dr. Chalfant’s class came when he returned the paper I wrote on Othello. His comments were as always very positive and supportive of my research and viewpoints. The grade was generous but none of that really mattered. What has lasted for me since that March day in 1981 is what he wrote on the cover page of my paper. He said, “I am a little surprised that this paper does not develop more power. It is “cool”. It is “objective”. It never gets deeply “involved”. Maybe you would be wise to ask yourself how you would write if all your strengths and abilities are brought into operation. Have you ever tried writing at full throttle? Ever pushed the engine to its limit.”

I was virtually speechless when I read this. This wasn’t about learning formulas or equations. It had nothing to do with the law of reason or the precision of logic. Here was a university professor encouraging a student to take risk, to invest energy and passion into his work, and to attempt to motivate others. It wasn’t about being right or wrong. It was about commitment to a cause, that of contributing all you can to the conversation in the hope that it inspires others to do the same. Simply put, he wanted me to get off the sidelines and onto the field. I didn’t take his comments as criticism. I took them as a call to action.

Over the past thirty or so years, I have found moments and periods of time when I have professionally pushed the engine to its limits. Invariably it happens when I am surrounded by others who share a common professional purpose and a deep trust in one another. Having worked mostly in a public company setting, there have always been measurable top-line growth and EBITDA goals. But the best teams, the ones that are most inspiring, don’t really spend much time on that. Instead, the conversation is about how to create, innovate, educate and motivate. There is a recognition that little failures need to be frequent. They are a stepping stone to success. Great teams have lots of “Eureka” moments. It’s just that very few of them are game-changers in the business world. Some of the very best ideas on paper don’t lead to massive profits or new industries. Great teams focus more on building a process that can replicate success. That process invites dissonance, confrontation, even a little rebellion now and then, as long as everyone is on the field together, committed to and respectful of one another.

Historically, entrepreneurialism is the greatest creator of economic growth and jobs. That has been true across time and the globe. Entrepreneurs are often seen as visionaries, but more than anything they are courageous and committed. Small businesses fail at significant rates. They often exhaust their limited working capital or lose early on in the battle of David versus Goliath. But the ability to create economic output beyond the sum of existing business capacity is dependent on small business owners. We need the risk-takers, for the combination of inspiration and perspiration sets an example that enlists others in pursuit of their vision. Entrepreneurs create a sense of purpose and direction, even if the pathway is filled with the risk of failure. Tipping Point Insurance salutes the small business owner, the entrepreneur, and the non-profit organization pursuing a noble purpose.

Dr. Chalfant’s comments are with me everyday. They are a constant reminder that whether you are 21, 51 or 81, you need to summon whatever abilities you have to make the engine roar. So I ask you, what would happen if you put all of your abilities into operation? What effect would that have upon you and those around you? I suggest that you have more to give than you might think. So go for it.