‘Tis the season for annual dinners and last night was another one. When the keynote speaker took the stage and began his litany of jokes, I turned to my friend and asked, “Is he drunk?” My friend’s eyes got wide as he raised his eyebrows and cocked his head.
Better drunk then boring, we shrugged.
But as the speaker went on, his short stature quickly filling up the two big screens on his left and right, and then the entire room, I realized that he was certainly not drunk. He was Texan. A Texan State Senator and former Mayor of Austin to be exact – Mr. Kirk Watson.
With a southern charm, certain bravado and blatant honesty that made us Midwesterners simultaneously laugh and blush, Watson spoke on how to think bold and dream big:
First of all, don’t be afraid to think bold and dream big, Watson drawled in his thick accent. Failure is good, as long as you learn from it. As long as you don’t go cry in a corner, he said. As long as you take action from what went wrong.
And don’t wait for something better either. “My wife tried that and she still got stuck with me!” Watson warned. Take action with the opportunities that are in front of you.
Find both the chicken and the egg. Go after them both. And then find things that are neither the chicken nor the egg:
“Do you want to know what the number one bumper sticker is in Austin?” Watson asked. “Well, I’ll tell you. It’s not ‘Kirk Watson for Senate’ as it should be. No, it’s not. It’s ‘Keep Austin Weird.’ That’s it. That’s what it is. ‘Keep Austin Weird.’ That means keeping Austin ‘Austin.’ Keeping it open. Out of weird you get bold ideas and vision.”
With bold ideas and big vision, you are not going to meet everyone’s concept of perfection, so don’t even try, Watson said. Don’t even try. If you try to please everyone, you will come up with a plan that is unworkable or someone will just say no and that will be the end.
He goes on, “Let me tell you about my 84% rule. If 84% of the people say, ‘Huh, yeah, I kind of like that idea’ and it sounds like progress, take it and run.” How did he come up with the 84% rule? That’s the percentage he was elected mayor with.
Avoid the nitpickers, naysayers and know-it-alls. The people who think they are just so much smarter than you, he said. The people who think you’re dumb. They’re in the 16%. Their negative energy will bring you down. Really, it doesn’t matter how pretty you are. You’re not going to make everyone happy.
Instead, focus on your assets. You got ‘em, Watson said. Utilize what you have.
And be willing to admit your weaknesses, Watson advised. He then told us simply that he was a cancer surivior. A testicular cancer survivor. He has had three surgeries and has gone through chemotherapy. After all that, they found another tumor in his abdomen.
But that was in 1995. He’s cured now. He assures his wife that if anything happened to her, or between the two of them, he wouldn’t want a young woman. He wouldn’t want to start a new family. He loves his family. And she tells him, “You know dear, with all they cut off of you, you won’t have many young women coming after you.”
“And that’s true!” Watson stated triumphantly. The point from the story is that he admits his weaknesses. “And another is that I’m a survivor,” he said. “Hope matters.”
Afterwards, I approached Kirk and introduced myself. He was just as excited to meet me as he was on stage, and we talked about blogging (yes, he has a blog too), and the ability to say in his speech, or write in his blog, whatever he wants. We discussed the ability to execute the “what you see is what you get” attitude, which inevitably lead to a discussion on credibility.
And I don’t know if it was the charming accent or what, but more than ever, I got why people were so concerned with credibility. I mean, Kirk has built a bridge for goodness sakes. And while someday I might build a bridge too, I haven’t accomplished such feats yet. I have more work to do. That makes me excited, because being a little like Kirk Watson is definitely something to look forward to.