Terry Fator is a ventriloquist, impressionist, stand-up comedian, and singer. He won season 2 of America’s Got Talent in 2007 and has performing his award winning show at the Mirage in Las Vegas ever since.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how Terry went from performing small shows town by town, fair by fair to having a $100 million act performing at the Mirage in Vegas.
  • He is a rare talent able to combine ventriloquism, comedy, impressions, and singing all into one incredible act.
  • Having ADHD enabled his talent as a ventriloquist as he was able to split his brain into multiple personalities.
  • Happiness is a choice.
  • What’s behind his incredible success? It’s never being satisfied and always striving to make the next performance better than the last.
  • “The human ability to be creative and have ingenuity is limitless.”
  • “If a door opens and you’re not ready to go through, that’s on you.”
  • If you’re not happy now, you’re not going to be happy when you’re rich and famous.
  • “Excellence is doing something that makes us feel that we’re doing it at the best possible capacity that we could be doing it at.”

Safi Bahcall received his BA in physics from Harvard and his PhD from Stanford. He co-founded Synta Pharmaceuticals—a biotechnology company developing new drugs for cancer.  He led its IPO and served as its CEO for 13 years. In 2008, he was named E&Y New England Biotechnology Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2011, he served on the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Safi is the author of Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries. The book was selected by Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Pink, Susan Cain, and Adam Grant for the Next Big Idea Club.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • “Very often people go on a path that the world expects them to without ever pausing to say ‘why am I doing this?’”
  • For an entrepreneur, the critical ingredient for success in building a company is surrounding yourself with talented executives and then bridging the divide between people who wouldn’t naturally interact with one another.
  • Culture are the patterns of behavior you see on the surface in an organization while structure is what’s underneath that’s driving those patterns of behavior. The activities being rewarded (i.e. incentive structures) will drive the culture.  So it’s the structure that’s ultimately most important in influencing behavior.
  • As companies mature, employees tend to shift from focusing on collective goals toward focusing more on careers and promotions. To reduce that behavioral shift, you want to minimize the growth in compensation that comes with each level in the organization.  In addition, you want to maximize span of control.  With fewer promotions and less of a financial incentive as you move up the organization, employees will focus more on their projects and less on corporate politics.
  • You want some employees focused on activities that reduce risk and another set of employees focused on maximizing intelligent risk taking. Effective leaders create a dynamic equilibrium between these two groups and are able to effectively balance the core with the new.
  • Most innovative products will have at least one or two false fails on their way to achieving significant market traction. The key to success is to get really good at investigating failure and not just accepting it on face value.
  • Companies need to create a new C-suite role called a Chief Incentives Officer whose job is to design customized incentive packages to motivate employees and optimize outcomes.
  • “Excellence is always striving to improve yourself and improve your performance.”

Nicola is one of the most sought-after violinists of her generation.  She is one of the most influential classical artists in the world and has played with the finest orchestras and symphonies from around the globe. She was the BBC Young Musician of the Year at age 16, twice the Female Artist of the Year at the classical BRIT awards and has sold millions of records.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • As early as the age of 5, she was so emotionally moved by music that she would often be brought to tears while playing.
  • It’s important to focus early on in life. Once you learn to push through certain barriers, you can apply that discipline to other areas in which you choose to devote your life.
  • She never had any long term goals of becoming a world class violinist but rather, was always hyper focused on just improving one day at a time.
  • Beyond her technical mastery, she had a natural stage presence which enabled her to take her talent to the next level.
  • When she performs she enters the “flow state” whereby she becomes so engrossed in playing that she’s no longer thinking but rather, enters a period of emotional timelessness.
  • Learn how she was able to top not only the classical charts but the Top 30 Pop Album charts as well.
  • Excellence isn’t just about the discipline, dedication and relentless work ethic but also about being immensely curious about the larger philosophical questions outside of their areas of expertise.

Morris Robinson is a world-renowned bass opera singer.  He has regularly performed at the Metropolitan Opera as well as opera houses all over the world.  He is also a highly regarded concert singer and has performed with many of the well-known symphony orchestras across the United States.  He is a graduate of the Citadel and currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and son.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • A 3 time All American football standout in college, at 6’3” and 290 pounds, he was deemed too small to make it in the NFL.
  • Learn why he quit the corporate world cold turkey to pursue a singing career.
  • If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
  • Learn how football helped prepare him for a career in the opera.
  • Talent is important but it’s not everything. You have to be willing to make sacrifices, work hard and apply yourself to achieve something great.
  • “If you have a dream, you have a right to go after it.”
  • “If you give your best at whatever you do, the product will be excellence.”

 

To some, Morris Robinson can be an intimidating presence.  He’s a big and powerful looking guy. Remember Popeye’s powerful nemesis Bluto?  Sort of like him.  There is also no pretense about Morris.  When he showed up for our interview, he was wearing workout shorts, a t-shirt and sandals.  If I told you that he’s an ex 3 time all American collegiate football player, that probably wouldn’t be much a surprise.  But if I then told you he’s now one of the great bass opera singers of our generation, you’d probably do a double take.  And Morris would have it no other way.

Morris has always relished the dichotomy of his existence – a 6’3”, 290 pound aggressive offensive lineman on the one hand and a talented performance artist on the other.  Those two seemingly contrasting personas have been a part of his identity throughout his life.  Even today with his football playing days well behind him, he certainly doesn’t “look” or “act” the part of a world-renowned opera singer (not that I personally know any of them).  An image of a polished, clean-shaven and formally dressed sophisticate driving a Mercedes may come to mind but certainly not a casually dressed, scruffy-looking former athlete driving around town in a Hummer.  That’s one of the things I love about Morris Robinson – he is who he is and he makes no apologies.

So what do you do when you finally come to the realization that your lifelong dream of playing football in the NFL isn’t in the cards?  Like most of us, you do what you feel you have to do to make your way in the world.  That is, you settle.  For Morris, that meant getting a job in corporate sales for a technology company.  That is what he did for seven tedious years until he woke up one day and felt empty inside.  Despite his success at it, the passion just wasn’t there.  He knew deep inside that it wasn’t in God’s plan for him to spend the rest of his days toiling away in corporate America.

His wife Denise also noticed that the spark was missing which is why, unbeknownst to Morris, she had secretly set up an interview for him at the prestigious Choral Arts Society of Washington.  The Director fell in love with his beautiful voice upon the very first note.  And that’s all it took for Morris to embark upon a new journey to rediscover this remarkable gift he had always had but which had laid dormant for many years.  It wasn’t so obvious at first how he could leverage his vocal talent into a career but that was beside the point.  Corporate sales had become a grind and he needed some excitement in his life.  With singing, he got just that.

With a voice as naturally sweet and powerful as his, it didn’t take long for Morris to get discovered.  But the road from salesman to opera star wasn’t an easy one. Talent notwithstanding, becoming an opera singer meant going back to school, both literally and figuratively.  He had to relearn how to sing operatically.  He had to learn how to act.  He had to learn multiple foreign languages (most operas are in Italian and German).  And he had to learn how to take critique. And lots of it.  While he had the advantage of a beautiful voice, singing opera is not something you just do.  It would be years of hard work and sacrifice and swallowing his pride to learn this difficult craft and make it as a professional opera singer.

So why did he do it?  Why did he decide to take this risk and essentially start over when he was already well ensconced in his corporate career?  Because according to Morris, “If you have a dream, you have the right to go after it.”  And he believed in himself.  His attitude from day one was that if someone else could do it, then he could do it too.  In his heart of hearts, he knew that if he wanted something badly enough and was willing to truly devote himself to it, he could accomplish anything.  No goal would be beyond his reach, even if that goal were as bold and audacious as becoming a world-renowned bass opera singer.