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Self-Knowledge Stories

Julia Child: The First TV Celebrity Chef

Lesson: Find your unique contribution

Character: Julia Child

Synopsis: Before she was a TV celebrity, Child was an ad-writer, a spy and a novelist. She did not know that she would love fine cooking and being a TV chef. The latter did not even exist prior to Child. But by combining her unique skills and working hard she discovered her unique contribution.


Like Grim Death

Origin: Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success by G. Richard Shell

Lesson: Find YOUR fuel

Character: Kurt Timken

Synopsis: Kurt is heir to a fortune 500 company, but he decides to pursue a career as a police officer. With their own rigid code, the police would not trust the pampered rich kid. He would just have to fight harder than anyone else.


First man in flight: Samuel Pierpont Langley?

Origin: Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Lesson: Know your own motives.

Character: Samuel Pierpont Langley

Synopsis: Langley had funding, knowledge, and connections and yet failed to fly; whereas The Wright Brothers had no funding and no connections, and yet flew. The reason for the difference was motivation.


A lawyer in short 

Origin: Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success by G. Richard Shell

Lesson: Beware the pie-eating contest

Character: A Lawyer

Synopsis: A story about a lawyer who discovered that all his life he had been in a never-ending pie-eating contest. And the reward was more pie.


The Runner’s Dilemma

Origin: Good to Great by Jim Collins

Lesson: Find work that makes you compelled to create greatness. 

Character: High School Track Coach 

Synopsis: Many presume that the principles of greatness only apply to large organizations such as Apple or Amazon, but here Collins provides a true story of a high school track coach who applied the principles to her team. And how they went from Good to Great.


A Robot with a Brain

Origin: Mastery by Robert Greene

Lesson: Speak your passion into existence.

Character: Yoky Matsuoka

Synopsis: Yoky felt repressed growing up in Japan. She always dreamt of playing tennis with a robot, but in Japan life is highly specialized. Moving to Berkeley allowed her to explore and eventually change robotics forever.


Pixar’s $122,000 Mistake

Origin: Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull (founder and president of Pixar Animations). 

Lesson: Only listen to advice that spurs asking very hard questions

Character: Ed Catmull

Synopsis: In the 80s Pixar was a computer hardware company. They developed a super-computer that was so new and innovative Catmull had no idea how much to even charge for it. So he sought advice. The advice he found, still purported widely today, and it almost destroyed his company.


The Trunk that Sunk A&P Grocery


Origin: Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell 

Lesson: Be attuned to the world around you, the most innocuous seeming new invention may destroy you.

Character: A&P Grocery

Synopsis: At one time A&P was the largest retailer in the world. The design of the automobile changed and car trunks became the norm. This changed the way people shopped. And it brought down the behemoth.


The Selfishness of Charity

Origin: The Leadership Crisis and The Free Market Cure by John A. Allison

Lesson: Charitable activities can reveal one’s true motivations. 

Character: John A. Allison

Synopsis: The CEO of BB&T almost lost his child, and had to rely on the charity of others. This taught him a profound lesson about the importance of charity, not for society, but for each of us as individuals.


The Proud Immigrant

Origin: Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell

Lesson: Search your own background for special knowledge and skills you can use to create something unique.

Character: Amadeo Giannini

Synopsis: Amadeo immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s. Rather than disparage where he came from, he applied his specialized knowledge to creating a business in San Francisco. It would grow to be one of the largest in the world.


The Apron Man

 Origin: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson: An immigrant family’s secret recipe to achieve meaningful work.

Character: Louis Borgenicht

Synopsis: Louis and his wife came to America with nothing, except a skill to work with fabrics. After thorough market research—walking around New York city—he started his fifth business. It was the one that changed everything for generations.


The Dragonfly in Silicon Valley

Origin: The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman

Lesson: To stay competitive, the modern employer, and the modern employee, must seek transformative “tours-of-duty” rather than restrictive, traditional “lifetime employment.”

Character: David Hahn

Synopsis: David Hahn went to Silicon Valley with high aspirations but no experience. He began as an analyst and would eventually become one of the most sought after executives in Silicon Valley. Though he would eventually leave LinkedIn, his short term tours at the company would transform not only his career but also the company.


The Roving Philosopher


Origin: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein

Lesson: To understand your intellectual opponents, flip the script 

Character: Alex Epstein, industrial advocate

Synopsis: this is an illustration of how to better understand widely accepted ideas such as those advocated by Greenpeace.


The Psychology of High and Low Performers

Origin: The Leadership Crisis and the Free-Market Cure by John A. Allison

Lesson: Appearances can be deceiving. By listening to the stories people tell, a good leader can identify strong and weak performers from a single encounter.

Character: John A. Allison

Synopsis: Hiring managers know the story of a promising candidate who surprisingly underperforms. Allison decided to develop principles to help guide the decision making process. The most important principle was storytelling.


I am Iron Man

 Origin: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Lesson: Train your will to be as tough as iron.

Character: Ulysses S. Grant

Synopsis: Grant faced one of the most deadly events in human history and survived. But he was about to face his biggest threat: a photo shoot.


Are you an Amundsen or a Scott?

Origin: Great by Choice by Jim Collins

Lesson: The gulf between greatness and mediocrity can only be bridged by training, preparation and discipline.

 Characters: Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott 

Synopsis: Two teams. Two Leaders. A single destination: The South Pole. And only one would survive. Which leader are you?


Thiel’s Terror 

Origin: Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel 

Lesson: Use fear as a tool to achieve clarity in times of chaos

Characters: Peter Thiel

Synopsis: During the wild dot-com bubble, investors were throwing millions of dollars at any company that had a .com in the title. Rather than become excited by the opportunities, Thiel was terrified. He wanted to build a lasting company in a time when the world was going insane.