The Difference Love Makes.

A deaf and blind Helen Keller made the ironically insightful observation that: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."

Which somehow we inherently know.

We know the difference love makes.

Michael was born in one of the poorest parts of Memphis, Tennessee.  One of thirteen children.  His mother Denise was a crack cocaine addict and alcoholic.  His father, Michael Sr., spent more time in jail than as a free man.  That left Michael to fend for himself.

The first time Michael realized he was all alone he was two.  He and his brothers were walking by themselves down the side of the highway.  Cars racing by.  They were walking to where they needed to be.  No love.  No care.  Just survival.

That's how he spent his childhood.  One day at a time. Just doing the best that he could.  Child services would place him in foster care at the age of seven.  But even then he was an afterthought.  He received little attention and no discipline.  Moved from foster home to foster home, he occasionally stayed with friends.  And was homeless.  A child.

He failed first grade and was forced to repeated it.  The same thing happened in second grade.  Over his first nine years as a student he would be placed in eleven different schools.  A statistic.  A failure.  A poor black kid that the world looked down on.

But then a series of random kindnesses would change Michael's life forever.

Tony Henderson, the dad of one of Michael's friends, let Michael crash on his couch every once in a while.  Tony's mom had made it her dying wish that her grandson attend Briarcrest Christian School, an elite private academy.  Tony spoke to the school's football coach who ultimately fought with the headmaster to see Michael. To give him a chance.

The headmaster was hardly impressed by Michael's 0.76 grade point average.  It was a hard decision.  How could the school admit a student with such poor performance?  But the headmaster agreed that if Michael would complete a comprehensive home study course that he could be admitted.  Michael dug into the course with such enthusiasm that the headmaster agreed to admit him even before the course was finished.

During Thanksgiving break in 2004, Leigh Anne Tuohy was driving slowly past a bus stop close to the school.  The snow was falling in thick patches. The air was frigid.  Michael, then sixteen, was sitting at the bus stop in a teeshirt and shorts.  Leigh Anne grabbed the wheel and spun the SUV in a slow u-turn across the snow crusted street.  Before the vehicle came to a stop, she was running to Michael.

Michael remembered her crying as she made her way to him.  She gave Michael a hug and brought him home to their upscale East Memphis residence two blocks away from the school.  The Tuohys, Sean, Leigh Anne, big sister Collins, and little Sean Jr., told Michael to come and go as he pleased.  They hired a private tutor to help Michael fix his failing grades.  They paid his tuition.  They made him his own room and bought him a new wardrobe.  And Leigh Anne fussed when she didn't hear from him every day.

A little over a year later, Leigh Anne told Michael something that he had never heard before.  I love you.  It was a statement that Michael would never forget.  Shortly after that, the Tuohy's would become his adopted parents.  Collins was his best friend and biggest cheerleader.

Michael Oher would be named Lineman of the Year and First Team Tennessee All State.  He would be named one of the top five offensive lineman in the country.  He would also earn letters in track and basketball.  He got a scholarship to the University of Mississippi and became an All American his freshman year.  He would go on to win almost every award for his position in college football.

In late April of 2009, Michael was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens, signing a contract for almost $14 million.  Later the following year, he would be only a few votes shy of winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

A super-star created because he was loved.

No plan. No strategy. No amount of money could replace what kindness and compassion could inspire.

Which is why business is broken.

We've been told to master the basics. To avoid our gut instincts and to look at the facts.

  • That if a strategy can't be seen on a spreadsheet that it's not worth pursuing.
  • That if the numbers don't line up you don't invest time in a prospect or a plan.

The idea of love conflicts with a lot of how we understand businesses success.  We are told that feelings and love are distractions. Rather than motivators.

Love, it seems, is great for super-stars and "rags to riches" celebrities.   It works for inspiring the hearts and souls of hurting people all over the world.  But when it comes to business, we're too sophisticated and arrogant to do for others what we crave for ourselves.

To love.  To inspire.  To make a difference.

Maybe that's because love is too hard to quantify.

That's what we keep telling ourselves.  But it's not.

In fact, we have a phrase that we've created to describe when we see this happen.  We call it "the love of the game."  It separates good performance from extraordinary feats of greatness.

Think about it.  Pick a sport.  If there are two players equally talented going head to head, the winner goes to the one who "loves the game more".

What does that even mean?

We don't need it to mean anything.

We feel it.  We know it's real.  We see it right in front of us.

Love allows us to focus more, practice more, and put in more effort then we otherwise might think is necessary.

Its love.  Nothing else.

Which begs another question.  If we can spot the effects of love and marvel at the capacity of love to generate superstar performance, why is love so hard to leverage as a business differentiator?

Because it has so little to do with business.  It's much more than that.   It's a life differentiator.

Waiting for love to transform your business is pure fantasy. You'll never love people and reap the rewards that love brings automatically.

It's just not how life works.

You have to be aware of how you're behaving and incorporate new attitudes and talents into your life.  Into your business.

  • Be vulnerable -- While it's hard to put yourself in positions where you might get hurt engaging at a personal level, it's also the best place for potential opportunities to find you. There is already enough pretension and arrogance in business, so when you genuinely care about others and they feel like you are approachable, they will reach out to you. They will want to do business with you.
  • Be honest -- If you are already hurting or have hurt those around you, it's all too easy to hide from the truth.  But you're probably just lying to yourself.  And lying and loving can't be in the same lifestyle.  To learn how to love you have to be brutally honest with yourself about your own limitations and what you can improve.
  • Be healthy -- You don't need to be balanced. But you do need to be healthy. Physically. Mentally. Financially. When you take care of yourself, it is easier to invest in the success of others. You're naturally less selfish. More fit to help others.
  • Be purposeful -- Plan to impact the lives of others. That means that you go out of your way to be generous and thoughtful. You don't wait for someone to trip and fall and then run to lift them up.  You look around.  You actively encourage those who might be suffering silently.

To love is to live with purpose.

There's no question that love is a challenging business subject.

It's all too easy to dismiss love.

To write it off.

But it begs an explanation.

If two athletes of equal talents are separated in victory only by love, what makes you so sure that business is any different?

The reality is that love is one of the few differences you can actually achieve right now.

The difference it will make for you might just be the difference between you becoming a superstar or the world never knowing your name.

If a blind and deaf woman can understand the impact of love, how much more should you, when you can see it all around you?