The “Overnight Success” of Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox negotiated the deal for “Family Ties” (1982) from a phone booth outside a now defunct Pioneer Chicken restaurant in Hollywood because he had no phone at home. He was told the network would need to call, and he said he was only home between the hours of four and five. He waited for the call, and fortunately he was there to answer it and secure the “Family Ties” (1982) role.


The Story of William Shatner

All the recent press about the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the iconic Spock of Star Trek, caused me to research the biography of William Shatner. We all associate him primarily with the role of Captain James T. Kirk. While that seems like a phenomenal success story, it wasn’t quite like that.

Shatner landed the role for the first three seasons of  the Star Trek series and held it from 1966 to 1969. The original run received only modest ratings, partly because NBC really didn’t take the show seriously and placed it on Friday night at 10:00 pm, when young people are out on dates, rather than watching network TV. After poor ratings, NBC canceled the show after three seasons.

Shatner, however, was typecast and could not find work as an actor. After he was famous as Captain Kirk, his first wife divorced him in 1969, he lost his home and had very little money or acting prospects. During that time, he lived out of a camper on a pickup truck in Los Angeles.

Just like the story of Sylvester Stallone, who pulled himself out of rags by believing in Rocky, or Schwarzenegger, who started as a bricklayer in Los Angeles in 1968, the story of William Shatner is about how persistence and perseverance against all odds is what drives eventual success.

There are very few “overnight successes.”


The Birth of a Logo

In 1822, Rowland Hussey Macy was born on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. At the age of 15 he hired on at the whaling ship Emily Morgan. As sailors often got tattoos, and still do today, Rowland had a red star tattooed on his hand. After he left whaling at age 21, between 1843 and 1855, he opened four retail dry goods stores to serve the mill industry employees of the Haverhill, Massachusetts area. All those stores failed, but he learned from his mistakes.

In 1858 he moved to New York City and established a new store named R.H Macy Dry Goods at Sixth Avenue on the corner of 14th Street in Manhattan. On the first day of business, his sales totaled $11.08.

The tattoo on his hand became the logo of his company.



Overnight Success: Dyson Vacuum Cleaners

Remember the by now trite saying that Thomas Edison supposedly tried 10,000 different approaches to the light bulb before he arrived at one design that worked. Edison is attributed with saying that he didn’t fail 10,000 times. He found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.

Did you know that James Dyson failed in 5,126 prototypes before perfecting his revolutionary vacuum cleaner?

Now you can go to Costco and see his vacuums and wonder why you didn’t think of this. Who would have thought you could perfect something as basic as a vacuum cleaner?

Did you ever see his revolutionary design of fans? No blades? You can stick your hand through one of these while it’s running.

How does it work?

Overnight success? Iron will and perseverance, rather.


Overnight Success: WD-40

The ubiquitous WD-40 lubricant is a product invented right here in San Diego. It got its name because the first 39 experiments failed. WD-40 literally stands for “Water Displacement–40th Attempt.”

I have written about WD-40 before here in this blog.

If they gave up early on like most of us do, we would have a lot more squeaky hinges in the world.

Overnight Success: Pinterest

Pinterest is one of the fastest-growing websites in history, but it struggled for a long time.

Pinterest’s CEO recently said that it had “catastrophically small numbers” in its first year after launch and that if he had listened to popular startup advice he probably would have quit.

Pinterest eventually became successful, even though I am personally still stumped by it.

Of course, for every successful Pinterest, I am sure there are a thousand other attempts that were just as good, but never made it, for one reason or another.

Nothing is successful overnight. When you look behind the curtain, there is always hard work, perseverance and a good dose of luck involved.

Overnight Success: Angry Birds

Angry Birds, the extremely popular game on mobile devices, was Rovio’s 52nd attempt.

They spent eight years and nearly went bankrupt before finally creating their massive hit.

I wonder if I would have let the company die after 51 failed tries at a game and not stuck with it?

There are a lot of open positions on their website.

They are located in Finland. Get your booties out.

The Success of KFC

Yesterday evening Trisha and I sat there looking at each other with no idea about what to have for dinner. So I went all out – only the best, classy that I am – and “took her” to KFC for some chicken.

Sometimes the craving just hits. We were the only “dining in” customers, and we sat at a shabby formica table enjoying our meals eaten out of cardboard and plastic, while teenagers paraded in and out and the drive-through was humming.

If I don’t go too often, I actually enjoy KFC. I order their original recipe and I generally like it.

I remember hearing about Col. Sanders (supposedly the founder and the guy on the logo picture) in motivational programs decades ago. When he got out of the military with nothing to do and not enough money to make it, he wanted to start franchising his chicken recipe. Nobody was interested. He went on the road and started knocking on doors. He was turned down, turned down and turned down. Legend has it that he was rejected by more than 1,000 owners of restaurants before he convinced the first one.

Today, every day, more than 12 million customers are served at KFC restaurants in 109 countries and territories around the world. KFC operates more than 5,200 restaurants in the United States and more than 15,000 units around the world. KFC is world-famous for its Original Recipe® fried chicken — made with the same secret blend of 11 herbs and spices Col. Sanders perfected more than a half-century ago. Customers around the globe also enjoy more than 300 other products — from Kentucky Grilled Chicken in the United States to a salmon sandwich in Japan.

In China alone, starting with one restaurant in 1987, KFC now operates 3,200 KFCs stores. Col. Sanders’ picture is far more popular and displayed in China than that of Mao. Their target is to have to 20,000 stores in China. KFC is far more widespread in China than McDonald’s is, the world’s largest restaurant chain.

So what is my point? The seemingly runaway success of 15,000 stores worldwide, with far more to go, did not come by accident. If Col. Sanders, more than 50 years ago, had stopped knocking of doors  after 999 tries, there would be no KFC today. A good chicken recipe made KFC, but perseverance and iron will, against all odds, against better advice, is what really created the company.