The Cause Effect

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it.” Muhammad Ali

As we start the new year, many of us will set new goals for ourselves, our teams, and organizations. Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, then succeed on purpose. Vinod Khosla spoke at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business on leadership, with the main takeaway being: Failure does not matter. Success matters, “Try and fail, but don’t fail to try.”

Hyper-successful projects have at their core a palpable cause. Rallying teams around this shared sense of purpose means tapping into their hearts. When the entire team builds a collective identity around a common cause, the project transcends work and becomes a mission. Games are changed. Tables are turned. Crises are averted. This is Cause/Effect. A goal is something you set, a cause sets you. 

From recruiting team members, creating project environments, from rallying the team in the face of adversity, to leading them beyond their expectations for the possible, leaders embrace the inevitable emotional peaks of a project and transform them into tools that propel teams towards the cause.

These days, success is the cost of entry. 

This is in part because our definition of success has been watered down. Meeting the stated objectives, on time and on budget—has, for the most part, satisfied customers and bosses. As in ‘satisfactory.’ But striving for satisfactory left us feeling a little underwhelmed.

As we reflect on 2016 and strategize how to powerfully move into 2017, below are six ways that hyper-successful teams bring their cause and mission to life through action.

Faith Over Fear: The leadership of these teams looks for a ‘possibilities’ mindset in their team members and embraces Faith over Fear. They strive for optimism, improvisation, and hope.

Mastery Mindset: These corporate artisans are fueled by an insatiable desire to master the craft they love and honor.

Shielded Deviance: These projects, by their very nature, operate outside of the existing norms. They need protectors to ensure the vision will not be sacrificed to the status quo.

Singularity: Forget multitasking. These teams do one thing and they do it right. They keep a laser focus on the objective, impervious to distractions or disruptions.

Underdogs and Enemies: These teams are scrappy. They see themselves as eternal underdogs fighting a perceived enemy—but it’s rarely the competition. Rather, the enemy tends to be the entrenched status quo.

Total Immersion: A shared experience of environment and language shapes a collective identity that emboldens the group to achieve the impossible.

What does it take to move beyond the standard definition of success to something much more impactful? What tools and strategies do leaders of iconic and innovative successes use to lead their teams toward the truly extraordinary?

In July 2006, the cargo ship MV Cougar Ace, a 55,000-ton carrier, was en route from Japan to California when it lost stability and developed a 60-degree list to port in 42-degree water. The Titan Salvage Team arrived on site, boarded the vessel, and towed it over hundreds of miles. It was righted with little to no damage to the 4,812 vehicles on board. From perceived limited to no limited.

Produced in 2001, Moulin Rouge is an Australian-American romantic pastiche-jukebox musical set in the Montmartre Quarter in Paris. With a budget of $52.5M, incredibly low by Hollywood standards, Baz Luhrmann said “the whole stylistic premise has been to decode what the Moulin Rouge was to the audiences of 1899 and express the same thrill and excitement in a way to which contemporary movie-goers can relate.” Faced with a limited budget to make the highly stylized musical, Luhrmann used the power of an immersive reality to seduce Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor into the lead roles. He wanted to push art somebody would love and the outcome was a revived genre that was the highest grossing musical in over 25 years. The takeaway is that you have to be driven by constant curiosity and sometimes suspend the business side and look through the lenses of art. For Moulin Rouge, this was the only way to drive forward.

There are four things I have been told you never do in the film industry: work with water, work with animals, work with kids or tackle the topic of God/religion. And yet, Life of Pi went there. All the way. The story is based an Indian man, Pi, telling a novelist about his life story and how at 16 he survives a shipwreck in which his family dies, and he is stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The 2012 film far surpassed expected box office results, grossing over $609M worldwide (film turned a profit six times its budget). The director had a point of view and the staff was there to execute it. The lesson to be learned is that you either own your job and vision or you do not and flail.

And finally, my beloved iPhone. It is hard to imagine life before the iPhone. In the span of seven years, the iPhone and its i-comrades and progenies have become among the most important innovations in Silicon Valley history, transforming the stodgy mobile device industry, unending the personal computer market, and generating over $10B in revenue for mobile apps. Oh, and it created a pathway for our culture to rethink how humans interact with machines. That’s all. Apple created a phone people fell in love with – a device that reflected their personal brands. Apple did not use a roadmap, because a roadmap sets expectations and slip off. Apple was perfecting, not slipping. Steve Jobs sweat about details nobody would care about, but it was part of the iPhone’s authenticity. The iPhone had a narrative that told the world about the product; the corollary is, no other corollary exists.


The Cause Effect is to create a new possible. As we move into a new year, think about ways to produce impact, 2017 is the year to find your purpose.


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