Maybe I’m alone in this, but lately I’ve been fretting about trust fund babies. I mean who is less equipped to deal with economic upheaval? While  their wealthy parents were showering them with things, they took away the really valuable stuff such as personal initiative and innovative thinking.

That’s not true for everyone who inherits enormous wealth—particularly if you’re the offspring of Warren Buffett—but there are plenty of examples of squandered lives.

During the height of the Human Potential Movement, a program was started in San Francisco to deal with the issues of guilt experienced by trust fund recipients.

Nobody really talks about much about the downside of inherited wealth, of course, but one heiress who ultimately became a wildly successful entrepreneur did.

Gloria Vanderbilt, heir to an enormous fortune, said the only money that meant anything to her was the money she had earned  by her own creative efforts.

This week, a story’s been making the rounds about Vanderbilt’s famous son, Anderson Cooper, who will not be inheriting any of her wealth. Cooper’s just fine with that. He understands that unearned wealth can be crazymaking, as numerous lottery winners have sadly demonstrated.

So what’s a healthier approach?

Former Cirque du Soleil acrobat-turned-yoga-teacher Alvin Tan wrote, “There’s a lot of doom and gloom going on here in the States. The economy feels like it is teetering on a fragile balance and good news is a distant wish. That’s the story that we hear anyway. I disagree.

“I am reminded of a comment by a dear friend that this could be the best of times for this country, this people. He believes that we are finally getting back to basics. What fantastic insight!

“In moments of fear, people cut back and return to essentials. It’s an opportunity to discard all the useless junk we’ve accumulated  and keep only what’s truly important.

“Can you train your mind to let go of the things you think you need? Acrobatic mindset training begins with using only what you need and nothing else.”

I keep thinking about those last words: use only what you need and nothing else. Perhaps a new definition of wisdom is having the certainty to know what is needed.

That fits so well with the concept of Less is More that has fascinated me for the past 30+ years.

One of my handbooks for that was a book called Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy which applies the concept of Less is More to our closets. They write, “We’ve become spoiled in America. Surrounded by mass manufacturing and mass marketing, we stuff our closets with masses of mistakes….The most basic element of Cheap Chic is the body you hang your clothes on. Building a healthy, lively body is far cheaper than buying a lot of clothes to distract from it.”

Back to Basics.

What I find stunning about revisiting this 39-year-old book is that the photographs seem timeless. Nothing looks dated at all. “Find the clothes that suit you best,” advise the authors, “and then hang onto them like old friends.”

Cheap Chic echoes Diana Vreeland’s observation that being well-dressed is a matter of good taste and a severely limited budget. That also describes many good businesses.

Although  I’ve quoted it countless times before, it’s worth repeating again because Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens nailed it when he said, “In the absence of capital, creativity flourishes.” Stephens didn’t get that from a business school textbook; he discovered it building his own little business.

The trick for entrepreneurs, it seems to me, is to keep the creative flame burning once there’s an abundance of capital. It can be done, of course, and Zappos (and a few others) are demonstrating that. In fact, one of the 10 basic values of the growing Zappos enterprise is Do More With Less.

When I look at the businesses that I find inspiring and fun to watch, I notice that creative thinking is a constant. Perhaps that’s simply inevitable when your starting point is to use what you have and only what you need to move ahead gracefully.



Trader Joe’s was in a festive mood this morning. There were balloons and flowers everywhere and the employees were in costume. Alas, I arrived too early to sample the chocolate-dipped strawberries. I’m a raving TJ’s fan and not just because I love their food: I’m fascinated by the atmosphere. The other day, I was checking out and I asked the always-cheerful man helping me how he was. “Fantastic!” he replied. I pointed out that he always seemed to be fantastic and he said, “Having open heart surgery will do that.” Then he shared a bit about his philosophy of optimism.

Two other entrepreneurs that I love are Tom & Ray, the Car Talk guys. As I was heading home from the post office this morning, they were talking to a woman who called in for advice on buying used cars for her college-aged sons. She mentioned that she was also going back to college. Later in the conversation, they asked what she was going to study and she said business. Immediately, Tom lectured her about her decision saying, “But you’re an artist. You’ll be bored to death. After a week you’ll want to gnaw your leg off. Don’t do something just because you think it will make more money.”

My kind of guys.

They’re not the only self-bossers that I’m crazy about. My new love is Zappo’s founder Tony Hsieh who just made Fast Company’s list of the 50 most innovative companies in the world. Here’s a look at the foundation on which this company is built, in Hsieh’s own words:

At Zappos, we have 10 core values that act as a formalized definition of our company culture. Our core values weren’t formed by a few people from senior management that sat around in a room at a company offsite. Instead, we invited every employee at Zappos to participate in the process, and here’s the final list  we collectively came up with:

1) Deliver WOW Through Service

2) Embrace and Drive Change

3) Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

4) Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

5) Pursue Growth and Learning

6) Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

7) Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8) Do More With Less

9) Be Passionate and Determined

10) Be Humble

The cool thing about the Zappos core values is that  I’ve used them as my own personal values as well. So it makes tweeting really easy for me… Whether I tweet about something personal or something related to Zappos, if I’m living my life through these 10 core values, it all goes towards building the Zappos brand while shaping me personally as well.

I urge you to add to your Valentine weekend celebration by viewing this Zappos’ video on What is Love? .

This week’s My Turn piece in Newsweek is by Ann Banks and is called Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One. She’s talkiing about traditional storytelling (as opposed to the way I talk about it in the Compelling Storytelling seminar), but it’s a wonderful reminder of the power of storytelling. She ends by saying, “We need again to imagine a future that is meaningful in the face of difficult circumstances. Listening to each other’s stories may grant us a sense of common purpose that money can’t buy.”

I’ve been wondering how I’ll explain to my grandchildren what it was like to take pictures before digital photography. Thanks to Bill Geist, I realize there’s a much longer list of things to show them that are new to our world. Last week on CBS Sunday Morning, he did a delightful piece in honor of the show’s 30th anniversary. Geist introduces his toddler granddaugther to everyday things that didn’t exist 30 years ago. Take a look. 

I’ve always liked Rick Steves’ philosophy about travel being an opportunity to be a voluntary ambassador of world peace so I was happy to read that he received a Citizen Diplomat Award this week.. 

He wrote about the experience on his blog and said, “NCIV promotes citizen diplomacy with nearly 100 community organizations throughout the United States. Working for the US Department of State, their mission is to welcome and enrich the experience of people (mostly education, business, and political leaders) who visit our country…There’s always something uplifting about getting committed, caring people with the same passion together in the same room. I enjoyed giving my Travel as a Political Act talk, and they seemed to gobble up the ideas. Even though I may have been preaching to the choir, there is a powerful, intangible value in such a pep rally (for me, as well as for my audience).” 

Finally, if you have unrequited wanderlust, read this story about Anne Estes who has become an international petsitter. 

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place. ~ Zora Neal Hurston

A couple of weeks ago, a story in my weekly suburban newspaper caught my eye. The title of the piece was “Hoisting a Business” and told the story of 18-year-old Anthony Waddle, a former high school pole vaulter who has set up a school in his parent’s backyard to train the sport to other kids. He charges $100/month with a $40 annual registration fee. His goal is to have 40 students and an indoor facility.

I’m always on the lookout for unique ways that people make a living without a job, of course. Another local favorite is a story about Dr. Michael Crovetti, who runs a sports medicine academy. Not only has Dr. Crovetti performed 8,000 surgeries, he started another business called Skeletal Metal, a jewelry business that sells bracelets, rings, earrings and pendants made from the same types of steel plates he used to pin together broken bones.

Examples of the entrepreneurial spirit are all around, but unless you’re tuned in, you’ll miss the good stories. If you’re going to be part of the revolution, it seems obvious to be curious and inspired by the things others are doing. 

A few years back, CBS Sunday Morning began a story about Chuck Leavell, a tree farmer in Georgia. I looked up from my crossword puzzle thinking his name sounded familiar. Since I don’t know any Georgia tree farmers, I was a bit perplexed until the story unfolded and we learned that Leavell has a second occupation playing keyboards for the likes of Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. A devoted environmentalist, he studied agronomy while riding on tour buses. The piece was a fascinating study of making room and time for diverse passions.

Just yesterday, there was Zappo’s founder Tony Hsieh sharing his business philosophy with Oprah (via Skype from his headquarters just down the road from me). I’ve been paying a lot of attention to him lately so I was curious to see what he had to say. He may be the most unassuming executive around, but he really got my attention when he said, “We believe in chasing the vision, not the money.” Chasing the vision has led him to design a workplace this is wonderfully wacky while being wonderfully efficient. 

That’s not Zappo’s only guiding principle, however. Here’s their mission statement. Feel free to borrow.

Deliver WOW Through Service

Embrace and  Drive Change

Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

Pursue Growth and Learning

Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

Do More With Less

Be Passionate and Determined

Be Humble