Picture this – a young, talented, handsome man wears a sequin jumpsuit and sequin boots. He stands in front of a singular circulating green strobe light. In his hand, he carries a microphone. The music starts and he delivers one of the greatest performances ever in a music video. The video I’m describing is Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough by Michael Jackson. It’s one of my favorite songs from one of the best albums of all time, Off the Wall.
Recently, a Spike Lee documentary aired detailing Michael Jackson’s journey from the Jackson 5 and Motown to Off-the-Wall. If you haven’t seen it, it is a must watch. MJ is a master as his craft, and through this documentary he offers some of the greatest lessons for business and life. I’ve re-watched this film a couple times and think that those timeless lessons are worth sharing here.
1. Study the Greats
Throughout the documentary MJ and others discuss his obsession with studying and watching great performers. He watched every Fred Astaire film, studied Jack Wilson’s and Sammy Davis Jr.’s dance moves, and learned about composers like Duke Ellington and Gershwin. As a child, MJ would sit and watch recording sessions for hours and hours just observing, asking questions, and taking it all in.
Like MJ, if you plan to build a world-class sustainable business, you must study the greats too. You need to learn their secret sauce so that you can build and improve on it. Often people think that successful people are simply “talented.” In reality, successful people created that talent via hard work and drive. Sammy Davis Jr. said it best. In describing MJ’s dancing, he noted that he saw flashes of himself in Michael, but MJ had changed it, added to it, made it more of his own. If we are to push our businesses forward, we must study those of the past and then add something new to make it our own version of success.
2. Mastery Takes Time and Drive
Before MJ got the part of the scarecrow in The Whiz, he saw the play on Broadway over 30 times. When he talked about practicing with Kobe Bryant, he told Kobe that he danced until he physically could not dance anymore. He literally practiced his dance moves until he could not move his feet to dance another step.
The bottom line here is if you want to be at a master at anything, you have to put in the time and practice. There is no other way to become great. How much time? Well, in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in any field. 10,000 hours is roughly 5 years. That is 5 years of relentless practice and study. The only way to sustain that level of drive and focus is to fall in love with practice. The elites, like MJ, fall in love with what they do to the point where the practice no longer feels like work. That is why “finding your passion” is so important. To contribute your best work, you must practice for 5 years and to sustain that level of effort you must love what you do. Period.
3. Be Likable
In addition to his great drive and talent, people seemed to genuinely like MJ. To me, Michael’s likeability stemmed from the fact that he had a genuine, non-judgmental curiosity about the people and things that interested him. While some of those interests may have been unconventional, he approached them all with the same child-like curiosity and reverence. It was charming and made people like him.
As an attorney, I definitely struggle with the nonjudgmental part, but Michael’s genuine interest in understanding people and environments for the sake of understanding without a moral judgment motivates me to think differently. People want to work with people they know, like and trust. So you have to be likeable if you want to succeed.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New
During an interview about Michael’s pending solo career, a reporter asked whether MJ felt bad about leaving his brothers. Michael paused for a second and then said, “no.” MJ knew that he had a gift to share. He also knew that his brothers had their own gifts to share. Those gifts were not diminished by his decision to go solo. In other words, sometimes we have to push passed even our former successes to breakthrough to something new and greater.
5. Believe In Your Inner Knowing of Yourself
When the Jackson 5 left Motown for Epic Records, they did it because they wanted more creative freedom. They knew that they were more than the ABC-type tunes they were known for, and they wanted to write and produce their own songs. The problem is that they had never wrote, produced, and sang their own songs before. Rightfully, Motown executives were concerned, but the Jacksons did not live that reality. They moved from the reality of their inner knowing. They knew that they could create great songs from beginning to end without having ever seen the tangible result in their hand. They made the decision to move to Epic from that place, a place of knowing what you are truly capable of.
Your inner knowing is the part of you that says keep going when you stumble, fall or fail. It’s the part of you that knows everything will work out, that you will succeed and achieve your dreams. It takes practice to hear that voice, and it takes even more practice to consistently take action based on that voice instead of your current reality. However, when you do, there’s magic, and we all have the ability to create a little magic.
Have you seen the MJ documentary? What was your takeaway from it? Let me know in the comments below.
Model/Blogger/As seen on: Fashion Beaucoup
Photographer: Randy Lange