Rank #1: Nicola Benedetti: Vibrant Violin Virtuoso
Nicola is one of the most sought-after violinists of her generation. She is one of the most influential classical artists in the world and has played with the finest orchestras and symphonies from around the globe. She was the BBC Young Musician of the Year at age 16, twice the Female Artist of the Year at the classical BRIT awards and has sold millions of records. Some interesting insights from this episode: As early as the age of 5, she was so emotionally moved by music that she would often be brought to tears while playing. It’s important to focus early on in life. Once you learn to push through certain barriers, you can apply that discipline to other areas in which you choose to devote your life. She never had any long term goals of becoming a world class violinist but rather, was always hyper focused on just improving one day at a time. Beyond her technical mastery, she had a natural stage presence which enabled her to take her talent to the next level. When she performs she enters the “flow state” whereby she becomes so engrossed in playing that she’s no longer thinking but rather, enters a period of emotional timelessness. Learn how she was able to top not only the classical charts but the Top 30 Pop Album charts as well. Excellence isn’t just about the discipline, dedication and relentless work ethic but also about being immensely curious about the larger philosophical questions outside of their areas of expertise.
Rank #2: Jon Sebastiani: Krave Jerky Founder and serial food entrepreneur
Jon was the Founder and CEO of Krave Pure Foods, a gourmet jerky company. The company became one of the fastest growing food brands in the country and was acquired by The Hershey Company for around $220 million in 2015. Today he is the CEO of Sonoma Brands, an investor and incubator for new branded food startups. Jon lives in Sonoma, California. Some interesting insights from this episode: Learn how he reinvented the entire jerky category and broadened its appeal. The most important litmus test as to whether a new product will succeed is simply whether it makes sense to you. If it’s a problem you can personally relate to, that’s a good start. The lean startup method isn’t just for technology companies but consumer packaged goods businesses as well. Learn how he brought a new product to the market for just $10,000. His experience in the ultra-competitive wine industry gave him a “PhD” in branding. While serendipity plays a role, there is a playbook that allows new brands to come to life. Excellence is an aspiration that you never quite reach. It’s a mindset.
Rank #3: Bill Browder: Superstar investor turned human rights activist
Bill Browder is the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital, which was the largest investor in Russia for a number of years. More recently he has been spearheading a campaign to expose Russia’s corruption and human rights abuses. His efforts led to the passing of the Magnitsky Act in 2012. He is the author of Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice. Some interesting insights from this episode: Learn how he became the largest investor in Russia and one of the top performing investment funds in the world. If you follow your passion before there’s any real business opportunity, the profits will eventually follow. He had an epiphany one day that if his grandfather was once the biggest communist in America, Bill would become the biggest capitalist in Eastern Europe. Hear about the trade of the century that would help propel his fund from $100 million to over $4 billion. Learn how the Russian police stole his corporation and then committed the biggest tax refund fraud in the history of Russia. Learn how he sought justice for his friend Segey Magnitsky, who was tortured and murdered by the Russians, through the passage of the Magnitsky Act. “Excellence is about rolling up your sleeves, putting in the time and constantly working at getting better in yourself at every step of the way.”
Rank #4: Anders Ericsson: The Expert on Experts
Some interesting insights from this episode: The Malcolm Gladwell “10,000 hour rule” (i.e. it takes 10,000 hours to become world class at something) stems from Anders’ research. But it’s not necessarily 10,000 hours and it’s not any kind of practice. Learn what is meant by “deliberate practice”. The success of the Navy’s Topgun (fighter pilot training program) largely stemmed from the methodology behind deliberate practice. The brain can be rewired to extend its capabilities at any age. There is no such thing as natural talent. Learn how building mental representations can dramatically improve performance. For many fields, the workday is far too long. It is very hard to maintain intense focus and concentration for more than 3 or 4 hours a day.
Rank #5: Morris Robinson: Opera Star
Morris Robinson is a world-renowned bass opera singer. He has regularly performed at the Metropolitan Opera as well as opera houses all over the world. He is also a highly regarded concert singer and has performed with many of the well-known symphony orchestras across the United States. He is a graduate of the Citadel and currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and son.
Rank #6: “The Birdman” Jeb Corliss: Fearless BASE Jumper
Jeb is one of the world’s best known BASE-jumpers and wingsuit pilots. He has made more than 1,000 jumps including the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and Angel falls to name a few. He is featured in a documentary called Fearless: The Jeb Corliss Story. Some interesting insights from this episode: Learn how he was diagnosed with counterphobia at an early age which made him want to confront his fears head on. “The only limits on you are the ones you place upon yourself.” Base-jumping saved him from a life of depression. It was the first time he truly felt happy. Getting over fear is like building muscle. You have to slowly build up a tolerance for fear so you can eventually do terrifying things. Hear about one of the most terrifying jumps he’s ever done. Hear how he was able to survive an “unsurvivable” crash. It took years of suffering following a near-death accident to one day allow him to derive more pleasure from the simple things in life than jumping off any mountain.
Rank #7: Josh Blue: Uber-talented comedian with cerebral palsy
Josh Blue is a comedian. He has cerebral palsy which forms the basis for much of his self-deprecating humor. He won first place on NBC’s Last Comic Standing in its fourth season. He has appeared in a number of comedy specials on Comedy Central, Showtime, Bravo and Netflix and has been featured in several publications including People Magazine, The New York Times and NPR. His YouTube videos have been viewed millions of times. He was also a member of the US Paralympic Soccer Team. Some interesting insights from this episode: Learn how he didn’t try to run or hide from his cerebral palsy but rather, made it an integral part of his comedy early on. A turning point in his life was spending a year in Senegal and coming to appreciate how fortunate he was to just have food, clothing and shelter. Hear about his crazy experiment living in the gorilla exhibit at the zoo for a day. It takes most comedians years to refine their material to get a good 10 minute act but Josh had that “it factor” (i.e. stage presence and likeability) from day one. “A joke is just a story with all the extra words taken out.” He is so talented and spontaneous on stage that he never has to write down any of his material. He tests new material “on the fly” during live performances. “Excellence is being so in tune with what you’re doing that nobody can touch it.”
Rank #8: Scott Jurek: Ultrarunning Legend Conquers the Appalachian Trail
Scott is widely regarded as one of the greatest runners of all time. He has won most of ultrarunning’s elite events including the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135, and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which he won a record seven straight times. His most recent accomplishment is his 2015 Appalachian Trail speed record, averaging nearly 50 miles a day over 46 days. He is a New York Times-bestselling author and his latest book is called North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail. Some interesting insights from this episode: He averaged nearly 50 miles a day for 46 days to set a new Appalachian Trail speed record. Watching his mother suffer with multiple sclerosis at a young age gave him the fortitude later in life to fight through the pain and suffering during long runs. Humans were built for extreme endurance. If you want it badly enough and are willing to endure the suffering, you can run an ultramarathon. Being adaptable and being able to adjust his mental state on race day was a key ingredient of his willing so many ultra races. He had lost the passion and drive to really push himself and test his boundaries. Running the Appalachian Trail gave him the spark he needed to rekindle that fire in his belly. Learn how he fought through excruciating injuries in both legs to keep moving on his way to setting the record. “Excellence is being the best that you can possibly be. There is no end point. It’s something we’re always striving for.” Show Notes Scott Jurek’s book: North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail https://www.amazon.com/North-Finding-While-Running-Appalachian/dp/0316433799/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1528762039&sr=8-1&keywords=scott+jurek Scott Jurek’s website: http://www.scottjurek.com/
Rank #9: Seth Goldman: Co-Founder of Honest Tea
Seth Goldman is the Co-founder of Honest Tea, a company he started in 1998 and has grown to over $200 million in revenue. Today, Honest Tea is the nation’s top selling ready-to-drink organic bottled tea. The Honest Tea brands are available in over 130,000 outlets across the United States. The company was acquired by Coca Cola in 2011. Some interesting insights from this episode: Learn how he reinvented the entire bottled tea industry. Being a relentless optimist helped get him through the tough times. The company wasn’t just about a better tasting drink but about an expression of his personal values (health, the environment, working conditions in developing countries). To successfully launch a startup, start with a very strong vision of the brand and then everything else will fall into place. The best way to learn is simply by doing. Market research will only get you so far and doing too much of it could become a hindrance. Excellence is having a vision and being able to execute on that vision without compromise.
Rank #10: Kristin Beck: A Navy SEAL, a Purple Heart, and a Transgender Activist
Christopher Beck served for 20 years as a Navy SEAL. He deployed 13 times over two decades, including stints in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He received the Bronze Star award for valor and the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat. In 2013, after retiring from the Navy, he came out publicly as a transgender with the new name Kristin. A documentary was produced about her life called Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story. Some interesting insights from this episode: Hear a glimpse of what daily life is like during the Navy SEAL BUD/S training. Becoming a Navy seal is as much mental as it is physical. Hear about his nerve-racking brush with death during combat. Learn the trigger that pushed her to finally come out publicly as a transgender. Gender and sexual orientation are really two different things. Learn about the many challenges she has faced in being accepted as a transgender. “Excellence is about being the best you that you can be.”
Rank #11: Jeff Seder: The scout behind Triple Crown winner American Pharoah
Jeff Seder is the founder and CEO of EQB, a consulting firm which advises thoroughbred racehorse owners. He utilizes proprietary big data analytics to predict the success of racehorses, most notably the 2015 triple crown winner American Pharoah. He has his undergraduate, law and business degrees all from Harvard and he currently resides on a farm in Pennsylvania. Some interesting insights from this episode: Learn how he used utilized big data to predict the success of American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Success is all about hard work: “It took 35 years and $7 million to become an overnight success.” On why competitors haven’t replicated his methods: “I can give someone a violin and an instruction manual but they’re not going to play a symphony right away.” On following your passion: “My Harvard professor asked me what I was passionate about and I said ‘horses.’” Learn how he used a slow motion camera to study the U.S. Olympic bobsled team and help them turn the tide and start winning medals for the first time. “Excellence is learning your instrument and then forgetting it all and just wailing.”
Rank #12: Morten Andersen: Professional Football Hall of Fame Kicker
Morten Andersen is a former professional football kicker who spent most of his career with the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. He played in a record 382 games during his 25 year career and is the all-time leading scorer in NFL history with 2,544 points. In 2017, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. These days Morten is a motivational speaker and also oversees his family foundation. He resides in Atlanta, GA. Some interesting insights from this episode: As an exchange student, he never intended to stay in the United States for more than a year but when he tried out for the high school football team on a whim, he made the team which led to a full scholarship at Michigan State which led to one of the greatest NFL careers in history. The goal is to practice enough so you can get to a level of “unconscious competence”. He had to swallow a “humility pill” after he hit a performance plateau and hire a team of experts to get him back to a high level and extend his career many years. He kicked on 8’ goalposts during practice so come game time, he would have a much easier time executing with 18’6” goal posts. As an athlete, all you can control is effort and attitude. Everything else is white noise. If you focus more on the process than the results, the results will follow. His sports psychologist introduced the idea of “goal windows” which altered his mindset about how to measure performance and hence, how to feel successful. He had his best year statistically over his 25 year career in his final season at the age of 47.
Rank #13: Doug Ammons: Kayaking Pioneer
Doug Ammons is a scientific editor and researcher, a business owner, an accomplished author and filmmaker and a classical guitarist. But what he’s most known for is being an extreme kayaker. He's run several first descents in the US and overseas and soloed multiple challenging class v runs that most people would never touch, most famously the Grand Canyon of the Stikine. Because of his many incredible kayaking accomplishments, Outside Magazine has named him one of the ten greatest adventurists over the last century. He has degrees in mathematics and physics and has a PhD in Psychology.
Rank #14: Christian Picciolini: Reformed White Supremacist now leading the fight against extremism
Christian Picciolini is an Emmy Award-winning director and producer, a published author, a TEDx speaker, and a reformed extremist. He is the co-founder of Life After Hate, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding long-term solutions that counter racism and violent extremism. His latest book is titled White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement – and How I Got Out. Some interesting insights from this episode: “Hatred is born of ignorance. Fear is its father and isolation is its mother.” Hear about the tactics hate groups use to recruit. The birth of his children was the impetus he needed to reprioritize his values and walk away from his former life. The first step in counseling others to leave the extremist movement is just listening. The people who join the extremist movement aren’t generally swayed initially by their philosophy. Most are just searching for identity, community and purpose. Learn how the African American who forgave him for the physical violence he once caused was the trigger that gave him the courage to tell his story to the world. The way we can help is to show compassion to those who deserve it the least because those are the ones who need it the most. “Excellence is being the best human being that you can be.” Show Notes: Christian’s book: White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement – and How I Got Out https://www.amazon.com/White-American-Youth-Americas-Movement/dp/0316522902/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515354532&sr=8-1&keywords=christian+picciolini Christian’s website: www.christianpicciolini.com Christian’s one on one talk with Richard Spencer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0U5zCbwFizA
Rank #15: Dave Perkins: Master Whiskey Entrepreneur
Dave Perkins is the Founder and former CEO of High West Distillery, a craft whiskey producer. He sold the company in 2016 after 12 years to Constellation Brands for $160 million. He had a successful career in biotech marketing prior to that. He lives in Park City, Utah. Some interesting insights from this episode: Learn how his biotech background prepared him for building a whiskey business from scratch. He moved to Utah to start the company despite the state’s tight liquor laws. He chose to become a distiller, not just a blender, despite the much larger investment and longer waiting period. Learn how good contingency planning can help mitigate risk in a startup. In addition to hard work, good planning and a distinctive product, serendipity played a key role in his success. Excellence is taking pride in your work and giving it your best.