Lesson #4: Stop Chasing a Lost Cause

If one thing above all else could be said about Luce it is that he was an ambitious man. No matter what the task at hand, Luce hated to lose. Indeed, his parish priest described Luce as “a man of unlimited imagination who reveled in hard facts; one who could be gruff with the mighty and relaxed with little children; a thinker who could see all sides of a question and yet make a quick and implacable decision. To talk with him was to shift the mind into high gear, for his was never in neutral.”

In 1962, Luce once told an audience that he was speaking to in Chicago, “Everything we know, from the atom to the stars, calls us to leave our comfortable habitations which no longer comfort us, and to strike forth on a pilgrimage to a new civilization.”

Luce was a serial entrepreneur. No sooner had one venture become successful that he was off planning the next, reinvesting old profits back into the new. But Luce was not a reckless man. He took the time to carefully research and assess his ideas before plowing full speed ahead with them. Why? Because even more than Luce loved to win, he hated to lose.

A case in point is the launch of Tide magazine in the late 1920s. Critical of the advertising industry, the magazine was more the brainchild of Luce’s partner Hadden than of Luce himself. But, supportive of his partner’s efforts, Luce went along with the idea. Initially, Luce had actually been in favour of a different type of business magazine.

Tide was not as successful as Hadden would have liked. When he passed away at the age of 31, Luce made no bones about it: he was going to sell off the publication. Luce knew when to try to keep going, and when to cut his losses and run. He would rather admit defeat now then keep chasing a lost cause.

With that, Luce sold Tide and started up the business magazine he had originally wanted to create: Fortune. Hadden feared that Fortune would be nothing more than business boosterism, but in the end, he was wrong. Luce took Fortune and ran with it – all the way to the top.

Much as the way in which Luce decided which ventures to pursue and which to forget about, so too did he carefully choose the causes that he wanted his publications to promote. He spent much of his time consulting with government and other social commentators before committing his publications one way or the other. If his voice was going to be that of a national consensus, he wanted to make sure he was on the ball. Then, once he made his decision, he let his voice be heard far and wide, and he made sure not to let up until it was.

Luce wanted to succeed as much as he wanted not to lose. That is why he chose his goals carefully, making sure they were, above all else, realizable.

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