Jeanine Cogan
Executive coach

Jeanine Cogan

Heads Cogan Coaching and is on the faculty of the Center for Continuing and Professional Education at Georgetown University.


A different drummer

Q: Not every product the Apple CEO has introduced has been a hit. So what accounts for the aura of incredible success that surrounds Steve Jobs? Why don't others who are possibly just as successful become cult figures like he has?

Steve Jobs exhibits a key characteristic to success, which is marching to the beat of your own drum.

When at Reed College, Jobs ended up dropping out because he didn't have a clear sense of what he wanted to do and felt he was wasting his parents' hard-earned money on a very expensive college.

Once he dropped out, he explored topics he was curious about rather than taking the required courses. He audited a calligraphy course and loved it. Turns out that what he learned in calligraphy class ended up being the foundation for the design of his first Mac.

Jobs continues to exhibit this out-of-the-box thinking and curiosity, leading to such best sellers as the MacBook, iPod and iPhone. In terms of noting that not every product Jobs creates is a best seller -- my response to this is: Of course not. That is an unreasonable bar and one of the cultural trends that is damaging for all of us.

Babe Ruth, who had a record for home runs, also struck out 50 percent of the time. So success is filled with both highs and lows. Every swing doesn't result in hitting the ball out of the park. Let go of that expectation. When we are afraid to fail, we play it safe and cannot take the risks we need in order to do great things. Imagine if Jobs played it safe?

How are you playing it safe? What are the consequences?

I will always remember one such moment in my certification to become an executive coach. A requirement in the program was to have a mentor coach observe a session and give me feedback. After one such session, my mentor coach asked me "Jeanine -- do you want to be liked or do you want to be a good coach?"

I was mortified and I got the message.To this day I catch myself when I want to play it safe with a client and be "nice" instead of honest and direct. I hear my mentor's voice and I am grateful. We learn from these experiences.

Are you playing it safe in some area of your life?

What would happen if you didn't?

Are you marching to the beat of your own drum?

If not, what would your life look like if you were?

What would you be doing?

How would you be living?

Allow yourself to play with these questions with curiosity. Let go of any self-judgments. Do one action this week that is about beating your own drum. It can be simple and easy - - nothing dramatic.Then do another action next week. Keep a log of your actions and how it feels to take each step. Do this for 12 weeks.Then email and tell me about it.

By Jeanine Cogan  |  February 1, 2010; 12:01 AM ET  | Category:  Aura of Success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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(I realize that some offensive outcomes that count against Ruth's on-base percentage -- chiefly errors and dropped third strikes -- would result in him getting on base without an out being recorded. So I may have overstated it when I said he made out 52.6% of the time. Still, the point stands: he failed to reach base safely more than half the time.)

Posted by: AlexRemington | February 1, 2010 1:53 PM
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Babe Ruth struck out in 12.5% of his plate appearances and 16.6% of his at bats. However, he DID make an out in 52.6% of his at-bats. Even Ruth, perhaps the greatest hitter of all time (and second only to Ted Williams in career on-base percentage), failed to reach base in more than half of his plate appearances.

Cogan's point would be correct, if she changed "also struck out 50 percent of the time" to "also made out 50 percent of the time."

Posted by: AlexRemington | February 1, 2010 1:41 PM
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Let's not extend the use of sports analogies ad infinitum. But when Jeanine Cogan likens Steve Jobs's episodic failures to Babe Ruth's frequency of striking out, she is wildly off base (so to speak).

According to, Ruth struck out less than 16% of the time, not the 50% rate which Cogan claims.

I take this as an instance of the broader tendency of corporate motivators to embrace wild overestimates of people's capacity to cope with high rates of failure and risk.

Posted by: svallas | February 1, 2010 1:02 PM
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