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Grit, The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success: “To learn grit, play a sport”

With Lowey Bundy Sichol and Phil Laboon


Play a sport. There’s science to suggest that playing competitive sports naturally teaches us grit. Athletes quickly learn that success is not about winning all the time but rather that losing (or failure) is an important part of the growing process to become better. Phil Knight is a good example of athletic grit. As a child, he dreamed of being a professional baseball player but after being cut from his high school baseball team he moped around his house for weeks until his mother suggested he go out for the track team. By his senior year, Knight was the number two runner in the state of Oregon and recruited to the University of Oregon where he ran for Coach Bill Bowerman, his future Nike co-founder.


As a part of my series about “How the most Influential people built empires from nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lowey Bundy Sichol, MBA. Lowey is the author of the book series “From an Idea to…”, the world’s first entrepreneurship biographies for kids. A renowned MBA case writer, Lowey’s ability to turn business into entertainment runs deep. Her MBA case studies have been read by business school students across the globe and are included in the internationally best-selling marketing book, Marketing Management by Philip Kotler & Kevin Lane Keller. Lowey received her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and her BA from Hamilton College where she played varsity softball and rugby.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path

After graduating business school, I took a traditional job in brand management. But when my twin daughters were born (and eventually a son) and my husband went back for his MBA, I needed a job with more flexibility. I connected with one of my former professors, Kevin Lane Keller, the E.B Osborn Professor of Marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. He needed help researching and writing case studies for his MBA class. I figured it would be a short two-year gig but turns out there is a need for case writers at many business schools and my two-year gig turned into a fourteen-year career.

As my children grew older, it dawned on me that the case studies I was writing for business school students were fascinating stories to share with kids. One day, I took my three children to the independent book store in town and asked one of the employees (who was also a school librarian) if there were any children’s books that told the stories about how different companies came to be. She turned to me and said, “No. But you should go home and write them.”

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

The goal of my children’s book series, From an Idea to…, is twofold. One, I want to introduce kids to business and entrepreneurship through the stories of how brands like Nike, Disney, Google, and LEGO came to be. But perhaps more importantly, I want to inspire kids by teaching them that the two most important things you need to become an entrepreneur are Grit and Passion. I tell kids that passion is that thing you love more than anything else. It can be related to music, sports, computers, clothing, food, pottery, movies, drawing, or something else. Grit, on the other hand, is not only working hard to make your passion become a reality but more importantly, working hard and persevering through the really challenging times.

Take, for example, the story of Ole Kirk Christiansen, the founder of LEGO. Here’s a man who grew up extremely poor and was only educated to the age of fourteen. But he had a passion — carpentry of the highest quality. Soon after buying his first carpentry workshop, his factory burned down, the Great Depression hit, he laid off all his employees, and his wife died, leaving him to raise his four young boys alone. But instead of giving up, Ole Kirk Christiansen dug deep. One day, he picked up some scrap pieces of wood off the floor of his workshop and built a handful of wooden toys for his sons. Word spread of these high-quality toys, business grew, and two years later, Ole snapped together a name for his new company… LEGO.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Having the drive to continue during challenging times is a common theme for all the entrepreneurs I write about. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had unbelievable grit and drive when they were balancing being fulltime PhD students at Stanford and working day and night to create Google’s first search engine. Walt Disney ran his first two businesses into bankruptcy and was bamboozled out of the rights of his most famous cartoon, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, before creating Mickey Mouse. And Phil Knight sold his first running sneakers out of the back of his green Plymouth Valiant, earning a profit of only $250 in the first year. Talk about grit and drive! What if these entrepreneurs had given up? The world would be a very different place.

So, how are things going today? :-)

From an Idea to… launches February 12, 2019 and I’ll be visiting schools and speaking at conferences across the country for much of the year. I’m excited about pioneering this area in education and am incredibly lucky to have an amazing and supportive family and network of friends backing me up.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?

1.) Follow your passion. You are more likely to develop grit if you are working on something that you are passionate about. It could be related to computers like Sergey Brin and Larry Page, a form of art like Walt Disney, athletics like Phil Knight, or children’s toys like Ole Kirk Christiansen.

2.) Fail Forward. Phil Knight once said, “Dream audaciously. Have the courage to fail forward.” Entrepreneurs can’t be afraid of failure. Larry Page and Sergey Bring have created a corporate culture at Google that embraces failure as learning opportunities. In fact, engineers who take on “impossible” projects are often rewarded even if they “fail.”

3.) Read! Reading about real life stories of entrepreneurs with grit can help spark the grit within yourself. That’s what I’m hoping From an Idea to… will do for children.

4.) Play a sport. There’s science to suggest that playing competitive sports naturally teaches us grit. Athletes quickly learn that success is not about winning all the time but rather that losing (or failure) is an important part of the growing process to become better. Phil Knight is a good example of athletic grit. As a child, he dreamed of being a professional baseball player but after being cut from his high school baseball team he moped around his house for weeks until his mother suggested he go out for the track team. By his senior year, Knight was the number two runner in the state of Oregon and recruited to the University of Oregon where he ran for Coach Bill Bowerman, his future Nike co-founder.

5.) Do one thing that scares you every single day.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

There have been studies done that prove this direct correlation between having a mentor and success. Professor Kevin Lane Keller at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth is that person for me. When I left my brand management career for a writing career so I could have a more flexibility for my family, I sometimes felt frustrated and angry that I had made the wrong decision. But Professor Keller was always there for me as both a client and mentor with a challenging new case study or book project. For example, forty-four of my case studies are included Marketing Management, the international best-selling marketing text book by Kevin Lane Keller and Philip Kotler and he and I co-authored Best Practice Cases in Branding, Strategic Brand Management. As a result, I have hundreds of case studies to fall back on for my children’s book series.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

People cannot wait for these books to arrive because there is nothing like them out there. I’ve not only heard from educators, parents, and kids from across the country but also from CEOs, CMOs, and CFOs from small and large corporations who can’t wait to buy these books for their kids or grandkids. From an Idea to… will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and problem solvers. These books will change the world.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In addition to adding more books to my children’s series, From an Idea to…, I’m working on several new business book ideas for adults.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Give your employees the freedom to follow their passion. Google, for example, enforces the 20% rule, which means Google engineers allocate 20% of their work week or one full day per week to work on anything they want. Some of the company’s greatest products have evolved from the 20 percent rule, including Gmail, Google News, and Google Maps.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My goal is to inspire kids to become great entrepreneurs and business leaders and to do that, they need to be given the freedom to follow their passion both inside school and outside school. There’s a major problem in our educational system today where areas like art and music are being cut and more time is being spent on standardized tests and teaching to the test. This type of conformity defeats the goal of raising creative problem thinkers.

Many of our great entrepreneurs were not the best performers in school but they had someone in their life who believed in them. Take Jimmy John Liautaud, founder of Jimmy John’s, for example. He graduated second to last in his high school class. With no desire to go to college and few options for a career, Jimmy’s father, a Korean war veteran, gave him two choices; join the military or start a business. If Jimmy chose the latter, his father would lend him $25,000 to get started but it came with one caveat; he had one year to turn a profit. When the first year ended, Jimmy had made $155,000 in sales and $40,000 in profit. Talk about grit.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“When you believe in a thing, believe in it implicitly and unquestionably.” — Walt Disney

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: LoweyBundySichol

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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