Tips From The Top: One On One With John Jacobs

I spoke to John Jacobs, co-founder of Life is Good, about his journey and his best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

John: I once drank 16 glasses of milk trying to impress a girl. Highly ineffective.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

John: The five years before starting Life is Good, when my brother Bert and I traveled and slept in an old van, selling our tees in college dorms—they had a big impact. They were full of failures, but we did our best to enjoy the ride despite year after year of pathetic sales. We learned to be less thrown by rejection, accept tough feedback, and use it to get wiser. Those road trips really solidified our belief in the power of optimism. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

John: Give praise, take blame, and tie ideas directly back to your mission whenever possible. Reinforce, from the heart, what binds you together and why your work matters. Empower people on your team to try, fail, persist, and innovate. You’ve got to cultivate the kind of perspective that can look beyond immediate projects to see towards building a sustainable organization. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

John: 1. Stay open to feedback—especially the negative—and churn it into a protein smoothie.

2. Try (versus analyze and debate endlessly) ideas on a small scale, with real customers or community members, because there’s no data like real-world feedback and experience.

3. Create tangible ways (through personal stories, events, volunteer efforts) for your team and community to feel the deeper purpose of their work. This will fortify your crew with the resilience to power through difficult times together. Your mission and values won’t make an impact if they only live in your employee handbook. Infuse them often into your meetings, projects and words; the conversation is the culture.     

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

John: “Let it out and let it in” from Hey Jude.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

John: The cliché answer is legit: Get involved with a broad cause or a local non-profit that’s personally meaningful to you. On a daily basis, though, I think we can all focus on intentionally bringing positive energy to our interactions. We attract what we radiate, and the world needs good things to focus on and build together.    

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you? 

John: I like throwing and catching, outdoor adventures, word games, and making bad movies (and even worse music) with family and friends. It’s all about connection, creativity, and community. I was lucky to experience these early, and I’m hooked for life. 

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share? 

John: I want to shout-out our mom, Joan, the true inspiration for Life is Good. Bert and I grew up in a loving but chaotic little house with our fair share of dysfunction. No matter what had gone on that day, our mom brought laughter and positive energy to the dinner table each night. She used to look around at each of her six kids and say, “Tell me something good.” It sounds so simple, but it always changed the energy in our house. Someone would share something positive or funny, and the conversation would take off. 

To celebrate our 25th anniversary this year, we’re honoring Joan by shifting the national conversation away from the negative news cycle, and we’re doing it like she would have: By focusing our energy on the positive. We’re on a mission to get 1 million people to share #SomethingGood—and raise some funds for our Kids Foundation along the way.

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