My father taught me everything that I know about taking risks. When he graduated from high school, he couldn’t afford to go to college. He became a messenger boy at Eastman Kodak, running notes up and down the company’s 19-story office tower. Part of his job was to clean and refill the inkwells in the executive offices. One Friday, his boss said, “Ed, can you type?” My father immediately said, “Yes!” – although he had never touched a typewriter before. That evening, he borrowed his sister’s typewriter, and spent the entire weekend teaching himself how to type. He couldn’t learn everything in a weekend, so he concentrated on learning the letters. But when he went in on Monday, the company put him in the billing department – typing numbers!
When someone offers you a challenge, don’t think of all the reasons why you can’t do it. Instead, say, “Yes!” Then figure out how you’ll get it done. Early in my own career at Kodak, I was writing a report to explain a complicated reorganization process. At the end of the day, my boss asked me what I thought about the reorganization. I told him that I thought it was a good idea but that I felt sorry for the poor guy who had to run the instant-photography division – which had been losing several million dollars a year. He then asked, “Well, how would you like to be that poor guy?” It was like someone asking me, “Can you type?” I said, “Yes!” I had no idea how to be a general manager. Was I taking a big risk? Absolutely. But my team and I turned the business around within 15 months. We developed new products and achieved excellent results. I wasn’t going to let fear or doubt keep me from saying, “Yes, I can type.”