A to Z of Inspirational People – Part 1

A to Z Inspirational People - Part 1

I’m in the middle of reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography – Total Recall, and it’s a great read from a truly driven, focussed, and like him or not, hugely successful athlete, actor, politician and business person.

I got to thinking about other well-known people who have inspired me and what we can all learn from them, so I’ve pulled together a four-part  A to Z of people who are truly inspirational to me, but also to many others. But what makes someone inspirational? There is no single, clear way to make every person feel inspired, because we are all different and are inspired by different things. I’m inspired by many things; Nature, Music, Books, Art, Love, Passion, Compassion, Humour, Ideas, Innovation, Ambition and Business. That probably comes across in the following list!


albert-einsteinAlbert Einstein

Without us realising it, we encounter Albert Einstein in different fields of everyday life. The GPS system in our cars that guides us safely through the traffic. Our purchases in the supermarket are registered by a scanner cash register. And we took our latest holiday snaps using our new digital camera.

Even if Einstein himself did not write his most important essays for practical use or personal profit, his abstract thoughts on light, space and time have led to many technological innovations which appear to us today to be quite normal. Whether it be a music player, a television set or a modern computer, these new inventions are often based on one of Albert Einstein’s theories.

Einstein was also a great thinker and I’ve listed a couple of my favourite quotes from him below:

‘He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice.’

‘Many of the things you can count, don’t count. Many of the things you can’t count, really count.’

Amy Johnson

Born in Hull, my home city, in 1903, Amy Johnson transcended the contemporary conventions of gender, class and education to become a true pioneer in a man’s world at the time. Through a combination of brains, hard work and sheer determination, she earned her pilot’s licence and became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia in 1930. She subsequently completed many path breaking flights such as England to Tokyo via Siberia and England to New York. Her bravery in making unaided flights made her famous and a role model for women pilots at a time when very few women learned to fly, let alone made arduous trips across continents.

Her life came to a tragic end in January 1941, when she mysteriously baled out of her plane into the icy waters of the Thames Estuary. There is still some mystery about the accident leading to her death, as the exact reason for the flight is still a government secret and there is some evidence that besides Johnson and co-pilot,  a third person was also seen in the water and also drowned. Who the third-party was is still unknown. Johnson was the first member of the Air Transport Auxiliary to die in service.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Why is Arnold Schwarzenegger on my list? Is he the best actor in the world? No. Is he the best politician or the best entrepreneur? Possibly not. Has he done some stupid things? Absolutely. What he does have, however, is Self-belief, Goals and Relentless Focus. 3 Guiding principles of Think Oak!

Schwarzenegger set himself a goal of being the best body builder the world had ever seen. He succeeded. He set himself the goal of moving to America and being in movies. He succeeded. And he set himself the goal of becoming Governor of California and he succeeded, twice and without any of these things, he’s a self-made millionaire from his real estate and other businesses started long before he became a famous actor.

Through tireless focus, training, education, networking and sheer determination he has achieved everything he’s set out to do. Not bad for a man born in war-torn Austria in the ‘40’s, with few prospects.

Anita Roddick

For me, Dame Anita Roddick was one of the first women CEO’s that I’d heard of. She was the founder of The Body Shop, one of the world’s most successful retailers of cosmetics and related products. She was also known as one of the most outspoken social activists in the business world. The Body Shop still adheres to the core values laid out by Roddick, who sadly died in 2007. Today The Body Shop has over 1,980 stores and more than 77 million customers in 50 different markets serving customers in over 25 different languages. Its success put Roddick’s net worth at more than $200 million. In 2006, the company became an independently managed subsidiary of the L’Oréal Group.

From the outset, The Body Shop had a reputation for supporting social and environmental causes, thanks to Roddick’s strong personal sense of social responsibility. After stepping down in 2002 from co-chairman, she spent 80 days of the year working as a consultant in her stores and used the rest her time to advance causes in campaigns against human rights abuses and exploitation of the underprivileged.

In addition to her extensive travels and speaking engagements, Roddick was one of the first celebrity entrepreneurs to take to blogging with a passion. Her site, AnitaRoddick.com, includes extensive commentary from Roddick on activism, politics, women and entrepreneurship.

For me, Roddick proves that you can be yourself in business and be successful. You don’t need to be a chameleon and you don’t need to change your personal values.


Ben Saunders

ben saundersMany people may not know who Ben Saunders is. Ben Saunders is the third in history to ski solo to the North Pole and holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton.

He is currently preparing to lead a two-man team to Antarctica, setting out to make the first return journey to the South Pole on foot. At 1,800 miles and four months, the Scott Expedition will be the longest unsupported polar journey in history and the first completion of Captain Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting Ben, listening to his story, his experiences and sharing our passion of the outdoors.

To achieve what he has achieved takes a special kind of person. To have complete focus on a goal, a trust in your own abilities and the ability to build and trust the team of people who will help you achieve your goal.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates is known across the planet as the co-founder of Microsoft and hugely successful business person. His accomplishments are well documented in hundreds of blogs, books, articles and TV programmes that I don’t need to mention or replicate.

What inspires me about Bill Gates was his ability to predict the evolution of the home and business computer into the next generation at the right time, adapt to the internet effectively (albeit a little late!) and drive shrewd business decisions that would dominate the IT world for more than a generation. Microsoft may not have the excitement and innovation that it once had or a huge fan base like Apple, but millions, if not billions of people across the globe have benefited from its software.

More recently Bill Gates has focussed his energies on giving back to the world. Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. The foundation employs over 1000 people and had given over $26bn in grants since its inception. Now that’s inspiring!

Bob Geldof

Lead singer of The Boomtown Rats, Bob Geldof KBE (Knight of the British Empire) is synonymous with the idea of using famous people, particularly musicians, to raise awareness and funds for the plight of desperate and hungry people in Africa and other affected parts of the world.

In 1984, moved by images of young children in Africa dying of starvation, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure united a “supergroup” of British musicians and singers which recorded the single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas”. It became the fastest selling single in UK history and raised over £8 million worldwide in funds for emergency aid to Ethiopia. Since then he has dedicated his life’s work to hunger relief.

In 1985, building on the momentum of Band Aid, he organised the Live Aid concerts held in London and Philadelphia. In 2005 he organized the Live 8 concerts to launch Make Poverty History. Speaking on the events, he said; “These concerts are the start point for The Long Walk To Justice, the one way we can all make our voices heard in unison. This is without doubt a moment in history where ordinary people can grasp the chance to achieve something truly monumental and demand from the 8 world leaders at G8 an end to poverty.”

Fearless in questioning and challenging world leaders, Bob Geldof’s voice is both an inspiration and a threat to anyone who thinks the global issues of poverty and hunger need not or cannot be tackled.


Charles Darwin

charles-darwinCharles Robert Darwin was an English naturalist whose revolutionary theory laid the foundation for both the modern theory of evolution and the principle of common descent by proposing natural selection as a mechanism. He published this proposal in 1859 in the book The Origin of Species, which remains his most famous work. A worldwide sea voyage aboard HMS Beagle and observations on the Galapagos Islands in particular provided inspiration and much of the data on which he based his theory.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution based upon natural selection changed the thinking of countless fields of study from biology to anthropology. His work was extremely controversial by the time he published it and many during his time didn’t take it seriously. Darwin’s theory of evolution was a significant blow to creationism and notions of intelligent design prevalent among 19th century Europe.

Having the courage of his convictions, Darwin published his works at great personal risk to his credibility.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”


David Beckham

In a way, I felt slightly fraudulent by having Beckham on this list. Until my two sons started playing football I had never watched a football match in my life. Obviously, I knew who David Beckham was, and knew that he was a great footballer and that he was married to a Spice Girl, but he’d certainly never inspired me in any way.

But in a number of ways, that has changed. Over the last few years, I’ve seen the inspiration that he has given a generation of youngsters to train hard and go for their dreams. I’ve seen a family man, who loves his country, be an ambassador for sport for UNICEF, one of the biggest personal brands on the planet with nearly 28 million Facebook followers, and built a huge personal fortune through his personal football salary and endorsements.

Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso)

The Dalai Lama is a man of peace. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.

The Dalai Lama has travelled to more than 67 countries spanning 6 continents. He has received over 150 awards, honorary doctorates and prizes in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion.  He has also authored or co-authored more than 110 books.

He has held dialogues with heads of different religions and participated in many events promoting inter-religious harmony and understanding.

Since the mid-1980’s, the Dalai Lama has begun a dialogue with modern scientists, mainly in the fields of psychology, neurobiology, quantum physics and cosmology. This has led to a historic collaboration between Buddhist monks and world-renowned scientists in trying to help individuals achieve peace of mind. This has also led to the introduction of modern science in the traditional curriculum of Tibetan monastic institutions re-established in exile.

Three of my favourite quotations from this inspirational man follow:

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

“With realisation of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”

Daniel Day-Lewis

daniel-day-lewisDaniel Day-Lewis is one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, his work has earned him numerous awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Actor, for his portrayals of Christy Brown in My Left Foot (1989), Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007), and Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln (2012), a feat which makes him to date the only male actor in history to garner three wins in the lead actor category. Day-Lewis has also won four BAFTA Awards for Best Actor, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, three Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards to name a few!

Despite his traditional acting training, he is considered to be a method actor, known for his constant devotion to and research of his roles. He often remains completely in character for the duration of the shooting schedules of his films, even to the point of adversely affecting his health. He is known as being one of the most selective actors in the film industry, having starred in only five films since 1998, with as many as five years between each role.

In a western world filled with people wanting to be famous and not wanting to work for it, Day-Lewis is an inspiration to those who respect hard work for their ‘art’ and not seeking fame for its own sake.

David Attenborough

For those of you that are regular visitors to my other blog Life Spirit, you’ll know of my love of nature. One person, probably above all others, has been a constant inspiration for that passion is Sir David Attenborough.

The scope of Attenborough’s work now spans 6 decades! So what can we learn from this inspirational person?

When Sir David narrates his documentaries, his passion for the animal kingdom is obvious. His love for anything with fur, feathers, fins or flippers and bringing fantastic footage of them into our homes has sustained his career for decades.  His enthusiastic tone makes his one of the most recognisable voices in the world.

One of the great legacies of Attenborough’s work is the increased exposure to the importance of protecting our environment.

“The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?”

There is little doubt that many eyes have been opened to the plight of the environment and many endangered species as a result of his documentaries.  The way that he has brought animals into our homes has not just entertained and educated us, but given us an incentive to take action to protect them.

Sir David Attenborough is a genuinely inspirational person whom I have learned a great deal from over the years.  Not only about the marvellous creatures that we share this planet with, but about doing work that you’re passionate about, making a difference and the fact that there’s no use-by date on greatness.


Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler is a Tony Award winning Playwright, performer, and activist, is the author of The Vagina Monologues, translated into over 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries, including sold-out runs at both Off-Broadway’s Westside Theater and on London’s West End  and has been running for 11 years in Mexico City and Paris.

Ensler’s experiences have inspired her to create V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. She has devoted her life to stopping violence, envisioning a planet in which women and girls will be free to thrive.

Today, V-Day is a global activist movement that supports anti-violence organizations throughout the world, helping them to continue and expand their core work on the ground, while drawing public attention to the larger fight to stop worldwide violence against women and girls. V-Day exists for no other reason than to stop violence against women. In twelve years, the V-Day movement has raised over $80 million.


Freddie Mercury

Freddie_85Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 on the island of Zanzibar off the west coast of Africa. He grew to be the lead singer of one of the biggest selling bands globally of all time with over 300 million album sales – Queen.

Bohemian Rhapsody, written by Mercury, is thought by many people across the globe as being the best ever song written and is also considered by many to be the very first true music video created purely for promotion of a single. Freddie Mercury, both with Queen and with his solo work, was a pioneer of rock’s video revolution.

Mercury was an idol to his fans, a consummate front-man, a rallying figure for those seeking the express themselves through his music, a rock star to the world and one of the true British cultural icons of the 20th century alongside the likes of David Bowie and John Lennon.

Following his death, Mercury’s band mates founded the Mercury Phoenix Trust to raise awareness of AIDs and fight the virus across the world in his name.

Queen’s legendary performance at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid in 1985 remains the most enduring and recognisable image of Freddie Mercury. The manner in which he dominated the stage and the stadium, leading 72,000 people and no doubt many of the 2 billion tuning in on television through the band’s set, including one was ultimately public vocal warm up, created what is unquestionably one of the greatest moments in rock history.

I was privileged to have been in the audience of Queen’s last ever concert in 1986 and to this day is the best ever concert I have ever witnessed.

Freddie inspires people even today through his music and Queen’s anthems are played at sporting and other events across the globe more than 20 years after Mercury’s death.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale carried out pioneering work during the Crimean War (1853-1856) to improve the care of sick and wounded soldiers. She introduced women nurses into military hospitals, set up kitchens to provide suitable diets for the sick, provided recreational facilities for convalescents and improved the distribution of supplies.

These principles became the basis for the way the Red Cross worked in later wars.

One of Florence Nightingale’s greatest achievements was to raise nursing to the level of a respectable profession for women. In 1877 the War Office decided to increase the number of women nurses employed in military hospitals after perseverance by Florence Nightingale in the face of official opposition.

Florence Nightingale is a true inspiration. She was a real leader, not only of nurses but of women, at a time when many things were almost impossible for women. She managed to get many changes by using statistics. She was one of the first people to use pie charts, to demonstrate simply that more soldiers in the Crimea were dying from infection than from their wounds. She was able to work on a broader canvas and we need that kind of inspiration for nurses today, about understanding the impact of people’s lifestyle and emotions, as well as their physical needs.

I hope you enjoyed part  1 of this A to Z. Part 2 here!


Focus on Focus

FocusBill Gates achieved monumental success with Microsoft, and attributes “focus” as the key to his success. He stated “maintaining focus is a key to success. You should understand your circle of competence and spend your time and energy there…I’ve learned that only through focus can you do world-class things, no matter how capable you are.”

There are many reasons why a person loses focus while pursuing their goals. The constant distractions in today’s world mean that maintaining focus can be very difficult. Distraction of work, home, friends, socialising, events and everything else constantly compete for our attention and dedicated time. It takes time to stay focused on achieving our goals and it’s so easy to fail in our attempt to maintain enough momentum, desire, energy and persistence needed to achieve our goals. As a result we often give up and think our goal is unachievable.

Another reason why we might lose focus in pursuing our goals is that we may talk ourselves out of pursuing our dreams. When we first begin pursuing our goals, we may be motivated by the fact that we are improving our lives and achieving our wishes and dreams. Shortly after starting the process of taking action towards achieving our goals, we can often begin to question the plausibility of achieving what we want. As soon as we start questioning our ability, we start to lose focus.

Create SMART Objectives

Specific – Objectives should specify what they want to achieve clearly.

You may want to achieve an increase in revenue of 5%  in the next 12 months.

Measurable – You should be able to measure whether you are meeting the objectives or not.

A 5% increase over 12 months means that each month revenue targets can be measured against a specific goal.

Achievable – Are the objectives you set, achievable and attainable?

Is the 5% objective for the 12 months achievable? Does the you have the resources, man power and finances to achieve it?

Realistic – Can you realistically achieve the objectives with the resources you have?

Is the 5% objective over a 12 month period realistic or does the company need longer? Does the company have the skills and resources to achieve this over the time period set.

Time – When do you want to achieve the set objectives?

In our example the company have set themselves a period of 12 months to achieve the 5% revenue target.

Build your Plan. Your plan becomes your road map and helps you determine the best course to follow. Build your plan with enough detail to ensure that your activities are aligned clearly to your SMART objectives and can be tracked.

Minimise Distractions. Get rid of as much temptation as possible that deviates from your focus on your goal. Use every method you can think of to remove distractions from your situation and it will certainly help your focus. Ensure that you don’t take on further work unless you are clear that it won’t impact your objectives.

Measure Your Progress. You can’t control your progress unless you can measure it. Create a system and timetable to measure your progress against your plan. Record your progress, daily if necessary. This can tell us if we are on track or if we need to make adjustments to either our plan or activities. Be honest with yourself. Moving dates and activities out and recalibrating to ‘Green’ is not the way to hit targets.

Prioritise your Goal. Focus on a few goals at one time. Try not to overburden yourself as it will limit your chance of achieving your goal and demotivate you. Concentrate on the important ones first, achieve them and then you can look at addressing the other goals.

Work your Goals into your Daily Plan. Do something towards achieving your goals every day. The best way to achieve your goals and maintain your focus is to do something that will make it happen each and every day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes each day, it is better than not doing any goal related activity at all. Give your goal daily attention and you’ll remain more focused and at a better chance of achieving your ambitions.

Celebrate your Milestones. Mark your successes and acknowledge your progress towards your desired goal. Set milestones and as you achieve them reward yourself and / or your team. This will motivate you and make you see your milestone in a very positive way.

Sustain your Energy and Motivation

The importance of maintaining your energy and motivation today cannot be overstated. We have seen the impact that the lack of consumer confidence is having on our economy. When people feel uncertain about the future they stop spending money and the result further weakens the economy. The same is true of our goals. When we are not feeling confidant and positive about our prospects we stop spending energy on our goals, which results in set-backs, which further reduce our confidence. The result is a downward spiral similar to what we are seeing in the economy. There is an important difference though, while we cannot control the economy, we can control how we spend our energy.

Look out for a future post on how to manage your personal energy!

Top 3 Qualities of a Leader

Thanks to all of you that contributed to my recent poll on Leadership Qualities. The results are in, and the top 3 qualities voted for by Think Oak! followers are:Leader, Leadership, Qualities

1. Great Communicator

Great leaders know how to deliver their message in a way that will create a lasting impact on the people who are listening to them. They are also great listeners. I’ve met many ‘leaders’ that really haven’t grasped the ability to listen effectively. They are too busy thinking about what to say next and they fail to grasp the valuable feedback and ideas that are given to them. Poor communication nearly always results in a poor decision and the end result is a poor outcome.

Powerful, effective leaders know when to talk, when to listen, when to observe – and use all the vital communication skills of leadership well.

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” –Ken Blanchard

2. Visionary

Visionaries who are successful at delivering their goals base their leadership on a new positive future they have created within their mind, as well as a clear sense of direction as to how to get there. A visionary leader is good with actions as well as words, and so can bring his/her vision into being in the world.

Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) once said that shortly after he joined the company, he was having second thoughts. Bill Gates and Gates’ father took Ballmer out to dinner and said he had it all wrong. They said Ballmer saw his role as that of a bean counter for a startup. They had a vision of putting a computer on every desk, in every home. That vision — a computer on every desk, in every home—remains consistent to this day.

3. Integrity

As a leader, you only can prove your integrity by the actions that you take and the decisions that you make. Integrity speaks by itself and it reflects on all your actions and decisions.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes on Leadership by Peter Drucker:

‘Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.’

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