I think one of the most motivating phrases to ever become ingrained in the minds of a society has to be the one that came from a fictional, little green movie character who could master the ways of the Force but not the English language: Yoda.
“Do or do not,” he famously said in “Return of the Jedi”. “There is no try.” (I think it was “Return of the Jedi”.)
I was reminded of that phrase this week when I read the transcript of an interview with Robert Ratliff, one of the original founders of today’s AGCO Corporation. His comments were part of a press release from AEM, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, announcing his induction into the AEM Hall of Fame.
When asked in that interview what he considered the best piece of career advice he ever received, he cited something his father insisted on when he was just a boy.
“He prohibited me from using the word ‘can’t’ in the house,” he told the interviewer. “We couldn’t use that word and instead we were supposed to replace it with ‘how can I ?’ .”
So to put this into perspective, Ratliff is the one who has been credited with turning the failing Deutz-Allis firm—which had a turnover of only about U.S.$ 200 million in 1990—from a lame duck that its parent company decided to dump into today’s third largest ag equipment manufacturer with annual revenues last year around the U.S.$8 billion mark.
It was his father’s can-do attitude, a kind of variation of Yoda’s do-or-do-not mantra, that Ratliff credits with guiding his career decisions and strategies, those that ultimately led him to hall-of-famer status today. Without that mindset, AGCO might not exist today.
I had the chance to briefly meet Ratliff at an AGCO event in Jackson, Minnesota, a few years ago. Unfortunately, I only had time for a short conversation with him, although I would have loved to have sat down with him over a beer.
One of the things I find interesting about his bio is that Ratliff didn’t simply slide out of business school and ease himself into an office in some corporation’s executive suite. Instead, he had to start by getting his hands dirty and prove himself. He says his first job at International Harvester found him spending a month working in a “grease pit” at the start of his management trainee program there.
In order to succeed at anything, almost everyone will have to spend some time in a grease pit, so to speak. Success in any venture or career is rarely a cakewalk to the top. Being willing to do whatever it takes to reach a goal seems to me to be what Yoda really meant when he said “do or do not”. Or maybe I should say what the script writer meant.
I like the idea of removing “can’t” from your vocabulary. I can remember a couple of instances when friends, neighbours, or co-workers told me only too late I couldn’t do something I had just finished doing. Often when someone tells you something can’t be done, what they really mean is they haven’t put enough thought or effort into figuring out a way to do it; or they weren’t willing to do what it takes to get it done.
The AEM interview is posted on the web. It makes for interesting reading. You can find it here: