Robert L. Dilenschneider is the author of the new book Nailing It: How History's Awesome Twentysomethings Got It Together. His other books include Decisions: Practical Advice from 23 Men and Women Who Shaped the World. He is the founder of The Dilenschneider Group, a corporate counseling and PR firm, and the former president and CEO of Hill & Knowlton.
Q: What inspired you to write Nailing It, and how did you choose the people to profile in the book?
A: Conditions around the world are changing so rapidly that we need to rethink how we approach the future and how we go for success.
Nailing It tells the stories of 25 men and women from around the globe who started with modest means and who helped change the world.
I generated a field of several hundred who fell into the category and picked the ones that are in the book because they seemed to have most appeal and provide the best lessons.
The idea is to inspire young people and help them recognize that they can make a difference. For the more mature this book offers a snapshot of history in the making.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: In-depth research was done on each one of the individuals cited. The challenge was to make what we had to offer in three or four pages.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn about two people in the book who resisted the roles that others assigned them: Akio Morita and Rita Levi-Montalcini.
Morita was expected to take over his family’s centuries-old business, following the example of 15 generations of his predecessors. Levi-Montalcini was supposed to become a traditional wife and mother, not even going to college; certainly not becoming a doctor. Carving their own paths, Morita founded Sony and Levi-Montalcini won a Nobel in medicine (and became neither a wife nor a mother).
Q: What do you think made these figures find success early in life?
A: Determination is key. In almost every case these men and women took prudent risks, were oblivious to criticism, and exercised a laser-like focus on their objectives.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I want readers to take away the idea that at any stage of your life you can start something and make it successful.
My hope is that the stories in the book will help every reader realize that there are many paths forward. Some paths are smooth, while others are rocky. Some are routine and quotidian, others are novel. Some seem to go around in circles. Some require daring, bravery, and rebellion.
Whether you are a young person, or someone who loves a young person and wants to help him or her—or whether you are an “old” person taking stock of things—know that each path is unique, just as each person is unique.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently working on two new books.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Robert L. Dilenschneider.