Ian Schrager, Marcus Aurelius, Supreme, Kith, Rick Rubin, Kanye West, SoulCycle, Sweetgreen, the Wu-Tang Clan, Danny Meyer, Tracy Chapman, Warren Buffett, Walt Disney, Jack’s Wife Freda, Starbucks, A24, Picasso, Banksy, In-N-Out Burger, Intel, Tom Brady, Mission Chinese, Nike, Masayoshi Takayama, Oprah, the Baal Shem Tov.What do they all have in common? They have discovered their purpose and unlocked their creative potential. We have been born into a time when the tools to make our dreams a reality are available and, for the most part, affordable. We have the freedom to manifest our truth, pursue our own path, and along the way discover our best selves. Whether as individuals or as part of a group, we can’t be held back by anything except lack of knowledge. The Age of Ideas provides that knowledge. It takes the listener on an incredible journey into a world of self-discovery, personal fulfillment, and modern entrepreneurship. The podcast starts by explaining how the world has shifted into this new paradigm and then outlines a step-by-step framework to turn your inner purpose and ideas into an empowered existence. Your ideas have more power than ever before, and when you understand how to manifest and share them, you will be on the road to making an impact in ways you never before imagined. Welcome to the Age of Ideas.
The Start of Something Big
“These were, by their résumés, very superior people. And I thought, gee, maybe there is something here, something more valuable than just being an employee.
- Arthur Rock, venture capitalist
On a hot summer morning in San Francisco in 1957, eight of the most talented young scientists in America convened for a clandestine meeting at the Clift Hotel. They gathered over breakfast in the famed Redwood Room, a bastion of the city’s old guard. A nervous energy consumed the table, fueled by uncertainty, possibility, and fresh-brewed coffee. The eight worked on developing silicon semiconductors—a groundbreaking new technology—at Shockley Semiconductor outside of Palo Alto. The company’s founder, Nobel Prize–winning scientist William Shockley, was a brilliant but difficult manager: erratic, mistrustful, and impatient. He had even gone so far as to hire detectives to give his employees lie-detector tests, and these employees, experts in a field in which there were few, were frustrated and angry.
After considering numerous options, the men decided they must defect. They planned to establish their own company under the leadership of MIT graduate Robert Noyce, a charming, personable twenty-nine-year-old electrical engineer from smalltown Iowa. Getting Noyce on board hadn’t been easy. He was the leader they needed, but he had a young family, and he needed to be persuaded to leave his guaranteed paycheck for something with no model—creating a new company in a new field based on nothing more than combined knowledge, faith, ideas, and passion.
As Tom Wolfe would later write in Esquire:
“In this business, it dawned on them, capital assets in the traditional sense of plant, equipment, and raw materials counted for next to nothing. The only plant you needed was a shed big enough for the worktables. The only equipment you needed was some kilns, goggles, microscopes, tweezers, and diamond cutters. The materials, silicon and germanium, came from dirt and coal. Brainpower was the entire franchise.”
Brainpower was the entire franchise.....
And Then One Day Everything Changed...
THE AGE OF IDEAS
A point in time when creativity becomes the primary driver of value creation and the last remaining sustainable competitive advantage.
It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology, and we must now fill it out with the healthy half.
It’s fitting that Abraham Maslow, the man behind the concept of the hierarchy of needs, was born in Brooklyn, the city that has come to define the twenty-first-century brand for living a creative existence. Born in 1908 to immigrant Russian parents, Maslow was raised in a very different Brooklyn. His early years were marked by poverty, anti-Semitism, a toxic relationship with his parents, and a lack of self-confidence, but through a combination of extraordinary intelligence—he was reputed to have an IQ of 195—hard work, and the stability of a happy marriage, Maslow persevered and developed theories that expanded our understanding of the human experience.
Prior to Maslow’s breakthroughs, psychology had focused on what was wrong with people—their neuroses, their mental illnesses. But after witnessing the atrocities of World War II, Maslow theorized that this conventional approach was limited. He created humanis- tic psychology—the study of unlocking human potential.
Maslow’s work changed the course of psychology by concen- trating on how people could flourish by amplifying what was right about them rather than trying to modify and correct their psychic weaknesses. This cornerstone belief was reflected in his approach to therapy. He looked at people seeking help as clients instead of patients, and strove to establish warm human dynamics with them, not clinical, impersonal physician/patient relationships. With this emotional connection as a basis for action, Maslow then set about working with these clients to improve their lives.
He believed every human has a powerful desire to realize his or her full potential. Maslow’s term for reaching that goal was self-ac- tualization, which he understood as “expressing one’s creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to society” within daily life. If an individual is able to self-actualize, they become capable of having “peak experiences,” which he defined as “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.”
Sounds pretty spectacular, right?
But Maslow also stated that the basic needs of humans must be met before a person can achieve self-actualization and enjoy peak experiences. That means unless you have adequate food, shelter, warmth, security, and a sense of belonging, you’re unable to reach this higher consciousness. Not until the twentieth century had any significant portion of humanity had their basic needs met for a sustained period.
Ian Schrager & the Value of Creativity
Making the spirit soar and making somebody sort of lift off the ground and fly is about creating magic. People ask me about magic and what it is; it’s very difficult for me to say. If I knew I would write a book and sell the book. And that magic, that very elusive kind of thing, is what I try to create at these hotels.
As we pulled up to the porte cochère, I remember being thrilled. The entrance to the Delano had a magnitude and energy I’d rarely, if ever, experienced before. The valets were all perfectly dressed in crisp white outfits, the people getting out of their cars were beau- tifully put together, and the architecture was the perfect combina- tion of classic Art Deco and clean modern lines.
While the arrival alone was magnificent, it wasn’t until I entered the lobby that I was swept away: fifty-foot ceilings, a straight-shot visual hundreds of feet from the entrance to the rear orchard, and charming vignettes of whimsical seating and social areas throughout. The beauty was unmistakable, and the energy was so real you could almost drink it. Every step I took built on the drama of the experience. By the time I exited the lobby and stepped into the orchard, I felt changed, as if my appreciation for what the imagination could manifest had been heightened. I didn’t say a word for ten minutes after I walked outside. I just smiled, completely satisfied by what I had just consumed.
While the experience was powerful, as in many meaningful moments, I wasn’t fully aware of how this night would affect me. I definitely wasn’t aware I would end up spending over a decade of my life involved in different ways with this company, crafting new ideas, creating even more magical experiences. What I did know, without a doubt, was that I had tasted fully realized creative poten- tial. And once I knew it existed, how could I live without realizing my own? So I began my research at the source: Ian Schrager, the iconoclastic creator of Delano.
Schrager, like Maslow, was born in Brooklyn to a working-class family. Unlike Maslow, he had a close relationship with his parents, especially with his father, Louis, who instilled in him a strong value system. After spending his youth in East Flatbush, he headed off to Syracuse University in 1964. That’s where he met Steve Rubell, another Brooklyn product, who would become his lifelong friend and business partner. An outgoing, flamboyant character, Steve was a couple of years older than Ian, but the two meshed perfectly. As Ian tells it, “We were dating the same girl, and from the way we went about competing for her, we came to respect and like each other. And the friendship just got closer and closer and closer. I would say that from the end of 1964 until Steve died in 1989 I spoke to him every single day.”
After they graduated, Ian went on to practice real estate law, and Steve started a chain of steakhouses and became Ian’s first client. It was about this time that Ian and Steve started going to clubs together, and they were astonished and inspired by what they saw. For the first time they were exposed to the mixing of different groups of people, the breaking down of social barriers—and the willingness of people to stand in line for the chance to spend their money. This was when Ian began to sense his desire to create. After a couple of months of going out and throwing a few parties of their own, Ian and Steve decided to open their own disco—in Queens, a borough of New York City known more for slicked-back hair and slice shops than for chic parties and celebrities.
Supreme, Art, & Commerce
The Chanel of downtown streetwear.
—Business of Fashion
When James Jebbia arrived in New York from London in 1983 he had, in his own words, “no training in anything and no loot.” He applied for a job at a Soho boutique called Parachute and, lucky for us, he was hired. Jebbia spent five years at the store learning about retail, but like most of us blessed with the entrepreneurial spirit, he eventually started to feel stuck and wanted to work for himself. So he began his own venture, a flea market on Wooster Street, with his then-girlfriend, Maryann.
Around the same time, Jebbia began going back to London regularly. It was on these trips that he was inspired by the “cool and unusual things for young people” at smaller stores like Duffer of St. George and Bond. He recognized that no one was offering that type of thing in New York, so in 1989 he decided to open a shop, Union, featuring English brands that were hard to get in the U.S. He also carried an upstart brand from the West Coast, Stussy, that exploded in popularity and changed everything for Union. When Union got a shipment of Stussy it would sell out instantly, so Union basically transformed into almost a full-on Stussy shop. Through this success, Jebbia befriended the brand’s founder, Shawn Stussy, and they decided to open a Stussy-branded store on Prince Street in 1991. The store saw its own share of success, but soon after its opening, Shawn became disillusioned with the direction of his brand, resigned, and decided to sell his shares in the company.
With the future of Stussy unclear, James Jebbia decided to break out on his own once again. He found a vacant storefront with cheap rent on Lafayette Street—then a neglected part of town— and decided to open a store selling what he referred to as “skater stuff.” He called the new store Supreme.
Why did he open a skate store? Well, for years he’d been going to fashion industry trade shows like A.S.R. and Magic, and the only thing that excited him there was the skate stuff, which he described as “powerful and raw.” He didn’t know of any good skate shops left in the city, so he thought that could be a good direction. Jebbia was also personally into the skater graphic decks, tees, and sweats, so he decided to make that the center of his merchandising. What he didn’t know at the time was that the stuff he found so personally appealing would become his brand.
While Jebbia may not have written a business plan or had grand aspirations, he did have a very clear vision for what he wanted his store to be: “It needed to be an authentic skate shop that hardcore skaters would appreciate, but just as importantly a shop that people who didn’t skate would be intrigued by. And that’s pretty much how it went down.” Jebbia knew what he didn’t know, and in this case he knew he wasn’t a skater, so his first and most important hire was Gio Estevez. It was Gio who hired most of the team at Supreme, and he brought in people he knew and trusted: his fellow skaters.
Gio’s team legitimized Supreme, and from the first day the store was swarmed by the New York skate community, generating immediate and genuine authenticity. The store’s layout helped, with an open central space allowing skaters to enter on their boards. Sales started off slow, with Supreme acting more as a hang-out for skaters than a retail shop. Had Jebbia been shortsighted, he might have killed that vibe, but instead he embraced it because he knew having the skater community would lead to everyone else becom- ing customers as well. He was humble and smart enough to let his team and core group of skaters take center stage. This fostered the brand’s organic growth and enabled him to stay behind the scenes and focus on what he was best at: curating great product (or, as he says, finding “good stuff to sell”).
Reflecting Yourself with Jay Z & Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman’s music is a reflection of her life experiences, her purpose. Ian Schrager’s hotels are a reflection of his life experiences, his purpose. And Supreme’s hats and skate decks are a reflection of James Jebbia’s dreams and desires. Each of them took their own experiences—the ups, the downs, the good and the bad—and turned them into something sharable, a real-world reflection of themselves. And because it combined their purpose with their sin- gular talent, it flourished.
Jay-Z tells a similar story when describing the journey he took to share his purpose:
My first album [was] called Reasonable Doubt.... It didn’t sell massive numbers worldwide. It was still very niche. In my second album [I] tried to make [something that was] bigger and would be more popular, which was a failure. Going for that success really messed up that project and set a bad tone. It was a huge learning lesson for me—that if I was going to be successful I had to be successful at myself.... I had to do what I believed in and what felt real to me and felt true to me. Because the worst thing to be is to be successful as someone else.
Jay-Z went on to say:
I feel sorry for someone who has to walk out the house every day as someone else to make this art and to make something that people connect to. And whatever you have made is not you, you’re not happy about it, but it’s successful. Just to maintain that level of success has to be very draining and you know a very sad existence because at some point you have to go home. And when you go home all the lights are off and everything is off and you have to look in the mirror and look at yourself and say I like who I am or I am not very happy with who I am. By my third album I had the combination of failing with those pop records and the true and real music I wanted to make. And I blended those two together to make a song called “Hard Knock Life.” And that album is when I knew I could do it.
Just like Tracy Chapman, Jay-Z eventually reflected himself in his music. And it worked, both personally and in terms of listener response. As for Chapman’s amazing journey, it’s worth underscor- ing again what it illustrates.
Whether it was the kids in Cleveland or record executives in New York, she never allowed them to convince her to be something she wasn’t. That fierce commitment to her true self and vision made the music deeply resonate with her audience. She didn’t go out and say, I want to be a star; I want sell a million albums, and make money. Her aim was to make music that meant something to her, that represented her life experience, and this authentic spirit eventually spoke to millions. In the process, she fulfilled both her internal need to create, and her external need to support her art by selling records.
This core idea of reflecting oneself also applies to the audi- ence. People choose products, services, and, ultimately, brands because they see a reflection of who they are or who they want to be in them. We encountered this with Supreme. Yes, it reflected James Jebbia and the original skaters who worked in his store. But it just so happened there were numerous people with similar values and aspirations who grew up enjoying street style and skate cul- ture. And they chose Supreme because they saw parts of who they were or who they wanted to be in the brand, what it stood for, and how it felt. The more people identify with that energy, the more the energy expands. When a product is a pure reflection of a founder’s core values and the customer feels that energy, they’re attracted to that product.
We’re tribal beings. We build our identities through the people and communities we choose to associate with.
The Myth of Success
A few years ago my therapist asked me, “What do you want out of life?” I said the first thing that came to my mind: “I want to be successful.” He looked at me, puzzled, and replied, “What do you mean?” “You know what I mean,” I said. “I want to be successful. I want to be wealthy, powerful, and recognized.” In other words, I framed a conventional vision of success, the one drummed into us by popular culture and other social dimensions.
My therapist chuckled at my naïveté for a moment and then asked, “Alan, why do you believe that wealth, power, and recogni- tion are the definition of success?” He then went on to explain to me that success is defined as “accomplishing an aim or purpose,” but the definition of that aim or purpose is up to the individual.
My mind was officially blown.
Up until that day, I had never really thought about why I defined success that way—instead, I’d been obsessed with how I would attain those things. That focus on the how instead of the why had really tripped me up. It had led me to make some very bad decisions and to experience some very unhappy times. When you follow the influence of mainstream culture—television, mov- ies, magazines, and more—to elevate the goals of wealth, power, and recognition above all else, it becomes logical to take selfish or negative actions in order to attain them. After all, that kind of approach—playing the game, playing for keeps, as they say—is put forth as the way to achieve success and happiness. Machiavelli’s writings are often referenced to support this point of view—state- ments like “the ends justify the means”—but it should be noted that Machiavelli died alone and in exile.
It’s only when you free yourself from external definitions of success that you’re able to comprehend the folly of this type of pursuit. Ask yourself: What’s the point of attaining a goal if it isn’t going to satisfy your internal needs? All you’re going to end up with is some form of a trophy (money, a big house, a nice watch, some press clippings) alongside a big bowl of unhappiness and dissatis- faction. You can only define yourself as a success if the result of your actions is the satisfaction of your internal desires, not that of some superficial, outside force.
It isn’t relevant if society deems you a success—it’s whether you believe you’re achieving success that matters. For some this may mean fame and fortune, but for others it may just mean putting food on the table every night for their family and having a loving relationship with their spouse. The determining factor is how you feel and what you desire on the inside. The first and most powerful step is realizing you have the power to determine what success looks like for you. Only then can you free yourself from the myth and begin the journey of living your truth.
At first reading Alan’s book chapter by chapter allowed one to read slowly and absorb his amazing insight into human nature and business. Alan was able to introduce his ideas and the reader was truly able to relate to his or her own life and take notes as well.
Then came the audiobook and the ability to hear those words, those thoughts, those questions again in chapters. You listened walking, on your way to work.....lying in bed or at a desk. Because of the form and the reader and the identifiable music you listened to and absorbed on a different level.
Thank you Alan for being a mentor to so many in so many ways. Your honesty and your writing and your counseling have helped many to start on their careers and live a good and productive life.
We look forward to more ....when you can take the time to put your thoughts to paper and share.
Inspirational, Insightful and Authentically Original
Stumbling upon this podcast was the exact dose of inspiration and knowledge I needed on my creative journey. The episodes are the perfect length and really focuses on living an abundant life driven by purpose. As a current job-seeker in COVID times, these episodes have been helpful in staying true to my highest self as I pursue a new career path.
Really original and smart business podcast
I initially read Alan’s book Rules of Magic and was thrilled to see that he’s launched a podcast. His unique outlook on brand building, marketing and business is a breath of fresh air amongst the cookie cutter “how I built this” rip offs. Looking forward to more eps!