Driving up your ROI (Really Outstanding Improvement)

Had the typhus squeezed the last few ounces of life from his limpid body, Thomas Paine might have felt blessed release.

If his biography had been written soon after he was stretched off that ship in Philadelphia, he would have been deemed a failure. 

By 1774, at the age of 37, he had lost one wife in childbirth, and was separated from another. His attempts at launching a career amounted to a series of flops. He had dabbled as a corset maker, a teacher, an excise officer, and a tobacconist. Prickly, opinionated and direct, he managed to rile customers, colleagues, superiors and family.  

Had he expired on that dockside, few would have grieved his passing. And when did die, some 35 years later, only six mourners stood by the graveside. 

But thankfully he did survive; the works that he composed in the succeeding year, ‘Common Sense’ ‘Age of Reason’ and ‘Rights of Man’ influenced the formation and direction the current liberal democracies. Many US Presidents quote Paine’s words at their inauguration, and Napoleon is said to have carried copies of Paine’s works while on campaign.

Paine found a way, encouraged by others such Benjamin Franklin, to co-mingle his spiky personality with his grand idea of a new social order and his incredible ability to write for the ‘common man.’

All of this required investment.


The intellect of man is forced to choose

perfection of the life, or of the work,

And if it take the second must refuse

A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.

When all that story is finished, what is the news?

In luck or out the toil has left its mark:

That old perplexity an empty purse,

Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse.
— W B Yeats

As Yeats points out, the choice on how we can live our lives lies upon a spectrum; at one extreme we improve the world through an all consuming pursuit of an idea; at the other pole we can improve the lives of others by being directly involved with them. Yeats believes the former comes at the cost of personal happiness. As with Paine, it may do.

But surely,  shouldn’t our families, our colleagues, our customers, and the World all be improved as a result of the actions we have undertaken.

Based on your impact upon others, what would your ROI (Real Outstanding Improvement) be if you had to account for it now? 

If you had only 18 months to drive it up, what would you do, and would be your measures of success?

Write that book?

Leave that job?

Confront that policy?

Spend more time with the family?

Simon LuntComment