As Damien Chazelle was accepting his Academy Award recently as the youngest director to ever win the award, I sat with my computer on my lap watching the Oscar broadcast and munching on Junior Mints. I was multi-tasking, like I do most nights these days, trying to put the never-ending “finishing touches” of my first book: Dare Mighty Things: A Field Guide for Millennial Entrepreneurs. (Yes, I know … intentional plug!)
But this plug has a legit purpose. The reason my head snapped up as I was in the middle of one of my millennial profiles, is that I immediately heard — or thought I heard — something that was a major element my research was showing. I was fascinated that the very first thing he did was genuinely thank the team. Not the producers, his agent or the studio — but the people who worked with him every single day to make this happen. He did this individually, and by name — with little regard for the timer on his speech.
I was struck by the uniqueness of this gesture. How it flies in the face of so many stereotypes of millennials in general, and entrepreneurs specifically. Here was a 32-year-old writer-director who has achieved the seemingly impossible. Having been nominated twice for writing and directing before he was 32, and won a directorial awards on just the second try. (And for just a few seconds, also won Best Picture!) It made me wonder how many others of the nine key attributes I am finding in my research and interviews for this book would hold true for Damien.
I stopped working on the computer, and paused the TV screen to really look at this young guy. I thought back to what I had read about him when he first wrote ‘Whiplash”, and later wrote and directed LA LA Land. It really seemed like this was a fellow who had a clear vision of what he wanted. He had the courage to dare to break the convention of what it meant to make a Hollywood musical. He showed the creativity and tolerance for ambiguity to be resourceful when the need arose, and break the rules when the need required. He displayed persistence, strategic thinking and the guile to fake it, until he made it.
This, I literally said out loud, was a perfect candidate for a profile in the DMT Field Guide. He personifies — I declared, what it would look like to have this prototypical version of a millennial entrepreneur play itself out on a really big stage. So, I set about to do some research. I spun the dial on the search-engine gizmo and found out what I could about this film over-achiever.
And at each click along the digital journey, I was not disillusioned about what I learned. I discovered more about a kid who attended Harvard to study film and made an impression his freshman year with his professors. Did they say they remembered him because he was now a massively popular guy? It’s hard to say, but it sure seemed like they had some vivid memories of a student working harder than the person next to him and seeking out more and more difficult challenges, ‘just for the fun of it.’
The field guide is intended to inspire and give hope to young millennials seeking to chart their own entrepreneurial path. One of Chazelle’s college professors said of his former student; that achieving this type of recognition at an early age “inspires and gives hope to the students and other alumni.”
This kind of affirmation seems like an extraordinary connection to the type of findings I’m picking up by chatting with so many millennial-aged entrepreneurs across the country. The connection and consistent theme of Chazelle having a vision of what he wanted to achieve, and then setting about to see that vision through, strikes such a profound chord with the 12 profiles in the field guide. It is something, I am convinced, that entrepreneurs of all ages can apply.
Congrats to Damien, and all of the other risk-takers who are out in the world right now taking chances, and making plans to conquer something when everyone is telling you it can’t be done. Don’t listen to them. Listen to your heart. Dare Mighty Things. You’ll be glad you did.