This month we draw upon the wisdom of a scientist, a professional athlete, a rock musician, and the CEO of a major corporation to share with us their personal secrets of excellence. Each one of these individuals offers a single insight on how a particular practice has helped them achieve personal success in their chosen fields. From these four distinct individuals we gain four pieces of wisdom to help us navigate ourselves to a winning and prosperous life in 2009.

For our first piece of wisdom we hear from Daria Hazuda, scientific director for the giant multinational pharmaceutical company Merck. For most of us, failure is a disappointment, but not to Daria. She explains her approach: “For me, a failed experiment is actually a rich source of information. People tend to focus only on positive results. But if you look at people in the drug-discovery business who are successful, it is often those who also learn from the negative. They take all that information and synthesize it in a holistic way.” One of Hazuda’s fellow researchers at Merck, Amy Espeseth, adds, “What’s unique about Daria is that she’s a very creative, nonlinear thinker. A lot of people in science do things in a step-by-step way. With Daria, it’s kind of like a chess game; her moves show she’s thinking a few steps ahead of everyone else.”

40622700 - silhouette of paraglide flying over the high mountains in a light of sunrise. ukrainian carpathian valley.For her part, Hazuda says she begins with simple curiosity. “I really try to understand the basic biology and chemistry of how the different enzymes work. There were dozens of publications on enzymes that other researchers had discovered, but none of them worked against the HIV virus. I was trying to learn from what some really fantastic scientists had done. I tried to understand why those particular approaches weren’t successful, and then I used those lessons to develop a different approach.” This different approach helped Hazuda develop one of the first successful drugs in treating HIV. Studying what didn’t work led to her success.

Wisdom learned: Failure is valuable information. Don’t ignore it or miss its lessons.

For our next piece of wisdom we go to Adam Vinatieri, kicker for the Indianapolis Colts. Adam may well be the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history. In his 13-year career he’s been to four Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, and won two with last second kicks. His grace under pressure has earned his the nickname “Iceman.” He explains the importance of focusing your efforts. “I know exactly what I need to do to help me do my job. The older I get—and let’s face it, it’s a young man’s sport—I do a lot more stretching, including Pilates and yoga. I need to be flexible to avoid injury, and for my follow-through. I don’t have to run as long and fast and as far as a receiver does. It’s not my job. My job is to build fast twitch muscles so I can kick the ball a long way. In my third year as a professional I missed an important field goal that would have won us the game. I was down about it but my coach told me that everyone who’s great has missed a kick that has cost his team the game. It’s about how you respond after that which is the key. Don’t get too high in the good times or too low in the bad because you will experience both. You must stay focused with the same intensity throughout every part of your job. Stay focused on excellence. Stay committed. Do what needs to be done to be successful. It’s really that simple.”

Wisdom learned: Stay focused on excellence. Don’t let setbacks disrupt your progress.

For our third piece of wisdom we go to Robert Trujillo, bassist for Metallica. Befitting a musician who has played in all kinds of bands, from hard-core punk (Suicidal Tendencies), to old school metal (Ozzy Osbourne), to his most recent place in Metallica, Trujillo listened to “almost everything” growing up. But he says he finds inspiration by watching masters in disciplines far removed from the music world. “Muhammad Ali, for the way he had to use his smarts and the way he moved. I love Kelly Slater, the surfer who’s the Michael Jordan of the sport, and author H.P. Lovecraft, who had an amazing creative influence on so many. All of them fuel me when I’m playing. I feel the magic of those and others when I’m performing. It’s an injection, a mixture of all those that moves me.” Those of you who have been long time viewers of this website know well the importance of role models in helping us achieve our success. We thank Trujillo for reiterating this important point.

Wisdom learned: Be inspired by others; let them lead you to greatness.

For our final piece of wisdom let’s go to Hector Ruiz, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices. Since Ruiz took over as AMD’s CEO in April 2002, the AMD microprocessor has increased its market share dramatically and now challenges Intel, which is six times the size of AMD. His piece of wisdom is to embrace ambiguity and change. “Part of my job is to make people comfortable with change and ambiguity. That sounds counterintuitive. A lot of people think CEO’s have to be absolutely crisp and perfect on what they want. Quite often my people push back, but I don’t like spelling out exactly what people need to do. I think that boxes them. I challenge them to go off in different directions and to experiment. You can never be really creative unless you are comfortable with taking on new challenges and going in directions that have no defined goal or benefit, but you do them simply to see where it leads you.” Almost every successful person I know will echo these sentiments. We need to be comfortable with change and the best way to demonstrate this is to be constantly creative in work, play and every other aspect of our life.

Wisdom learned: Be creative in your life and be comfortable with change.

Four pieces of wisdom to take with us into the New Year to aid us in achieving our goals. Happy New Year everyone.