And in the end...

Fireworks Ok, I forget the quote. But it went something like, "It's not what you do NEXT that's important. It's what you do LAST.”

Lots of ways to interpret this, but I hear it as: What are you going to leave people with when you exit the stage? What final contribution do you intend to make? What are people going to remember you for?

This applies to organizations as well as individuals. And of course to musical acts.

The Beatles' final recording was their Abbey Road album. (The acrimonious Let It Be sessions were released after Abbey Road, but they were recorded before.) The Fabs sensed their days were numbered so they decided to put their bickering aside and pull it together for a grand finale. Their farewell message was their last song on the LP in which they sang, “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Concluding their band career with their biggest-selling album, their most joyful recording, and some of their most uplifting lyrics was no small accomplishment. John Lennon had said years earlier that they would decide when to call it quits (and not the fickle public). They delivered on his promise. A textbook case of "going out on top.”

Other musical acts had the wisdom to do the same, including Cream, Simon & Garfunkel, The Band, and The Police. Cream left us with a treasure of live recordings by the first (and arguably the best) hard rock band we've ever had. S&G left us with their monumental Bridge Over Troubled Water album. The Band left us with one of the finest rock docs ever, The Last Waltz. And The Police left us with their most popular album ever, Synchronicity, which included their biggest hit, “Every Breath You Take."

Also, there were the greats who died at the top of their game, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, and Kurt Cobain. (By "on top” I'm referring to artistic and commercial success, not a state of psychological maturity!)

I know I've been beating this drum for awhile, but in business the questions above are critical ones to be asking yourself—certainly as an entrepreneur but especially if you represent an organization or enterprise. What is the ultimate contribution you want to make to your community—and to the world?

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  1. The past year (hmmm . . . someone turned 55 . . . ) I've been thinking a lot about the spinning-wheels feeling I've had. What if what I'm doing right now is my legacy? What if things aren't going to go the way I hope, and instead, this is what I leave? (I wasn't planning on leaving, y'know?)

    A while back I wrote a mission statement of sorts for my indie publishing support company, Someday Box. It feels important to me, but who knows how the infinite flux of publishing will affect my level of success.

    I'm totally with you on the business lesson here. Charles Handy's "The Empty Raincoat" talks about this very thing, using the momentum of "top of your game" to launch a new game. Great thinker, Handy. (Not unlike the completely unrelated Jack Handy.)

    1. "using the momentum of "top of your game" to launch a new game." Great point. You can fold your tent and then start something new. Some folks forget this and think the purpose of their enterprise is SURVIVE AT ALL COSTS, rather than make a difference, so they just keep hanging on. Hmm, reminds me of a song.

    1. In your case, Mark, you might want to settle on something more reasonable. ;-)

      But I was mostly thinking about organizations. If you're still with the same company, you guys seem to be focused on making a societal contribution, though the company mantra is a little vague. But you would know better.

  2. Grappling with the questions you ask is more important than any specific answer - or mission statement. What's the ultimate contribution I/we want to make? Looking at that regularly is a good discipline for any company, team or individual.

  3. Would have to agree of course. But a mission statement is useful IF IF IF it animates the workforce. Entering a large company for the first time I love to ask front line employees what the mission or purpose of their company is. If they can tell me what it is — especially in their own words — it augurs well for success of the business.

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