you, a field manual

presented as two keynotes - five years apart - at Ignite Tampa Bay

you, ftw

Part I: you, ftw (April 25, 2013, Tampa Theatre, Tampa, Florida). As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, "Daniel (James) Scott… pitched perseverance. He cited Broadway phenom Stephen Sondheim as a role model as a composer and lyricist who toiled in obscurity for years. Then came his breakthrough in the 1957 production of West Side Story, followed by decades of major achievements. Attaining a vision, Scott said, “is hard and uncomfortable” and worthy of taking some risks in life." Attended by over 900, this was the largest Ignite event in the world to its date.

Good evening.

My name is Daniel and I teach visionaries to become revolutionaries via the Entrepreneurship program at USF St. Petersburg.

And tonight, I present for your consideration… Stephen Sondheim.

He wrote the lyrics to West Side Story at age 25, and by the time I discovered him around 1990, he was 50, and in just half his life to date had won:
  • 6 Grammys
  • 6 Tonys
  • 6 Drama Desk Awards
  • 3 Laurence Olivier Awards
  • an Academy Award
  • a Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and
  • had convinced a young Jonathan Larson to write what would become the international phenomenon Rent.
At 24, however, Sondheim was an utter unknown.

A staff television writer at the time, he sprang, seemingly out of nowhere, to become what The New York Times calls the "greatest and perhaps best-known artist in American musical theater."

His story, as in many others we could study, follows a similar pattern.

And, yes, it is a pattern that you can follow on your path to fulfilling your destiny.

You, the visionary.

You, the revolutionary.

It won’t be easy.

Life really is as Nicholas Klein described it… and I’ll paraphrase…

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

You will toil in anonymity, and it will build character.

You will face distractors, and they will be wrong.

It’s not their fault; people’s perception of “risk” is all messed up.

We drive every day, and most of us will never skydive… even if we are 31 times more likely to die driving.


Because our cultural perception of “safe” is broken.

Calling something risky because it might fail is like calling medicine a bad profession because people die.

Stuff happen and life is a witch.

So we attempt to explain this away with “logical” thinking… but the problem is…

Even our perception of “rational” is irrational.

When you tell folks what you’re up to they may not get it, and they will be wrong, because they can’t do what you do, they don’t see what you see.

Albert Einstein said insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

A completely sensible overview of rational and irrational, right?

Except Al was stating the exact correct definition of the wrong word, he was defining persistence.

I assure you, visionaries, you are not insane… you are persistent.

Sondheim wrote 10 musicals prior to the debut West Side Story, from “By George” at 15, which his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, called the worst thing he’d ever seen, to an as yet unproduced “The Last Resorts.”

A string of 10 straight unsuccessful musicals – that is irrational to most people.

And is completely ok.

Because you, and you alone, are the hero of our journey.

If you have not yet had an opportunity to watch Dave Grohl’s keynote at this year’s SXSW, you should.

He speaks to his own journey in life and music – winding through his rich history with Nirvana, Foo Fighters and Sound City.

Most importantly he speaks to how *his attorney*assured him that “the musician comes first” – no matter what.

And I’m here to tell you, in a similar capacity, that the visionary comes first.


Because you should always secure your own oxygen mask, and then assist the person next to you.

Because you are the responsible adult.

Because your vision lives and dies with you.

The visionary comes first.

Has to.

It’s you, for the win.

You only have one shot.

And yes, I know… you have lots of great ideas, and will have several shots.

But isn’t that a bit like knowing you are going to eat a lot of meals, and saying “well, my next meal will be the best meal of my life.”

Focus. Make *this* one count. Don’t take it for granted.

And here’s how…

Step 1. Have a killer vision… then lose the map.

You may have brass balls, but you don’t have a crystal one.

Run, unbridled, without the restriction of having to “know” the exact path.

Just “know” your vision and follow your heart – like Sondheim.

Step 2. Kill the whole “working for yourself” fallacy.

Business owners are paid at the bottom of the P&L, entrepreneurs cash out at exit, and trophies are given at the end of the season.

You, in fact, you do not work for yourself, you work for your vision.

Sondheim is a legend today, only after devoting a lifetime to his craft.

Step 3. Seriously, take a moment and ask yourself: Are you enabling the vision or are you simply enabling yourself?

Sondheim toiled for 10 years before he had a hit, 10 years of enabling his vision over himself.

It. Is. Hard.

And uncomfortable.

And *maybe* even risky.

Good news is there’s a safety net. Simply surround yourself with awesome people.

People who “get” you.

People who will support you, no matter what.

And finding your tribe is important because trouble doesn’t exist where you think it does, and one day - or every day - you’ll need help.

But you already knew that, didn’t you… heck, you’re here and you *are* surrounded by awesome people… those who allow us to take more calculated, rational, risks.

The kind that others just don’t understand.

And all of this stuff is trouble… but the *good* kind.

If you are not in trouble somehow you’re just not taking enough risk.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Peter Drucker… “People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.”

So take them, even if they seem irrational to others at the time.

Visionary Leonard Bernstein, who actually hired our friend Sondheim to work with him on West Side Story, tells us: “To achieve greatness, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”

Since there is never enough time, start now.

Get a vision, get persistent, and let’s get to work.

It’s you, revolutionaries, for the win!

you, af

Part II: you, af (June 13, 2018, Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg, Florida). As reported in the Tampa Bay Business Journal, "Daniel James Scott... said man-made rules, overanalysis and artificial deadlines hold people back from achieving their full potential and hinder growth from individuals and society." Ignite Tampa Bay 2018 was the first to be held outside of the city of Tampa.
Good evening.

My name is Daniel, and, in my day job, I advocate on behalf of Tampa Bay – Florida’s largest and fastest growing tech hub.

Tonight, however, I’m advocating on your behalf.


Because each and every one of you are amazing.

You woke up, you showed up, and that weeded out most.

Statistically, you are the 1% of 1% just for attending an educational event this evening.

Pretty incredible to ponder.

But consider even your journey as a living being so far… You started as just one cell.

By week 5, you were a ball of cells that resembled a tadpole the size of a peppercorn.

By the 9th week, you were the size of a grape.

Week 22? As big as a coconut.

At week 28, you could open your eyes, blink, and breathe.

You survived birth. You smiled. You rolled over.

By 6 months, you doubled your birth weight. You said your first word. You took your first step. You ran. You strung together your first sentence.

You staked your independence.

And for the next decade you evolve exponentially.

I’m talking physically, socially, linguistically.

Your rate of growth and change during this period is unparalleled by any other time of your life.

But then it slows.

And I mean dramatically.

While researching the catalyst of exactly why this happens, I found the answer to be more complex then we could have ever imagined. Yet, the three core, external drivers are quite simple.

Each exists for us all; however, we each choose to respond to them differently.

First, confines. These are rules put in place to keep us on the straight and narrow. While always beneficial to understand “why” man-made rules are in place, not always the case to follow them to the letter.

Second, context. It seems almost everything these days must be analyzed through the filter of how someone else will perceive it. Worse, if we are the source of someone else’s discomfort, it is now incumbent upon us to fix it. That’s like stacking the deck with no winning hands.

Third, conclusion. The idea that a due-date, cut-off, test, semester, quarter, first 90 days, first 100 days, year, decade, century, destination or even a rolling deadline will make-or-break anything other than your sanity is crazy itself.

The net result of these is that they hinder growth – both yours and society’s – which (in turn) hurts you, which (in turn) hurts society.

They are arbitrary and subjective; and, therefore, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Intellectually, we understand that these are in place to prevent the tragedy of the commons; however, if we abide, common is the result.

We comply because the underlying intent is to address inequality; however, we then proceed to assign a higher societal value to those who are different.

When you think about it, confines just favor new. Yet new is very rarely advancement. Growth is.

Christensen rebrands Schumpeter, who rebranded Marx. Reis rebrands Blank, who rebranded Godin. Have any “new” ideas yielded more innovative companies or successful startups? No.

Contextually, every moment focused on the potential reaction is a moment not spent innovating. As I get older, the more I think the only time I want to crack a Johari window is if that is the name of my Uber passenger, who SBDs on the 301, and I just have to know why I hate them so much.

And lastly, conclusions are distractions.

Win the battle, lose the war. Close the sale, tank your career. Make it pro, be forgotten without the hall of fame. Invent an idea, fail to change the world.

Wisely ignoring, circumventing or bending these three “rules” are a choice, and one only you can make.

Heck, if rules weren’t meant to break, they’d avoid punctuation.

Secret: Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine either way. But on choice leads to impact.

What are we really talking about here? What’s at stake? Growth. Advancement. Yours. And yours drives society’s. I cannot fathom higher stakes. For you. For us.

So, if these “rules” define what is possible – including the what, how and why of your work – then your job is to literally do the impossible.

It won’t be easy, but I have two pieces of advice.

First, don’t second guess yourself, and don’t allow others to do so either. There is no Kaplan–Meier estimator on your potential. There is no control variable to judge your progress. There is no standard measure of true impact.

Second, go back and watch my Ignite Tampa Bay talk from five years ago – you, ftw – for a fieldbook to guide your perseverance.

And if you ever lose faith, just turn over a dollar bill to be reminded that it takes a village to raise a ruckus, that God approves of your journey, and that our responsibility is to create a new order for a new age.

That new age is now. Redefine confines, reshape context and draw a longer conclusion. Make the impact only you can…

Be you, af!