by Dr. David Seibel
Over three centuries ago, the founders of the United States saw that the possibility of a democratic government was dependent upon the presence of citizens who had strong minds, resolute hearts, and could win arguments based upon reason, not just emotion and experience. Rob Bush is one of the strong leaders that our country needs, because he thinks for himself, cares about others, and believes in the possibility of human achievement and excellence. Many students are growing up believing that looting and lashing out trump learning, that intimidation triumphs over inquiry, and that individuals no longer need to build but need to need.
Each month I sit down with community leaders for Project Legacy who meet three criteria: neighborliness, truth-seeking, and care for forming the next generation. As founder and president of Orchard Software for 30 years, Rob Bush not only possesses vast leadership experience but also an impressive academic resume with degrees in Finance, Physics, and Economics. Rob and I are both fans of the Objectivist philosopher and author Ayn Rand so I summarized my lessons from Rob into three quotes from Ayn Rand under the sections: Creating Beauty, Pursuing Truth, and Educating for Goodness. Also, check out this video of Rob describing his most satisfying leadership experience.
#1 Creating Beauty
A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others. -Ayn Rand
In Ayn Rand’s philosophy, the ideal man possesses three distinguished characteristics: rational, independent, and self-esteemed. The rational man depends upon nothing but his own reason. An ideal man would never allow himself to act upon pure emotion. He always knows what he is doing and why. In Ayn Rand’s philosophy, the greatest immorality is for a man to allow himself to say, “I did it because I felt like it.” Rob’s success at Orchard (and previously at Eli Lilly and in his university studies) was not motivated by envy, greed or vainglory, but a sincere desire to learn and achieve the highest potential. Rob took AP Math, AP Science, and AP English in high school before heading off to University of Colorado to study physics. He shared with me,
“I was never interested in grades, degrees or class rank. I wanted to learn the knowledge and apply it.”
When Rob was in college, he had a ‘coming of age’ moment when he realized that he was letting other people determine his path in life. After being flunked from a physics class for not meeting the attendance requirement (even though he aced the final), Rob concluded,
“I was following someone else’s path. Up to that point in my life, I had not really questioned the status quo. I was not asking the right questions and was not self-aware.”
He was motivated by the desire to achieve, but he was doing it for someone else’s reasons. It was at this moment that Rob began to think independently and chart his own course for meaningful achievement.
Rob is truly a creative scholar-practitioner in that he is interested in the intellectual life of the mind but also the industrious life filled with essential activities. His creativity is evidenced by what he built at Orchard Software. He shared,
“At the beginning of Orchard, I was a jack of all trades and could not specialize. I was the leader and was also the worker. As the company grew larger, the need to have someone organizing became greater. I had to change from being a worker bee into, and I was devoting a lot of time to getting everyone on the same page and putting it all together. My strength was saying to everyone ‘we have an opportunity and here’s what we’re going to do.’ I was never a micro-manager and I needed people who could manage themselves. To be honest, I disliked having to give up the role of being a worker bee. I enjoyed going out on the road and selling a system. I even enjoyed installing a system and teaching people how to use it. I enjoyed helping the lab install the product.”
Rob did not create a great company in order to to beat others but rather due to his motivation to achieve.
#2 Pursuing Truth
The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.
Rob is definitely a generalist first, and a specialist second. He is able to speak about a broad range of topics (physics, literature, history, math, theology, and philosophy in our two conversations) with fluency. He also seems to, like Ayn Rand, be a defender of reality as it truly is. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism is a powerful weapon (albeit not as powerful as the Gospel) against today’s deceptive fog of postmodernism (the stepchild of socialism). In a world that preaches half-truths an exalts victimhood, entitlement, grievance groups, and redistribution of resources, Rob Bush sees the evidence for the goodness of capitalism.
Rob and I spoke extensively about Ayn Rand’s famous novel of the ideal man entitled, Atlas Shrugged, which is a defense of capitalism, freedom, and independence in novel form. One of Ayn Rand’s strengths (probably her weakness too) was her ability to see the truths of reality that were hidden in plain sight. She was a rugged defender of the use of reason and would have no sympathy for postmodernism’s vulgarity and manipulative use of feelings for power-grabbing.
Because I knew of Rob’s background in physics, I asked him,
“Why can we move in multiple directions in space but only one direction in time? I can move forward and backward in a room, but I cannot move forward and backward in age. I can only get older. I also can only remember the past, but not the future. Why is space multi-dimensional but time is unidirectional?”
Without hesitancy, Rob stated,
“I’d like to question the question. Your question assumes that, because time and space share certain properties, that they should have properties in common. Thus, it is a false equivocation in which your comparison of time and space is akin to comparing apples and oranges.”
He then quipped,
“If you wanted to stump me on physics, you should have asked me about why gravity works!”
Former University of Southern California President Steve Sample shared in his book Contrarian Leadership the need to ‘think gray and free.’ Instead of using either-or thinking, a leader’s mind must employ multiple perspectival frames of reference and enjoy the freedom of both-and thinking. When we discussed how companies should invest their research and development dollars, he shared with me about priorities and short-term constraints, “There’s a short-term and a long-term to most things. There should be allocated some research dollars on perfecting a current product and some on developing a product of ‘what could be.’ It’s a balance of the present (what is) and the future (what could be).
Before speaking with Rob, I believed that managers typically are only focused on ‘now’ whereas leaders prioritize what’s ‘next.’ I am seeing more clearly that both the present and the future matter when it comes to stewarding something and strategically moving it forward to its greatest potential. Within companies, some people only care about their particular project today and are not able to see the implications for tomorrow. Others are only concerned with what’s on the horizon and are not managing the day to day. A leader has the perspective to see that both short-term management and long-term leadership are essential to everyone’s success. He went on to say, “Some things bring you more dollars sooner, like improving an existing product, and others are more risky, like launching a brand-new product, yet have a higher potential for bigger returns.”
#3 Educating for Goodness
“The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life — by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past — and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.”
In my own life, a readiness and willingness to learn (grounded by my faith in Christ) has enabled me to deal with reality. I sense in Rob Bush as well that his education had taught him not just to learn well but also to live well. He shared with me a story from his high school english teacher,
“My teacher asked us how many books I thought I could read in my whole life. She shared that the typical adult reads 10 books the rest of their life after education.”
If that’s true, a person with a bachelor’s degree who dies at age 80 will have read, on average, one book every 6 years. Fortunately, Rob has chosen to take a different route with developing his mind and he regularly listens to audiobooks on Audible even on short 5-minute drives.
I asked Rob what he thought of the Great Books (the foundational texts of western civilization) and he shared,
“People came to my house to my house when I was younger to sell the World Book Encyclopaedia and the Great Books; I remember thinking that I ought to read every one of those. Although that has not happened, I have created a list of my top books before. In the year 2000, people put lists together of the best books and best inventions of the century. Someone came out with the list of the best books written in the past 100 years. I searched for people who had put lists of books together and found that Ayn Rand was at the top of the list.”
Project Legacy began as a result of my realization that my life on this earth is short, and I must do everything in my power to not waste it. More specifically, leaders have the tremendous responsibility to not waste the influence that they have as leaders on things that don’t matter. One thing that Rob and I both have in common is that we both lost a son within three months of one another. Losing a child has enabled me to see that everything visible on earth is temporary: it rusts and fades away. Cars go to junkyards, houses fall into disrepair, and our resources are irrelevant on the day when our health fails. Therefore, we must focus on the permanent things of creating beauty, pursuing truth, and educating for goodness. Cheers, Rob Bush.