3 Lessons We Can Learn from Norman Borlaug

Apr 11, 2013 | Miscellaneous

Farmer TagNorman Borlaug has taught me a lot over the years. How much? Well, enough that I’ve talked about him in three of my books (The Butterfly EffectThe Boy Who Changed the World, and The Lost Choice).

For those of you who are not familiar with Norman Borlaug, he was the person who hybridized corn and wheat for arid climates. It has been calculated that, over the years, his efforts have helped save the lives of over 2 billion people across the world from famine.

Recently, however, I was amazed to discover there was even more wisdom he had to offer when we had his granddaughter, Julie Borlaug, as a guest on our In the Loop podcast. (Julie, by the way, is amazing in her own right!)

Not only was it amazing to be able to talk to an actual family member who spent time and worked with Norman (Julie continues the work Norman started by working at the Borlaug Institute at Texas A&M), but there were three nuggets of wisdom I took away from the interview that I want to share with you now in more detail:

1. Once again, we have confirmation that persisting without exception pays off.

At this point, we already have proof that persistence is a principle that yields amazing results when applied to your life. Yet I am still captivated any time I hear another real-life story where persistence led to something truly incredible happening.

In Norman’s case, he made his big breakthrough with a technique called “shuttle breeding” after everyone told him it was never going to work. By that time, he had been fired and even quit a few times. But he always kept coming back for more, no matter how many times it seemed like he had failed.

2. We shouldn’t overlook the ability of young people to come up with solutions to our greatest problems.

This is a great reminder for all of us. Norman was only in his 30s when he had his major shuttle breeding breakthrough.

It’s easy to overlook young people and dismiss them as inexperienced. What I’ve often found, though, is that if you give them a chance, you will be surprised by the results.

One of my favorite quotes is from Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World:

“Experience is overrated, usually by old men who nod wisely and speak stupidly.”

Obviously, experience should not be undersold. It can be extremely valuable. But if it’s all you are focusing on, you’ll never be able to recognize potential.

3. “Mediocrity” might as well be a four-letter word.

According to Julie, this was Norman’s least favorite word. I was practically jumping up and down when she said this, because it falls right in line with the “average vs. extraordinary” conversations we’ve been having.

You have the opportunity to do something extraordinary. Whether you’re going to influence your children and inspire them to do extraordinary things, or launch a business that provides a huge amount of value to society, or simply smile at strangers and brighten their day.

Just as Norman Borlaug’s story proves, your actions create a butterfly effect that can influence the lives of billions, both now and in the future. If you’ve been settling for mediocre, it’s never too late to change. Why? Because you’re still here. And if you’re still here, that means the very purpose for which you were created has yet to be fulfilled.

Your best days can still be ahead of you. What are you going to do with them?


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