Building a (Truly) Brilliant Brand – Impacting the World

Larry Brilliant, MD, MPH

There are some stories which appear to be so outside of the realm of reality that they are assumed to be a Hollywood movie script. Then there are stories that are so incredible that not even the creative minds that fuel Hollywood could write them with a straight face. Such is the story of Larry Brilliant.

Seriously – Larry Brilliant. Just the name makes most think that the man must be a fiction character – but no. Larry Brilliant was born on May 5, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan. He was a student at the University of Michigan when, at the age of 19, his father died of cancer. Grief-stricken, Larry spent most of his time in his dorm room, eating junk food and lamenting his loss. During a rare journey outside of his ‘cave of despair’, he ventured into the talk of a speaker whose appearance was sponsored by the University.

Turnout for the event was very light – which disappointed the University organizers but did nothing to stem the enthusiasm of the speaker. He urged the 60 students in attendance to come forward to the stage and then he spoke for six hours. This was another detail that seems to be part of a movie script, however, it merely reflected the intense passion of the speaker – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King spoke of the arc of the moral universe and how that arc had to be shaped – how people would have to be influencers.

The talk was the catalyst which started Larry on a journey of seeking self-enlightenment and spirituality which would transform the lad and in turn, millions throughout the world. He became a civil rights activist, marching and protesting in the pursuit of improved human rights. Larry had earned his M.D as well as a Master of Public Health degree (MPH). He answered the call for a doctor to tend to the health needs of a pregnant woman during the “Indians of All Nations” occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1970. Not only did he deliver the baby, he saved the life of a former Green Beret who had attacked him while on the island.

Already improbable, Larry’s life story had barely begun to unfold. After Alcatraz, he was cast as the ‘Rock Doc’ in an actual movie – Warner Brothers Medicine Ball Caravan. The movie featured rock icons, The Grateful Dead, B.B. King, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull to name a few. After the film, Larry traveled by bus through Europe with two dozen other seekers, including Woodstock’s Wavy Gravy. A failed effort to bring relief to Bangladesh left Larry in India for two years studying with a Hindu sage, Neem Karoli Baba. Baba told Brilliant that his destiny was to cure smallpox. 

With that, Larry headed to the World Health Organization (WHO) offices in New Delhi. He had no knowledge of smallpox and no training in disease eradication. Turned away thirteen times, Brilliant was finally accepted into a low-level position at the WHO. His passion, leadership, medical knowledge and collaboration skills led him to a key role within the team fighting the disease. The research team had people from 170 countries, including nations in serious political turmoil with each other. Religion, race, age, politics were all put aside in deference to finding a cure. The combined efforts of these people ultimately led to the eradication of smallpox. 

Larry Brilliant, sparked by the passionate vision of a then little known preacher, found his life’s purpose, acted on that vision and helped to end one of the world’s deadliest killers. He found his purpose and used his talents to deliver extremely relevant value to the world as a whole. It’s that combination which makes Larry Brilliant a fearless brand.

Fearless Brands can make Hollywood scripts appear tame

The end of smallpox wouldn’t be the end of Larry Brilliant’s impactful and noble works. Brilliant created Seva, an organization which brought sight to over four million blind people. As the head of Google.ORG he won a TED award. He went on to found the Skoll Global Threats Fund whose mission is to confront global threats like: pandemics, climate change, clean water needs, nuclear proliferation and more. 

Brilliant is a professor at the University of Michigan, the honorary chair of Skoll, he was a volunteer assisting in the recovery of the Sri Lankan tsunami and played a key role in the fight against polio in India. Most recently, Larry Brilliant has published his book Sometimes Brilliant, which, not surprisingly, is receiving rave reviews. 

It’s obvious that Brilliant’s real-life story easily overshadows even the most ambitious Hollywood script. There is much to learn about branding – and life – from Larry Brilliant’s life and accomplishments. 

Be a seeker – Finding one’s purpose is rarely instantaneous. It takes persistence. It requires experience. Of utmost importance is to be a pursuer. Seek your purpose – don’t stop until it’s discovered. Once it is, realize that you must continue seeking how to expand and refine your efforts. Ask yourself this – “Have I found my ultimate purpose in life? What more can I do to add value to the world – my world?”

Make your dream bigger – Any dream is worth pursuing so don’t overlook the small dreams that you have. As they say, “From tiny acorns tall oaks grow.” Ask yourself this – “How can this dream be bigger? How can I increase the impact of my efforts? How do I create and deliver greater value?” 

It Takes a Little Crazy to Make a Difference” – You may recognize this as the title of a book by Dafna Michaelson-Jenet, another Friday’s Fearless brand, whose message rings true. Throughout Brilliant’s life, many thought him to be a little crazy – actually, that’s likely an understatement. When he was turned away from the WHO, his beard was to his knees and his dress was literally perceived to be a dress. Heading to Alcatraz to assist in a Native American woman’s childbirth seemed crazy to many. However, it was his unbridled commitment to finding his life’s purpose which led to some of the greatest accomplishments the world has ever seen. Don’t be afraid to be a little crazy – push past your comfort zone.

By now, you should know you were mistaken if you doubted that Larry Brilliant’s life actually made Hollywood scripts appear lame. By pursuing and embracing his purpose in life; by leveraging his many talents and learning more; by seeking relevant ways to bring value to the world, Brilliant has touched millions of lives. Fearless brands make an impact in this world. Some results are mind-boggling, others seem to pale by comparison. Those who have built their own fearless brand add true value in their world and are fulfilled by the impact that they make. Grow your fearless brand – add your brilliance to the world!

Branding Personal Branding

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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