Today’s Hero: David Pearl (and the way of the steel fist in a velvet glove)

Welcome to the Heroes series. Here, I talk about people, who have inspired me and who I think the world deserves to know better. The mini-portraits I share are my personal observations and are done completely without any input from those, I write about. If you couldn’t care less, than I suggest that you stop reading, but if that intro appeals to you, read on!

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David, as captured by the National Geographic photography legend Reza Deghati (who is also quite awesome!)

“He’s kind of like you, Claus, just better — and also nicer and better dressed. Plus, he can sing opera!”

The words belonged to my partner-in-crime, Paul Bulencea, and were spoken after we’d met David for the first time. He’d awed both of us, and we’re not always the easiest people to impress. Now, having worked with David on several occasions over the last couple of years, I’m even more impressed.

First of all, you need to know that David is a man, who will confidently stand in the middle of a group of high powered executives and ask everyone to introduce themselves by answering the question “What does your mother think you do?” — and not only get away with it, but manage to create a sense of trust and camaraderie within moments by doing so. Then, later, he’ll call the chatty group to order by bursting out in operatic song and ending a break in a way that’s an extraordinary experience in itself.

Workshop facilitator, creative mastermind, opera singer and unparalleled innovation host are just a couple of the things I’ve seen David become. And yet, I know that beneath the gentle eyes and the ever-present half-smile, there is much, much more — a hypothesis supported by a long and illustrious career that has left him a powerful voice in both art and business environments.

As an example, David has recently tried out his luck as a composer, and as someone who was lucky enough to attend that first private concert, I have to say that he was annoyingly good at that too!

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David conducting an orchestra for the first time — caught in action at his 60th birthday by yours truly.

When I (and Paul) met David, it was as the leader of a small group of high powered thinkers, who had come together to produce ideas and concepts for a big client. Or, in other words, a bunch a big (but lovely) egos, who needed a considerable amount of cat herding.

David led us masterfully and with both charm, poise and grace — but also with an elegant and understated authority, which left no one in doubt that here was the man in charge. The Maestro spoke only gentle words and brought humor and humanity to the proceedings, but there was zero chance of mistaking the fact, that it was David who was (even then) The Maestro.

During that trip, when we were discussing our first impressions of David, I remember saying to Paul that:

  1. Wow! Here was somebody, who had some of the same skills I had, but was entire levels beyond me, and even managed to project his authority gracefully in a way I couldn’t hope to match.
  2. He also had a core of strength and power underneath, that he rarely allowed us to see, but which was nonetheless there, and which only added to the respect I had for him.

I used the expression “… like a steel fist in a velvet glove.”

Now, years later, I still stand by that description, and I consider it compliment of no small nature. David can charm and delight and connect and empower, but he also brings a fearless dedication to the table; this is not a conflict-fearing and insecure performer hiding behind a polished smile, but a charismatic leader who is not afraid of saying the hard things (even if he says them in a gentle way).

I even sought him out, at the end of our first job together and told him, that he’d inspired me and that I sort of wanted to be him when I grew up.

I stand by that too.

At least he doesn’t also have an imposing beard! (Portrait courtesy of Mark Langdon)

So what does David actually do?

He hosts conferences and leads workshops at the very pinnacle of the corporate world. He writes books like Wanderful and Will There Be Donuts? (which is a business book, not a donut book!). He opens up the world in a meaningful way with initiatives like Street Wisdom. He talks, he listens, he sings, he laughs and he does it all with bravour, gusto and humility.

But why do I tell you what he does, when this video can explain it so much better?

Even David’s showreel is cooler than mine!

If I sound like I’m a bit envious, it’s because I am. But I see that as a good thing. One of the things that heroes can do for us — often merely by existing — is to motivate us and give us heights to aspire too.

For me, David Pearl is one of those heroes, and I feel grateful that I get to count him not only as an inspiration, but also as a friend.

And I will admit that I would get some perverted satisfaction out of knowing that he’d squirm a bit self-consciously in a very British fashion, when reading this and realising that I mean every word.

But who am I kidding? He’s even good at accepting compliments and manages to be both humble and grateful about it, while still taking them in!

When all is said and done, though, and all the jokes have had their skins peeled from them, and the soft core beneath them is revealed, it’s the fact that David is so wonderfully human in all his superhuman ability and presence, that makes him one of my heroes.

Because that, I think, is his greatest feat of all.

Claus Raasted serves as the Director of the College of Extraordinary Experiences, is a Coach at McKinsey & Company and has just published his 30th book; “The Innovation Cycle”. He also has a past in reality TV, but these days, who doesn’t?

www.clausraasted.dk

Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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