“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
New Zealand hero Sir Edmund Hillary and his climbing partner, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, became the first men to conquer Mt. Everest. An amazing feat! But Hillary isn’t the only New Zealander whose accomplishments still inspire me.
I am referring, here, to my one-time neighbor John Britten, who was born with a serious learning disability that made reading extremely difficult. Not able to learn in conventional schools, Britten attended night school and eventually earned an engineering degree from Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. His determination to earn a degree – and, more important, gain precious knowledge – was a sign of things to come.
Britten was a quiet, unassuming, totally focused individual. Some years before I met him, he began building, of all things, a futuristic motorcycle in his garage. His stated goal was to win the prestigious Battle of the Twins international cycle race in Daytona Beach, FL.
His cutting-edge cycle involved over 6,000 parts, most of which Britten made by hand. With the notable exception of the engine, his extraordinary machine was constructed primarily of carbon fiber, a first for the motorcycle industry.
He had dedicated helpers who worked for free, mostly at night, while holding down full-time jobs during the day. Incredibly, the actual cost of Britten’s masterpiece was not more than a few hundred dollars. Meanwhile, many large corporate sponsors spent several million on their entries.
Working while others slept was a Britten norm that was accepted by those who agreed to become involved in his projects. Toiling around the clock was his trademark. Anything short of a superhuman pace would have made it impossible for him to build his one-of-a-kind cycle from scratch in just under 11 months, barely finishing in time for the Battle of the Twins.
With just three weeks to go before the big race, Britten’s carbon-fiber cycle crashed while being tested. It was a cruel blow, a bad break that everyone agreed Britten didn’t deserve. The task of locating and correcting the problem, then repairing the bike, seemed insurmountable. But Britten and his crew again managed to overcome all obstacles, and arrived in Daytona just in time.
Then, during the qualifying run, disaster again struck. Just 12 hours before race time, a hairline crack in a cylinder sleeve – one of the few parts Britten had not built himself – threatened to end his bid for the unofficial world championship for twin-cylinder motorcycles. His reaction? After tireless but fruitless efforts to find the part in the Daytona area, Britten, who had no previous experience welding cylinder sleeves, repaired it himself.
By race time, Britten had been awake 47 hours straight. But, as events unfolded, it looked as though the monumental effort by him and his team would finally pay off. Once again, however, bad luck reared its ugly head. With Britten’s cycle leading the pack, rain forced an end to the race one lap from the finish. The entire race had to be run over.
In the restarted race, Britten’s cycle again led the pack most of the way, until – you guessed it – yet another non-Britten-built part, a faulty rectifier, halted his bid for victory once and for all. John Britten had captured the admiration of the racing world, but had failed to come home with a trophy.
But when he returned to New Zealand, he didn’t waste time focusing on the bad breaks he had experienced in Daytona. Instead, he went right back to work, rebuilt his handcrafted motorcycle, and returned to Daytona the next year. This time, he won the Battle of the Twins, a Rocky Balboa finish if there ever was one.
The victory doesn’t end there. The first commercial version of the Britten motorcycle sold for a record $140,000. Not a bad return on the few hundred dollars he had spent on the design and construction of the original model.
The moral to this story is that most bad breaks, particularly those that do not involve life-changing injury, terminal illness, or death, are no match for human intervention. As Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Man is not the creature of circumstances, circumstances are the creature of man. We are free agents, and man is more powerful than matter.”
Intangibles such as focus, commitment, and action, all of which John Britten displayed in abundance, have a way of rearranging the playing field, notwithstanding injustices harsh enough to bring most of us to our mental knees. John Britten proved that a determined individual can overcome most of the bad breaks life puts in his path.
Ironically, though Britten was a master at overcoming adversity, shortly after winning the Daytona title – in the prime of his life at age 44 and hard at work on a revolutionary new airplane – he was diagnosed with cancer and passed on quickly. It was a sad ending for those of us who knew him.
Britten’s story is a grim reminder that the typical injustices we encounter in our day-to-day lives are rarely of major importance. They could be more properly categorized as the “little irritants” that gave birth to Murphy’s Law, especially the part that states, “If anything can go wrong, it will – at the worst possible moment.”
It’s nice to know that these little irritants can be overcome by anyone who is intensely focused on a goal and determined to attain that goal. And that, in a nutshell, describes John Britten. He is one of the few people I can say I feel truly honored to have known.[Ed. Note: If you’re ready for a treasure chest of proven ideas, strategies, and techniques that are guaranteed to dramatically improve your dealmaking skills – and, in the process, increase your income many times over – you won’t want to miss out on Robert Ringer’s best-selling dealmaking audio series, A Dealmaker’s Dream.]