Lessons from a bank robber

07/10/2009

Do you have the conviction of a bank robber?

Why do you do what you do?

William “Slick Willie” Sutton wasn’t your typical criminal. He was an expert bank robber, escape artist, safe cracker, master impersonator, and educated mentor. Sutton is rumored never to have used a loaded weapon when robbing a bank, nor robbing one when women or babies were crying.

Using disguises such as a policeman, window washer, maintenance man, bank guard, mover, Western Union messenger, and striped-pants diplomat, Sutton leveraged social engineering extensively in his heists. He is famously misquoted to have said that he robbed banks because “that’s where they keep the money.” Here’s what he actually said:

“Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I’d be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that’s all.”

Purpose. Conviction. Passion. Insight. Perspective.

This made me think about how we treat our own lives and endeavors. Bank robbers aren’t typically regarded very highly by society, yet Sutton has become something of a legend in his own right for the misquote alone. How many of us can say that our day-to-day activities give us the fulfillment that we desire?

What about our personal brand? Do we have a singular purpose that can be distilled into a timeless quote that will be remembered through the ages, or do we constantly adapt the essence of who we are to fit corporate cultures and changing market landscapes? Many of us know the answer.

Perhaps we should take some lessons from a bank robber.