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Sir Trevor Nunn

Theatrical Director

When we did this huge derring-do stage production of Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, which was -- I mean, that was an absolute last throw of the dice for the RSC. We were in such terrible financial circumstance that I was employing a company of 50 actors, and I only had money for one production, and no play has been written that provides for 50 roles. And I had a whole company desperate for work, and I didn't want to get rid of anybody. And I suddenly had the idea that I could go to Dickens. And it suddenly occurred to me that Dickens was the greatest dramatist who never wrote a play. And I could take all of that material and make a stage work with this wonderful company of actors, and we did. And a colleague of mine, John Caird, co-directed the show with me. And we had this eight-and-a-half-hour show that become a kind of legend in London, and then we took it to Broadway and we won all the Tony Awards. And then we televised it and won the Emmy Award for it. So, it was evidence that things can be born of the most extreme desperation.
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Sir Trevor Nunn

Theatrical Director

Sir Trevor Nunn: I guess the same applies to the decision to do Les Miserables. I knew that there would be a lot of people writing for the serious press, or representing the serious media in England who would say, "But, it's outrageous that one of our premier subsidized theater companies should be doing something that is appropriate to the commercial sphere." I believe that, on the contrary, it was entirely appropriate for a classical theater company to say, "We are going to take a great 19th century novel -- a complex 19th century novel -- about justice and about faith, and we are going to make a musical the like of which hasn't previously occurred. I mean, it's going to have a seriousness and a moral complexity, and a political message that hasn't previously been in the musical theater." But again, you know, just before we got started, I remember feeling extreme pangs of terror, you know. The kind of "Maybe I should call this off." Maybe I shouldn't give those people in the media the chance to say, "You see, we told you that this was disgraceful and it shouldn't happen." But in each case, you go through that cold terror and you come out strengthened by it. Therefore, when I was asked recently, "Would you consider going back into the subsidized spectrum? Would you become the next director of The National Theater?" I experienced two things. Unquestionably, I experienced that feeling of, "That's where I can be sure of maintaining my integrity, so I want to do it." The second feeling was of absolute terror because wonderful people have done the job up until now. Its reputation is unparalleled. The expectation is extremely high. Why put yourself on the line? So that, in the end people will say, "He did okay for a while, but then he did the National Theatre and completely screwed up."
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Joyce Carol Oates

National Book Award

I was doing a book on boxing with a photographer. And I was very fascinated by the material. And I wanted to write the book very, very badly. So I was in a state of anxiety and tension about writing it. And it seemed that I could not even begin it. And I tried and tried for days to get a way into this book. And I had different openings. And I simply couldn't do it. And so I finally felt that I'd given up. And I was very disintegrating and very depressed. I thought it was the beginning of the end, that I would never be able to do anything again. So I went to bed, and all night long I was thinking about these distressing thoughts. And towards the morning, I started thinking, "Well, failure is actually what most people experience in boxing." Most athletes inhabit failure, but particularly boxers. And they're punished -- extremely punished -- for instance, for failure, or a little bit of carelessness. So I started writing about a boxing match I had seen in which somebody failed ignominiously, and the crowd in Madison Square Garden was vicious. And I thought, "There. I can identify with those two boxers." And I found a way to write about the whole sport by way of beginning with failure, with the image of failure.
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Pierre Omidyar

Founder and Chairman, eBay

You can't predict growth and success -- no one in their right mind would predict 30 percent growth for another year every month -- I mean, monthly growth for another year. So we were behind on a lot of things and a lot of the infrastructure, and we had some fairly public failures in the middle of '99, and where our systems went down for 22 hours and then went down for eight hours after that. And we had a very large community then. Not as large as today obviously, but still very large, front page news. We had CNN satellite trucks in the parking lot. I mean, it was big, big. "The world is watching, this company is gone. It's going away." And I think failure of that magnitude, or a challenge of that magnitude, is really important and I'm glad that we faced it so early in our evolution, because Meg, who is the CEO -- I brought on Meg in March of '98 -- she really woke up to the fact that infrastructure and technology was critical and just really built that organization out over the next -- it was a six to nine month process for us to kind of get over that. And so I think those challenges are also really critical and really important. And what you learn from them is, of course, kind of what they say, "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger," and it's true. And what you learn from those challenges and those failures are what will get you past the next ones.
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Pierre Omidyar

Founder and Chairman, eBay

Pierre Omidyar: I always wanted to be involved with computers. My original kind of career choice, what I thought I was going to do was more computer engineering, which was, I thought -- you know, figure out the hardware and the software and combine the two to learn about computers. When I got to college at Tufts I was accepted into the engineering school to do an electrical engineering and computer engineering program. I learned quickly there in my first semester -- actually my second -- well, I learned very quickly that the engineering program was a little bit too rigorous for me. I took a class. I took a chemistry class, and I think that was second semester of freshman year, because it was required for the engineering program, taking chemistry. I had no interest in chemistry. And I had worked -- I worked so hard for that class trying to understand what was going on and study for the test and everything, and did so poorly. I remember for the mid-term I had studied harder than I had for anything else and got 25 out of 100 on the test. And it was at that point I said, "You know what, this is kind of ridiculous." So I transferred out of the engineering college and went to liberal arts and just did the pure computer science.
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