Taking Risks: It’s Not Child’s Play

Not child's play

True confession … I never played too much with Barbie’s when I was growing up being more of a huge-stuffed-frog kind of girl. But I always thought she was a cool chick.

Last month I found new respect for her as an icon when I heard Carol Spencer, Barbie’s longest-running stylist, speak. Carol is 86 years old and just published the book, Dressing Barbie, keeping her a powerhouse in not just the world of dolls, but also of fashion.

The New York Times called her the “most influential fashion designer you’ve never heard of.” From 1963 to 1999 Spencer was solely responsible for some of the most iconic Barbie looks. In the sixties, it was a red pencil skirt ala Jackie Kennedy. In the seventies, Barbie sported a red boho bandana dress. In the era of Nancy Reagan she donned a one-shouldered ball gown.

And then, with each subsequent movement and era, Spencer kept Barbie relevant. There was Doctor Barbie, Disco Barbie, a Jane Fonda Aerobics Barbie and even Astronaut Barbie.

What does all this have to do with you, me, marketing and life you ask.

To me, aside from the fact that Barbie has been and continues to be more relevant than I ever gave her credit for, Spencer’s own life was a revelation.

  • She said no to marrying a medical student who wanted her to put him through school and then settle into being a doctor’s wife … this was in the fifties when many options weren’t open to women yet.
  •  A few years later in 1955, as she was about to graduate from the Minneapolis College of art and Design, she learned that her application for a guest editor/intern spot at the magazine Mademoiselle had been accepted.
  •  She never made it to her commencement ceremony. She took her first plane trip to New York. Toward the end of her internship While there, she heard of an opening for a fashion designer in Los Angeles. That was Mattel, and her client would be Barbie.
  •  She worked on her book, Dressing Barbie for 20 years, through different publishers and iterations.
  •  Upon her “retirement,” Mattel made a special Carol Spencer Barbie.
  •  She’s now lecturing at Mattel on how to use style to keep Barbie to a new clientele, which they are doing with a Dia de Los Muertos Barbie (pictured at top), LGBT Barbies and even a Barbie sporting the skin condition, Imbroglio.

My BIG Brand Therapy Business Takeaway

Take risks.

Two little words that equate to one huge, scary thing!

Take them while you are young, which Gary Vaynerchuk makes a good case for here. But don’t let age stop you. Take your knowledge and make it work for you.

Did you know that a 60-year-old start-up founder is THREE TIMES as likely to found a successful start-up as a 30-year-old? And this person is almost twice as likely to found a start-up that winds up in the 0.1% of all companies.

Age doesn’t always matter. Execution and experience are. It’s hard to build strategy with limited knowledge.

No doubt you have way more than you think to offer. What’s keeping you from doing all that you want? Carol Spencer has had a long, vibrant career and has re-invented herself with a book and a lecture circuit just as she did with Barbie’s career all those years.

She didn’t let anything stop her from changing with the times. Neither did Barbie and neither should you!

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