Many businesses ultimately have succeeded or failed as a result of this tale, which tells of a train stranded on a mountain by an engine failure. Larger engines refuse for numerous reasons to help; a small engine agrees to try and succeeds in accomplishing this tough task while repeating the words, “I think I can, I think I can.”
A 2015 presentation by Alicia O’Connor summarizes one interpretation of the story: “The theme in The Little Engine That Could is to believe in oneself even when times are tough. The reason this is the theme of the story is because when the Little Blue Engine was faced with a challenging situation she was able to overcome it by thinking positively.”
In 1991, I found myself in the middle of one of the biggest stories in history. Plotters in the Soviet Union were in the middle of a coup to overthrow “reformer” Mikhail Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin found himself barricaded in the Russian parliament building with close allies. A fledgling business newswire called Interfax US based in Moscow and Denver suddenly became the only major news link to report what was going on, and share that information with the rest of the world. They became the primary link between news networks and the White House—as well as the world-at-large.
Interfax US found itself in this unlikely position because the KGB—which had shut off communications elsewhere— couldn’t shut down their novel communications network that used something called “email.”
In part because of these reports, which were broadcast back into the streets of Moscow, the coup failed. Russians rallied to protect Yeltsin and fend off coup supporters. At least that was the assessment of a Good Morning America Today producer when telling the folks at Interfax US about their pivotal role in changing the world.
My involvement started on what came to be known as Coup Monday. Weeks earlier, I had a scheduled a meeting that day to meet with Interfax VP Pam Lush about doing PR for the fledgling firm. Instead, she asked me to come in and help manage a rapidly expanding series of media requests.
One of them was Good Morning America, which ultimately interviewed Lush in detail on the program. When I was asked to provide a one-paragraph summary of why she should be on the show, I used the example of “The Little Engine That Could.” Here was a brand new business news service propelled overnight onto the world’s stage as a history-changing news service. They thought they could…and they did.
When Gorbachev abolished the Communist Party shortly thereafter, I was one of the first people in the world to know about it. I had just walked into the office to help orchestrate a national media conference with several journalists who had been holed up with Yeltsin. A story came over the wire. I watched as an Interfax employee put it out to the world. Until the story hit, she and I were, to put it mildly, in rare company.
Interfax remains a top Russian news agency to this day.
There are several poignant morals to both “The Little Engine That Could” and the Interfax US coup story:
Think you can, instead of thinking you can’t, and you set yourself up for success.
To get there, roll up your sleeves, persevere and perspire—use everything you’ve got to reach your goal.
If you fail after giving it your all, that is also a form of success. No one worth his/her salt has ever achieved greatness without failing along the way. Just remember, in the words of Fred Astaire’s Pick Yourself Up: “Nothing’s impossible I have found, For when my chin is on the ground, I pick myself up, Dust myself off, Start all over again.”
Right now, nothing could be finer.
As I celebrate 38 years in business this September, I’m recalling lessons learned and how those lessons will impact the future. In late August 1982, I asked my boss to become my first client. I had a dog, mortgage and $600 in the bank. With his thumbs-up, a marketing education gained with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and a creative, persevering brain (thanks dad, mom and stepmom Lois), I went to the mountains the next day and sat on a lounge chair in a river reading and drinking a six-pack. The following Monday, I started Mark Lusky Communications with a commitment to provide solid customer service and high-quality writing and marketing communications.
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Mark Lusky (aka The Happy Curmudgeon)
is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm. He’s a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience, and author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage.