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March 22, 2006

Ten Questions “With” Jackie Onassis

I recently read a book called What Would Jackie Do?--An Inspired Guide to Distinctive Living. The co-authors are Shelly Branch of the Wall Street Journal and Sue Callaway, the former vice president and general manager of Jaguar Cars U.S. The book explains what Jackie Onassis “would do” in various situations.

I enjoyed the book because it provides insight into showing class--and showing class is something that's lacking in the blogosphere. Many of the book's lessons can be applied to business--even blogging! Just so you know what Jackie O. thought of sucking up, here's a quote:

Suck Up When There's Payoff Potential. Swallow hard and do what it takes to secure what you want--but only if the payoff is tangible and sizable. Recruited in 1983 to help Michael Jackson--yes, the King of Pop--write his first book, Moonwalk, Jackie traveled to see him in California. After they cut the six-figure deal, the Elegant One allowed the gloved One to escort her to Disneyland. Pirates of the Caribbean must have been painful for her to endure, but we can surmise what wafted through Jackie's mind at the time: The celebrity book would be a huge commercial hit (it reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list) and score her points as a rainmaking editor. (it did.)

My favorite section of the book is this discussion of noblesse oblige:

Noblesse Oblige for Beginners: How to Be a Goodwill Ambassador to Strangers, Colleagues, Malcontents

Jackie preferred hailing taxis to get about in New York City. And in those yellow chariots, she would sometimes lean forward and do what so few ever bother to do: ask how the driver’s day was going. In one case, she beseeched the cabbie to quit his shift in order to get home safely in soggy weather. What good is it, after all, to be a cut above if you don’t let your own splendid qualities trickle down to others?

Coddle bit players. It’s terribly wicked not to give props to all of the people who make your path smoother in life. These include the doorman, the mailman—and if you’re so lucky—the cook and pilot. In Jackie’s case, the list also extended to all sorts of minor politicos. Go beyond tips and nods. As a campaign wife, Jackie was able to recall the names, unprompted, of umpteen mayors and convention delegates. And in the White House, she stunned her new staff by properly addressing members upon their first face-to-face meeting.

Don’t (publicly) criticize your enemies or opponents. Leave such base behavior to modern-day politicians and reality show contestants. Particularly resist the temptation to bad-mouth people by e-mail: There’s nothing worse than electronic slurs, which can be endlessly forwarded. Though surrounded by enemies (political) and jealous types (frumpy women), Jackie refused to get nasty. During the 1960 campaign, she declined to take potshots at Hubert Humphrey. And two decades later, when Nancy Reagan got swamped with negative publicity, Jackie waxed empathetic, going so far as to call her to offer advice on handling the press.

Tap higher powers to help the helpless. After you’ve maxed out your immediate resources, look to your left and right, above and below to harness those six degrees of separation between you and the solution to the problem at hand. Don’t be too proud to ask an influential friend to step in on behalf of someone you know—even if the two have never met. That’s what connections are really for.

In 1980 Jackie summoned medical philanthropist Mary Lasker to help an impoverished sick boy, the son of a manicurist, gain access to proper treatment. As a follow-up to the favor, Jackie wrote her friend Mary a heartfelt note: “Now they don’t feel that they are just a cipher because they are poor,” she scrawled on her Doubleday stationery. “Whatever happens, they know that someone with a noble heart made it possible for them to get the best care they could.”

Turn the other silken cheek. Sometimes you must show people what you are made of by staying elevated when you’d least like to—say, when someone zips into your primo parking space, or snatches the last pair of Loro Piana gloves on sale at Bergdorf’s. Like Jackie, you’d do well to let mild acts of ugliness pass without much fuss.

Traveling with Thomas Hoving, then-director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jackie was stunned—and frightened—by the French paparazzi who swarmed her at a low-key Left Bank restaurant. An infuriated Hoving returned to their hotel, the Plaza Athenee, and demanded that the doorman who disclosed their whereabouts be fired. Informing Jackie of the fait accompli, Hoving recalls, “She got mad at me.” She said: “You suffered a man’s livelihood because of that?”

Mute the call of mammon. The classiest cash is also the quietest. So if you’re fortunate enough to have an endless supply of crisp bills, just don’t crumple them under the noses of those with less. This doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself of fine things. Certainly our lady did not. But wealth does require you to be somewhat stealth about what you’ve got.

Don’t gab on about money, either—yours, your parents’, your boyfriend’s—or your over-the-top plans for it. When Jackie received a $26 million settlement from Aristotle Onassis’s estate, society types needled the widow about how she intended to spend the windfall. “You don’t talk about things like that,” was her stunned reply.

To be a cut above, don’t cut. Even if your social status or connections somehow permit it, resist any temptation to leapfrog over more common folks. This means no line-jumping at Disney World, no flashing that Burberry plaid to snare the next cab. In New York, Jackie waited in crowds like everybody else—or avoided them altogether—rather than nudge her way to the front of movie-house and museum queues.

(Excerpted from What Would Jackie Do? An Inspired Guide to Distinctive Living, by Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway. Gotham Books, 2006.)

Ten Questions “With” Jackie Onassis

I posed ten questions to Shelly and Sue. They are the questions that I would have loved to ask Jackie if she were still alive--and if I could get to her!

1. What would be her favorite web sites?

Jackie would love grazing all the free content available on the Internet. Especially the kind that would spare her the need to buy a magazine or newspaper subscription (she was famous for economizing, after all). She'd probably have a login at NYtimes.com for that reason (although the print version, perhaps on Sundays, would still be a brunch-time treat). Other favorite sites would include Abebooks.com and Alibris.com to find out-of-print and hard-to-find book titles (her favorite collectible) and Style.com, where she could check out the runway action from Paris, Milan and New York fashion shows. She'd also take in the literary/media scene at Slate.com and Salon.com. Late-night, we think she'd check out gossip sites like the New York Post's Pagesix.com (she voraciously read all that was written about her and marked up the margins). Where would she be least likely to go? Any site that has a zillion-screen registration process--what fabulous, busy woman has time for that?!

2. Would she have a blog?

Blogs would have fascinated the editor/reporter/curator in Jackie, but she would never have one herself. After all, bloggers need to bare an awful lot of themselves to be authentic--something that just wouldn't work for the privacy-obsessed icon. That said, she'd probably get a kick advising her friends about their blogs—and she'd warn them that any links are really just that--a direct association to the blogger. So choose carefully.

3. Would she have her own web site?

Given that she was the primary architect of the “Camelot” theme for the Kennedy White House, she'd probably love the opportunity the web provides to present herself exactly how she'd like the world to see her. Right the wrongs, show only the best images, craft the storyline as only she, the editor, would see fit. But not under her own name--she'd have someone else post and maintain it, just as she had someone else take credit for her only “authorized” biography, which she all but wrote.

4. Would she ever hit “reply all” in response to messages beamed out to dozens of people?

Never. A model correspondent, Jackie would set the standard for email dos and don'ts--and this would be an example of the latter. Most times, we don't know half the folks on those lists, so why rudely clog their mailboxes? Even with email, we suspect Jackie would be very discreet, and also quite personal, with individual, carefully crafted responses. However, Jackie--who collected contacts well before she needed them--would probably note and keep the email address of anyone likely to yield future benefits/favors.

5. What would she make of Ariana Huffington's blog?

Jackie would surely be tempted to check out the Greek-born pundit. Ariana's political shift would probably intrigue the Democrat in Jackie (who also switched her party affiliation when she hooked up with a certain Senator). She'd find plenty of liberal logic spouted by good friends such as Deepak Chopra and enough audacious commentary to make her miss her Maison Blanche days. Another bonus: the leading-men types, such as George Clooney, who post there. Ever the intellectual, she'd be equally fascinated by the controversy surrounding who actually wrote his blog and what constitutes a blog.

6. Which computer would she use?

A Mac. As a book editor, Jackie would no doubt be shackled at work to a soulless PC--the industry standard. At home, however, she'd prefer a Mac--for both aesthetic and practical reasons. Appreciating the PowerBook as a fashion statement/accessory, she'd tuck one in a tote bag, and help herself to open wireless connections while in a cafe or Central Park (she'd likely get a kick out of imagining the headline: Jackie O hitches ride on Yoko Ono's account!) At home, a sleek desk model (and her own, password-protected wireless account) would give her new ways to organize/display/share an endless photo collection

7. Which iPod would she own?

Jackie would have a hard time resisting the iPod shuffle--even though she wasn't much of a gadget girl. She loved to mix up things in her life, never holding to the same routine day in, day out. As an avid jogger, she'd likely appreciate the shuffle as much for its size as for its random mode.

8. Would she send plain-text or HTML email?

She'd definitely send messages in HTML--she might even send her own caricatures and illustrations as a signature to very close friends. A lifelong artiste, she would simply adore the visual possibilities. She might even scan her own famous scrawl and turn it into a personal font.

9. Would she rather get an Amazon or iTunes gift certificate?

One can never have enough books--especially Jackie, who inhaled titles with astonishing speed. So she'd definitely prefer the Amazon gift certificate for herself. But as a gift giver, she'd likely think it incredibly cool to give away digital music, especially to her many nieces, nephews and godchildren: Jackie was always several waves ahead of the cultural current and she would pride herself on being hip, cool, and avant garde.

10. What would she think of her kids using social networking sites like FaceBook and MySpace?

Jackie would likely find such all-about-me-me-me sites rather sad--and perhaps a tad dangerous, given recent concerns that they may encourage stalkers (a problem she herself dealt with in the post-White House years). They promote the idea of putting everything out there about yourself, a concept that the restrained Jackie would find gauche. She prized her relationships with friends, whom she chose very carefully for their loyalty, smarts, wits--qualities very tough to discern in an online forum. She probably would surf such sites, however, to satisfy her voyeuristic side (she kept a telescope in her Fifth Avenue apartment).

One of my recommendations for innovators is that they eat information like a bird eats food. (If you had the metabolic rate of a hummingbird, you would ingest approximately 155,000 calories per day.) This means reading voraciously--and not just HTML for Bozos and Encryption for Lovers--but books like this one that are seemingly unrelated to “business.”

Plus, I guarantee that reading this book, or giving it as a gift, will impress women. :-)

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This book has been on my "must read" list for a couple weeks - I'm moving it up in importance & taking it to Tahoe to read

Hey Guy.. I'm becoming quite a fan. Great writing, great content, and always done with good attitude and inspiring others to do the same. Love it!

I was unaware of this book, but now can't wait to read it. Something nice in addition to all these computer and design books on my shelf.


Hi Guy ~ I read the book too and loved it. My favorite part: PBO = Polite Brush Off and I throw that around all the time now. I thought sure this book would become a bestseller due to the fascination everyone has of Jackie O. Am still waiting. It's not too late! Shelly is a spectacular WSJ reporter. Her time will come.

All the best,

Fascinating, and some lessons on electronic etiquette that would not be unwise to follow.


I thought Guy's definition of a blogger and, by extrapolation, the blogosphere as a whole, was pretty accurate and insightful.


I am truly inspired. :)

Thank you Guy for highlighting this book. There are so many business books written about men's experiences and how men handle situations, it is refreshing to see the application of a determinedly feminine touch and graceful approach to business. It is even more inspiring that you would recognize the book on your blog!

Off-topic, I've always wondered about your above definition of blogger, "Someone with nothing to say writing for someone with nothing to do."

I know it is probably meant in jest but the tone of the statement comes off more jaded & flippant than your books and posts would lead one to believe you are.

Just some unsolicited feedback from the blogosphere! :)

Xin chao, Minh den tu HL, minh mong muon duoc lam quen voi tat ca cac ban. Thanks in advance

Guy ... your thoughts and the questions you would pose to Jackie remind me of the great advice you handed out 20 years ago, on your visit to Ottawa. I still remember your visit. I'll be checking you blog regularily from now on. This one made me feel good!


Guy, I really enjoy your thoughts and writing. I see a pattern developing... sort of like a preacher of "good life practices" that can benefit business. I find your writing inspiring and thought-provoking.

Your "theme" has raised a question for me... can you tell us about the things you have done without receiving/expecting/anticipating anything in return; like an aisle seat, future media coverage, cash, etc?

On a global scale, my nomination for a successor to Jackie O. would be Crown Princess Masako of Japan. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masako_Owada)

I was working in Japan the year of the royal courtship and marriage. Masako Owada at that time was a highly-educated, highly-successful career diplomat. When Crown Prince Naruhito proposed to her, she realized that the marriage would entail forgoing her career, living in a fishbowl, and commiting to a lifetime of the same exacting pressures exerted by the Imperial House Agency which had given Prince Naruhito's mother, the Empress Consort Michiko, a mental breakdown.

She refused Naruhito's proposal. Twice.

The third time she accepted, in response to (as she phrased it in interviews at the time) her "duty to her country."

She has since been through 3 miscarriages, suffered from stress releated illnesses, and is rumoured to have had a mental breakdown.

How is that for Noblesse Oblige?

Nice post. Reminds me of a story about Jackie. When Nixon met Chairman Mao he casually asked what Mao thought would have happened if he (Mao) had been assassinated instead of President Kennedy. Mao thought for a moment and said "I don't think Aristotle Onassis would have married Madam Mao."

Mmmmm... yummy brainfood, like it - thanks Guy!

I'm always thinking: What would be valuable info to my readership?

We scoff at the thought of having class today. We take pride in our 'down to earth', 'keeping it real' attitudes. We make a point of insulting ceremony with all its pomp and circumstance. We think jeans and sweat suits are a fashion statement.

I think the world would be better place if more people had the class demonstrated by Jackie Onassis.


There are two Guy Kawasaki's. One on the ice and one off the ice. The two have very little in common. :-)


great post mate - this was exactly what I needed to read to bring a smile to my dial this morning :-)

Hey Guy,

I sure hope all these noble philosophies translate to the Ice for you. You cutting down on all those slashing and tripping penalties? ;)


You are beginning to get more philosophical than I thought you were. But its not just business that makes the business in the end. This was an interesting article.

At the risk of causing myself shoulder pain by keeping reading material in my purse for those unexpected downtimes, your blog is one of the few things I will allow in it. (When I find myself in a long line, snarled traffice, etc., I have something on hand to read - usually something that will help me learn something new. I'm a big believer in making the most of one's time).

As far as someone being a successor to Jackie O., off hand I can't think of anyone on a widely known level either, but I do know of a couple personal acquaintences who fit the bill.


I don't know how I come up with these ideas either. They just appear into my brain. I'm always thinking: What would be valuable info to my readership? My goal is to have the highest signal to noise ratio in the blogosphere.


This lady was a class act. I like her distinctive take on Karma.

Guy: Not sure where you came up with the idea for this but good on you....very relevant post.


Good question. I have no idea. I don't exactly travel in those circles! :-)

I'm flattered that you keep printing my blog!


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