The Poem That Shaped My Approach to Life and Leadership

Sivan Hermon
6 min readApr 12


I am the third child and youngest sibling. I am seven years younger than my beloved elder sister. When I was nine years old, I remember visiting her room and noticing a paper scrap she had hung on her wall. It was a poem about the power of positive thinking (or the power of negative thinking, depending on your viewpoint 🙂).

Photo by Amazon Seller (link)

Thinking / “The Man Who Thinks He Can” by Walter D. Wintle:

“If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think you dare not, you don’t,
If you like to win, but you think you can’t
It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost
For out of the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow’s will
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are
You’ve got to think high to rise,
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the man WHO THINKS HE CAN!”

This poem, though it was many years ago, left an indelible impression on me. I found myself quoting it years later. The first time I can recall was when my partner and I wanted to move to the United States. A friend came to visit us in our Tel Aviv apartment and shared that he was moving to New York. I got all excited, turned to my partner (now husband), and said, “We should do what he’s doing!” Instead of jumping into the excitement with me, my partner surprised me with real talk. He said, “There are a million Israelis around us who are eager to relocate to the US. What makes us different? Why should we succeed where others failed?”
The first thought that ran through my head was: “Because we are us!”
The next one was: “If you want something enough, you will find a way to make it happen!”. And then that poem popped into my head: “If you think you are beaten, you are.” — “let’s not fail before we failed or even tried”, I replied.

Photo by Andrew Neel

Fast forward many years later, while I was working for Google (more about our separation here), I found myself thinking about the poem and referring to it at least monthly. I was leading a 100+ person software product organization, overseeing about 20 products in different stages of the development lifecycle. Too often during planning someone in a meeting would say something like, “It won’t work” or “I don’t think it will work.” I heard and read variations of pre-defeat way too many times.

I understand why my peers would be more prone to predict failure and less likely to take risks. That is the sad impact of Google having a huge target on its back, frequent lawsuits, and negative press releases. The company developed risk aversion, which slowly percolated into Googlers’ behaviors significantly decreasing their tolerance for risk. Whatever the backstory was, it did not make pre-failing ok in my book. Every time I heard someone predicting something would fail, the Thinking poem echoed in my head:

If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think you dare not, you don’t,
If you like to win, but you think you can’t
It is almost certain you won’t.

In March 2020, when COVID hit, Google sent all its employees to work from home. Almost instantly, the number of Meet (Google’s videoconferencing software) meetings rose 200%. Back then, my job at Google was to “make Googlers uniquely productive” — in other words, to do whatever I could to help them focus on their creative work and collaboration. Very quickly two pain points emerged for my peers and my users:

  1. All meetings ran late: turns out the internal meeting culture relied heavily on someone knocking on your door and kicking you out of the meeting room :)
  2. Understanding people’s emotions was hard: with every Googler being a tile in a meeting, parsing and noticing your peer’s emotions (usually done through body language and facial impressions) was a big challenge.

My team, quicker than ever, built a chrome extension that augmented Meet and helped Googlers maintain meeting boundaries. We built an effective visual reminder that the meeting is about to end. In parallel another group of Googlers built the first version of emoji reactions, also via a chrome extension, to augment Meet. Both extensions went viral and for the first time in my professional life I saw a hockey stick chart for product adoption. At this point the next logical move, to achieve our goal of helping Googlers, was to merge the extensions and productionize them, to build them in a robust way that could sustain Google-wide usage (about 200k users using your product in each and every meeting, all day long, around the world).

As we began planning, Meet’s leadership reached out to express dissatisfaction with the chrome extension approach because of negative past experiences.. My team was instantly deflated. There was a lot of baggage between our two organizations. “They’ll never let us go ahead with this plan” said my team. But, pumped up to solve my peers/users’ problems, I calmed them down, and said “let’s not fail before we fail, we’ll figure something out”.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the short version is that over the course of a few weeks, through emails and meetings, I engaged with Meet’s leadership and negotiated an approach that satisfied both sides’ needs. We launched our Meet-enhancing chrome extension, which turned into a huge success at Google and beyond, and was also one of only two chrome extensions “blessed” by the Meet team.

Once people internalize disbelief in an approach, they subconsciously do not invest themselves maximizing their chances of that approach’s success. It is never done with ill-intent. Instead, their disbelief often manifests itself as minor negligence or delayed schedules or lack of drive and creativity that is in other cases generated and applied towards problem solving. When people are passionate about what they’re doing, they’re more creative, more energetic, and more successful.

Photo by Pixabay

As per myself, I got another song stuck in my head and driving my actions, it’s “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. I know what you’re thinking: “is she seriously quoting Eminem in a professional Medium story?” well... I am. I frequently draw inspiration from the line: “Success is my only option, failure’s not”. I also make it a point to instill that into my kids’ upbringing, of course adding that hidden need to practice trial and error. We have to keep trying, we need to find a way to achieve what we think is achievable.


The Thinking poem made such an impact on me thanks to its sensible sentiment and ease of extracting it. The simple language it uses made it easy to use in a multicultural environment such as the tech industry. The succinctness it offers to drive its point, made it easy to quote and reuse. My hope is that it will strike a chord with you as well, and will offer you similar value in your personal and professional life.

I’d love to be inspired by new poems, share in the comments which poem(s) inspired you in your professional journey? Or reach out on linkedin — hearing from you brightens my day 🙂.



Sivan Hermon

Leader, parent, daughter: loves leading teams that build loved products, travel, cooking. Google, Columbia MBA, read me: