The Success Formula

What is success?

There are self-help books that tell you how to sell anything to anyone. There are others who claim to teach you how to retire at thirty.

This is not a column about short-cuts.

What I am about to tell you does not depend on your definition of success.

Here are my rules:

  1. Agreeable disagreeableness: Are you willing to swim against the tide? Are you willing to tell your best friend that you disagree even as you respect a different perspective? Sam Walton founded Walmart in 1962. By 1979, the company had reached a billion dollars. By 1990, it was short of fifty billion in revenues. Sam Walton announced that he wanted the company to reach $125 billion by the year 2000. His closest friends were shocked. Sam Walton did not care. He simply chased his dream relentlessly. He motivated colleagues to do the same. The result: Walmart reached $125 billion in 1996. Before you dare to dream, ask yourself: Do I have the courage to pursue my dream, no matter what?
  2. Experiment: Empirical evidence shows that unless you try ten different things, you won’t succeed even in one. Every time you “fail” think of it as one more way you have learned what not to do. Google has scores of experiments at any point in time. Most will fail or be abandoned. Hundreds of millions of dollars would have been invested. The two or three that succeed (like the search engine, e-mail, and AdSense) are enough to take the company to the trillion-dollar club.
  3. Engage in meaningful work: There is an old saying: “If you have eight hours to chop a tree, spend six sharpening the ax.” Bill Gates woke up at 1:45 AM every night and ran to the Washington State University computer center to be able to use the terminal from 2 AM to 6 AM because it was free during those hours. Are you willing to do the same to pursue your dream?
  4. Develop a growth mindset: Be open to new ideas. Revise your conclusions. Don’t be afraid of contradictions. A willingness to change your views (in a positive sense) means you are training your mind to be malleable. One author has written two great books based on diametrically opposite ideas – find out who.
  5. Differentiate: When a recruiter asks you “Why should I hire you” or a venture capitalist asks you “Why should I finance you” have an answer that is refreshingly, even shockingly different. Remember the four-year-old who was immersed in her drawing that she did not notice any of the fun her classmates were having? When asked by her teacher what she was drawing, she says, without looking up, that she is drawing a picture of god. When the teacher says, “But nobody has seen god”, pat comes the answer “They will, in a minute.” Do you have that level of confidence?
  6. Practice: I don’t want to advocate the 10,000-hour rule or any other time-bound rule. I will say this, though. “No pain, no gain.” Nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved without sweating it out.
  7. Be Patient: Don’t be anxious for results. Waiting has its charm.
  8. Understand your role: If you want to be a teacher, remember you are in the facilitating business, the mentor business, or the nurturing business. If you want to be a doctor, remember you are in the relationship business. Curing is often 80% in the mind.
  9. Outwork others: If your peers are working twelve hours a day, get ready to work fifteen or eighteen. Give up on the passing fantasies of today for a meaningful tomorrow.

Finally, keep doing this every day.

Success is yours – guaranteed.


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