Never Trust An Expert

August 13, 2012

Given my recent articles on success, I felt it was appropriate to dig up an old one (from 2007) which talks about how we never really know what made us successful….

A couple of nights ago, I gave a presentation to a group of eager individuals who are either launching or advancing their speaking careers. During our 90 minute discussion, I gave dozens of tips and techniques for growing their business.

At the end of the evening, one attendee asked, “What is the MOST important tip?” I thought about this for a minute and replied, “I don’t know.”

Although this answer may seem like a cop out, it is in fact the truth. No one REALLY knows what made them successful. More importantly, they have no idea how others can replicate their success. They may be able to look at a series of events that led to a particular outcome. But most likely the “most important tip” is something completely different than what is seen on the surface.

Last year I attended a “book marketing” conference led by a well known author who has sold millions (and millions) of books. His promise was to provide steps and tools that made him successful so that others can also reap the rewards. Thousands of people have tried his formula over the years and as far as I can tell, none have come even close to his level of success. Those that achieved some level of success did so by riding on the coat-tails of this author, leveraging his name and network. [NOTE: leverage is one key to success, so this is not necessarily a bad formula]

I am not implying that these experts are misleading or malicious. Not at all. The issue lies in our inability to find the correct correlations between cause and effect. Too many hidden factors play a major role – ones that we might never consider or notice. Most experts use anecdotal evidence to support their conclusions. “It worked for me and a few of my buddies, so it should work for you.” This is faulty reasoning. Maybe the expert’s “10 Steps to Financial Wealth” were not the true causes of their success.

There are many, harder to measure factors that often play a substantial role. Your attitude plays a larger part than you might think. Your Rolodex of contacts can be a huge part of the equation. Being in the right place at the right time has launched many businesses, including Microsoft (see my Sliding Doors Success article).

Or sometimes plain old dumb luck is the real cause. Fortunately, in the case of luck, people can create their own luck. Studies show that those who are less goal-oriented are luckier than “goalaholics” because they are open to possibilities outside of their narrow goal-focus. [NOTE: This is a significant part of my new research on innovation and success.  Stay tuned.]

So the next time someone makes a suggestion – or someone tries to sell you their 5 steps to success – be skeptical. Although it may be great advice, it may also be (unintentionally) misinformed counsel. They may not know the REAL cause of their success. Then again, this blog entry is my advice to you – so it too should be taken with a grain of salt.

P.S. Notice this entry is entitled, “Never TRUST an Expert” and not ‘Never LISTEN to an Expert.” There is a lot that can be learned from others.  

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Sliding Doors Failure

August 10, 2012

In an earlier article, I discussed the Sliding Doors Success model.

It is worth noting that there is a corollary to this: The Sliding Doors Failure model.

Just as an opportunity can appear that can change your life for the positive (read the Sliding Doors Success article), one event can derail a lifetime of achievement.

There are two stunning and recent examples of this.

Joe Paterno was loved and revered by so many during his coaching reign at Penn State.  He was the winningest coach of all time.  But by turning his back on some horrible events, Paterno will now be remembered for something other than his coaching.  His statue has even been removed from the Penn State campus.  He is no longer the hero he once was.

Jonah Lehrer, the author of the best selling book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” is facing a similar situation.  After a meteoric rise to fame and accolades, he has fallen from grace because (amongst other things) he fabricated some quotes in his book.  As a result, his book was pulled from bookstores by the publisher, and he resigned from his position at The New Yorker magazine.

There are many other examples of people who spent a lifetime doing great work, only to have that taken away due to one mistake.

Arthur Andersen learned that even large companies can suffer the same fate.  They went from being the world’s largest professional services firm, to a practically nonexistent company after the Enron scandal.

Winning at all costs is eventually a losing proposition.

As you and your organization grow, make sure you are working with integrity.  One mistake can erase a lifetime of great work.

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Turning the Screw

August 8, 2012

This is the 5th article in a series on alternative paths to success

I was once told a story while working at UPS. At its Louisville, Kentucky, air hub, hundreds of thousands of packages go through the sorter every day. This is a critical operation that is supported by a complex conveyor system. If the conveyors go down, packages might be late and significant time and money can be lost.

One day, the story goes, the conveyors stopped working for some unknown reason. The engineers tried to restart it, but to no avail. So they called in the best conveyor consultant around.

He walked into the package center, looked around for about three minutes, walked to the far end of the building, opened an electrical box, turned one screw, and to everyone’s delight, the conveyors started running again.

The package center manager was thrilled, and asked the consultant for his bill.

The consultant thought about it and said, “Ten thousand dollars.”  The manager was shocked, “Ten thousand dollars for five minutes work? Give me an itemized bill.” So the consultant pulled out his pen and wrote a two-line invoice.

First line read, “$500 — turning the screw.”

The second line read, ” $9,500 — knowing which screw to turn.”

He got his fee.

Not all activities have the same impact.

  • Some activities have little or no (or possibly a negative) impact on your success and business.  Eliminate these.
  • Other activities have a linear impact.  They will improve the business, but not radically.  Delegate these.
  • The activities where you want to focus your energy are those that create exponential returns; the things that give you incredible leverage.  Focus your energies here.

Look at how you spend your time.  Are you getting an hour of return for an hour’s work?  If so, that is not good enough.  Get creative.  Find ways of creating massive results with little effort.

We will continue to explore this concept in the next blog entries coming soon.

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Why Chuck Hates Me

August 6, 2012

This is the 4th in series of articles about alternative paths to success; ones that go beyond the traditional approach of goal-setting and years of hard work.

Back in 1987, I was working for Accenture (then Arthur Andersen’s management consulting division).  I was working on a large project with over 200 people.  I had been out of college for a little more than a year, but was given a leadership role on the project.

I shared a desk with a guy by the name of Chuck.  He too had one of the few leadership roles.  One day, Chuck turned to me and said, “I hate you.”

I was a bit taken aback, but I understood.

Chuck and I knew each other in college.  We had similar majors and took many of the same classes.  But there was one big difference.  Chuck busted his butt for 4 years and got a 4.0 GPA.  I, on the other hand, became social chairman for my fraternity, focused more on developing my leadership skills, skipped many of my classes, and had a less than stellar GPA.  Although I am not proud of my academic performance in college, I did learn a lot of valuable skills that were not taught in the classroom.  These ultimately proved to be more useful than memorization and test taking.

Although Chuck and I took very different paths, we ended up, at least back in 1987, in the same place.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that the amount of effort you put in rarely equals the result you get.

Some people can work 80 hours a week and only make incremental improvements in their careers.  Others can work only a few hours a week yet achieve incredible results.

How hard you work is not correlated with how successful you are.  I will continue to explore this in the next blog entry (coming in 2 days)…

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My Father’s Role in My Success

August 2, 2012

Today is my father’s birthday.  To celebrate, today’s blog entry is dedicated to him, and one of the (many) ways he helped me be more successful.  This is the third in my series of blog entries on success.

From an early age, my father always said, “Everything happens for a reason.”

He didn’t mean it in a mystical or metaphysical way.  He meant it as a mindset.

Anytime I had a set-back, my father would repeat his mantra.  We would then discuss what positive things might now be possible as a result of the seemingly negative event.  In every situation, we could find a positive spin.

This simple perspective helped me become more resilient.  I was able to more quickly recover from set-backs.  Instead of lamenting a loss, I would treat it as an opportunity.

Admittedly, it sometimes took some serious digging to find the silver lining.  But I already did.  And having done this for several decades now, I feel as thought I can go from “breakdown” to “breakthrough” with “breakneck” speed.

I feel blessed to have been raised by two incredible parents (my sister is pretty awesome too).  I know that much of my success can be attributed to their love, support, and guidance.

Happy Birthday Dad!

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Sliding Doors Success

August 1, 2012

This is the 2nd in a series of articles on different paths to success…

In the movie “Sliding Doors,” Gwyneth Paltrow runs to catch a train.  If she misses it, she will miss an important meeting.

The movie continues down two different paths:

  1. She just makes the train and attends her meeting.
  2. The doors close just as she approaches, she misses the train, and loses her job.

The movie plays out those two parallel lives and shows what happens as a result of a split second different in timing. As you can imagine, her life progressed in significantly differently ways.

This movie illustrates one “path” to success: The Sliding Doors Success model.

Sometimes success is built on goal-setting and hard work.  And sometimes, it involves a bit of luck.

In 1980, IBM was planning on using a DOS operating system on their PCs developed by Gary Kildall.  But according to (a story I have heard many times)…

IBM tried to contact Gary Kildall for a meeting, executives met with Mrs Kildall who refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. IBM soon returned to Bill Gates and gave Microsoft the contract to write a new operating system, one that would eventually wipe Gary Kildall’s CP/M out of common use.

Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, may not have created his empire had the Kildalls been more cooperative.

One relatively small event created a major turn of events.

But as we learned in “Sliding Doors,” when Gwyneth missed the train and lost her job, things did not necessarily turn out for the worse.

The reality is, for most people, there are many “sliding door” moments.  Lucky people create more of those moments.  If one does not go the way you want, there are others down the line.

Of course Bill Gates didn’t JUST get lucky.  He did a lot of work that created the opportunity to have his operating system on all personal computers.  And he had prior meetings with IBM about creating a BASIC computer programming language for PCs.  All of these opened the doors for opportunity to emerge.

One approach to success is creating many sliding door moments, and then knowing how to leverage those opportunities when they emerge.

Over the coming months, I will explore – in addition to innovation – different paths to success.  I will investigate (with several researchers):

  • why some people are “luckier” than others (and how you can create luck for yourself)
  • how “leverage” plays a role in success (and how you can replicate these concepts)
  • how “laziness” can be the mother of innovation (and how it can free you up)
  • how you can do A LOT more with MUCH LESS effort (a 4 hours work week will seem like too much work)
  • …and many more related concepts
Individuals, entrepreneurs, and businesses of any size can all benefit from learning these concepts.  Stay tuned.

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Creating Success via Luck

July 31, 2012

Much has been written about success, most of it gives the same advice: set goal, learn from the masters, work hard, reap the rewards.

But what if there is a different path to success?  What if “luck” plays a critical role? What if you can create luck?

Creativity/innovation and luck go hand-in-hand.

  • Creativity is about connecting ideas.
  • Luck is about connecting opportunities.
  • Both creativity and luck are needed for success.
  • Both are learnable skills.

Over the coming months, I will explore how individuals, entrepreneurs, and even large companies can increase their level of success by increasing their “luckiness.”

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