Success

On my flight to NYC, I saw the movie Moneyball. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the coach of the Oakland Athletics — a small-budget baseball team from the mayor league — who faces the problem that his best players are acquired by wealthier teams. He wants to show that great teams can be built without great budgets, and applies a radically different strategy. The core theme of the movie is fighting against the resistance that appears when you set out to change business-as-usual.

Although the new strategy leads the Oakland Athletics to achieve an unprecedented number of wins-in-a-row, Billy Beane is ultimately unsuccessful – the Oakland A’s do not win the championship. The movie triggered me to raise an important question: What is it that makes people accomplish their goals?

The first obvious part is “What is it you want to accomplish?”. It’s the basis for Stephen Covey’s second principle of highly effective people: “Start with the end in mind”. He phrases the quote “all things are created twice”. There is a first, conceptual creation, which is sometimes followed by a second, real-world creation – execution. If we want to be effective in our lives, it is fundamental to fully understand that we are the designers, and it’s up to us sketch our lives before we play them out.

But given there is a small percentage of people who know where they want to go, what is it that separates those who succeed from those who do not? Some of my thoughts below.

Be focused on what you want to accomplish.

Know where you’re going. Really, this is another way of phrasing Covey’s second habit. Bill Clinton was attributed to know from a young age that his goal was to become a governor. If you’re so focused, you can be very effective in implementing. Focusing on what you want to accomplish, however, does not mean you need to work in one field to succeed. Clayton Christensen shows in the Innovator’s DNA that innovation comes from relational thinking – being able to combine many fields.

If you do not know exactly where you want to go, focus fully on one of the possible fields that has your interest. Diverging your energy into many different activities often leads to mediocre performance in all. By putting all you energy into one direction, you will create significant process, and through reflection will be able to find whether you enjoy the field or not. The future holds many different paths.

Set audacious goals.

Setting audacious goals does not mean only big or difficult, but it means setting your mind on goals you define as truly meaningful. Picking mediocre goals is a barrier to greatness. It’s very hard to mobilize yourself, let alone others, by aspiring insignificant things.

Do the hard things; eliminate the easy things.

This is another way of saying: do the important things (which you might fear) and eliminating insignificant activities. This is an important reason why few people are successful: it is difficult to feel the fear and do it anyway. Rather, we succumb to the fear and check our email (seldom important) in stead of making that call. Worth noting, accomplishing things you fear is one of the biggest intrinsic rewards you can experience. This rule is very much applicable to everyday life. Try to reflect each day by asking yourself “what was the most important thing I did today?”.

Learn to think for yourself.

This is difficult because in the current educational system we have been un-trained to do so. A habit to think for yourself, questioning others’ opinions and using your own observational skills leads you to form new ideas and approaches to solve problems and make decisions. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, states this is the most important reason for his success in his investment career. Read his article on Principles here. Joi Ito, director of the MIT Medialab, phrased it eloquently in a lecture yesterday “you won’t win a Nobel prize by doing what others tell you to do”.


Eliminate pride. It’s not about you – but about your work.

Many people want to get famous. It’s flattering if you’re invited to speak, you’re asked for an interview, or if people want to meet you. But does it really matter? In the end, it’s all about the difference you make in other’s peoples lives. If you do this by meeting others, than that’s fine, because it’s your work. But be critical: if you’re a healthcare-entrepreneur, you should probably be speaking to potential customers or testing your product in stead of having coffee with people who go after your fame.

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