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Looking for success in the wrong place


hand working business, solutionDid you know?

  • Coca-Cola began as a pharmaceutical product
  • Tiffany & Co., the fancy jewellery store company, started life as a stationery store
  • Raytheon, which made the first missile guidance system, was a refrigerator maker
  • Nokia, who used to be the top mobile phone maker, began as a paper mill
  • DuPont, now famous for Teflon non-stick cooking pans and Kevlar, actually started out as an explosives company
  • Avon, the cosmetics company, started out in door to door book sales.

Everybody takes a different lesson from those facts.

FOR THE SME: If things don’t work out as planned, there is always a plan B

FOR THE ENTREPRENEUR: Launch quickly, iterate rapidly and pivot to a more viable business model

FOR THE CONSULTANT: With good strategic planning, a company can be steered in the right direction

FOR THE MANAGER: Even with the best resources at their disposal (including research) anyone can screw it up.

Maybe I am wired differently, but when I look at these cases, I learn completely different lessons:

(For each example listed here, there are tens of thousands of companies who stuck to their knitting and failed, and just as many examples of companies who stuck to their core and succeeded.)

I post these thoughts to share with you dear reader one very important truism: It is extremely dangerous to rely on one example of someone who ‘has done it’, one example of a company that did things ‘a certain way’ – or any one explanation of why something succeeded.

At your nearest Dymocks the shelves are full of books by authors on the topic of success. Everyone has a recipe – one guy will tell you to Be a Maverick’ (ex Pepsi), one guy will tell you to ‘Be Paranoid’ (ex Intel) and one guy will tell you to follow ‘These 7 Habits’; not to mention a book a year by Richard Branson telling you to ‘standout from the crowd’.

Any of those messages contain a a kernel of truth, but is not the truth, because it is the truth for that person under those circumstances.

The internet is rife with examples of entrepreneurs who made it big, sold out, wrote books and have gone on the speaking circuit. I challenge you to name the number of entrepreneurs who have made a similar success twice, and I am confident that there will only be handful in the world. How many CEOs have backed up their successful tenure at one company with an equally successful tenure at another? Just a handful, I am sure.

This may be the most pervasive success myth ever – if you want to be successful, learn from the successful.

  • Other people’s success is not your success – copying their approach at best is a starting point
  • There is no secret – the recipe for a successful business is well known.

Every successful outcome is the product of a unique set of circumstances, a range of complex processes and countless, dynamic human interactions. To attempt to seek success by copying someone else is a poor strategy.

Yet, we can’t give up, and we must keep learning:

1. Learn from the past. This article on LinkedIn explores the Hawthorne Effect and the upside of failure, because let’s face it, everyone will fail more often than not

2. We have to keep looking to the future to be as prepared as we possibly can. Here are two slide decks to get you started

3. But we must evaluate and consider what we learn and interpret the insights in the context of our own situation

4. Resist simplistic solutions that promise the secret to success, like the current flavour du jour of content marketing.

You should be reading this post and asking yourself which parts you can believe and which not. Ask what makes sense for you and what is just opinion that can be discarded. You should not simply read everything to merely confirm your prejudices, but rather read with a willingness to objectively find the truth (pleasant or unpleasant) in every message.

TIP: If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. (Bear that in mind when you turn to people for advice.)

We don’t have to agree on everything. As long as you have a reason for your position.

Have fun


Ganador: Ask us how we can turn your organisational IP into a smart marketing weapon.


PS: I have added a presentation deck on the future of marketing to Slideshare – feel free to use & share.

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