FOURTH SECRET OF SUCCESS

In life there are some things that you should have in suitably generous servings at every opportunity that reasonably presents itself.

These are friends, laughter, sex and vegetables. Everything else in life you should have in moderation. (Note that combining the last three simultaneously may not work for everyone).

Woman holding bananas in produce aisle of supermarket, rear view close up shot of a neon sign that says sex

I believe that having great friends is a critical success factor in a healthy life.

Friends Playing at the Beach

I am not talking about people who can help you succeed in your career or in your business, or business contacts and acquaintances a la Linkedin, but people that are a serious part of your life. Friends who know enough about you so that there is no need to explain or justify what you do, who know you well and still want to be your friend anyway, who add a richness to your life just by their existence in it, and who see you the same way. The type of friends who can’t be bought, as Steve Wright (US Comedian) points out “If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?”

Robin Dunbar (British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist) came up with the number of 150 as the maximum number of people with whom we can have a meaningful relationship (Dunbar’s number).

Facebook seems to disagree as they have set their limit at 5000 friends. At 5000 your wall would need to be about the size of the Great Wall of China, and you would need to dedicate your entire life to just keeping up with the newsfeeds, and yet petitions abound to have this number raised to at least 15,000. MySpace already appears to have no limit at all. I wonder whether for many people these “pseudo-friends” have replaced real friends as, apart from keeping your life posted on the chosen site, there is not a lot of effort that has to be put into each individual friendship.

three friends holding a camera in front of themselves taking a picture

Social network junkies should however heed the warning of George Carlin (1937-2008, stand up comedian and 5-time Grammy award winner) who said “One good reason to only maintain a small circle of friends is that three out of four murders are committed by people who know the victim.”

I don’t actually believe the limit itself is as important as the reality of having meaningful relationships with whatever number of true friends you wish to have. Whatever that number may be for you, the issue is that each one carries with it some major responsibilities. If you want unconditional love you should get a dog, but every other relationship will require work and effort (See “Emptying your bucket” posted 5/8/2010).

Some of my basic rules of friendship:

  • Honesty versus criticism (family may survive criticism, friendship rarely)
  • Unquestioned loyalty
  • Their secrets are your secrets … no exceptions.
  • They are your friends because of who they are, not what you would like them to be
  • If you love them, tell them (goes for all sexes)
  • Periodic contact whatever that means and whatever that particular friendship needs
  • Help unconditionally when needed, even if not specifically requested
  • Keep your word
  • Laugh together often, even at yourselves

The conventional wisdom is that good friendships enhance an individual’s sense of happiness and overall well being. It has also been shown that loneliness and lack of social supports are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, viral infections, cancer and higher mortality rates.
US radio host Bernard Meltzer (1916-1998) used to say “A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked”.

Egg with crack

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THIRD SECRET OF SUCCESS

Being able to update your resume (curriculum vitae) every year is an important part of success.

I am not suggesting that you update it and put it out on the street, just that you need to be able to update the contents every year, and that you should also set up a formal process, and allocate time, to make this happen. (See “Second Secret of Time Management” posted 30/9/2010).

You have to ask yourself “What do I know today that I didn’t know a year ago, what can I do today that I couldn’t do a year ago or what can I do measurably better today than I could do a year ago ?”

If you can’t answer positively to at least one part of this question, then you have not only just wasted a year of personal growth, but you have actually gone backwards, as those that you compete with may not have let the time pass so unproductively.

I am not just talking about competition as being the sole concern of those that are seeking to climb the corporate ladder, but I am including all elements of business, politics, study and life in general.
It is just as true for a corporate executive, a wine maker in Bordeaux or an MBA student, and it also holds true for retirees, despite their supposed non-compete status.

As the Rolling Stones say “And time waits for no one and it won’t wait for me”.

I also believe that you do need to do this personal review as a formal process, as just doing it whilst you drive to work, or navigate your tractor through the vines, makes it too easy to gloss over details and so delude yourself into believing that you have actually achieved a year of personal growth. A formal process implies that not only will you need to list these “upgrades” to your skills and/or knowledge, but that you will also be able to document evidence that these upgrades have actually occurred.

I find that it also helps to seek outside confirmation from for example peers, subordinates and superiors (in a work context), or partners and friends (in a personal context) that they have also seen visible evidence of these changes, and would be prepared to sign off (if asked) on the changes in your resume.

It’s also not enough just to list a promotion, as climbing a rung on the corporate ladder is not in itself a sure sign that you have actually advanced your skills or knowledge in the last 12 months, only that you have been chosen as the best of what is available in the selection process.

Some promotions are more an indication of the lack of skill of the promoters rather than a sure sign of skills in the one promoted. In the latter half of the 20th century, the IT industry grew massively each year, and became a breeding ground for promotions of the “most visibly able” rather than the “truly capable”, as in many companies the growth in the number of management positions to fill was greater than the growth in skilled candidates. It was only towards the end of the 1900’s that tough times showed that many had titles that far exceeded their true abilities, skills and experience to actually effectively fill the role.

These are generally the people who are first to go when culling processes start, and we should have learned by now that in this century the regular corporate cull has become a fact of life.
True learning and skills development, and putting this knowledge to use, is not only a key element in corporate life preservation, but is also what makes life more interesting and worthwhile.

The Olympic motto in Latin is “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which translates to “Higher, Faster, Stronger ”.
To this we should add “Acutulior” which means “cleverer”.

Seoul Olympics, group of runners racing, focus on legs

SECOND SECRET OF SUCCESS

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Alvin Toffler

I am often amazed that so many people seem to not understand that learning is a journey and not a destination.

You should never stop learning, whether it is for new skills or new ideas, and you need to be prepared to adjust both elements as the world changes around you. It is also important these days to differentiate between information and knowledge, and to understand that information may be interesting for conversations at dinner parties but little else if not applied, and that knowledge that is not translated to actions has little value, as knowing what to do is less important than actually doing what we know.

Too many people seem to believe that there are distinct stages in their lives, with very little overlap:

  • Ages 1-25 “Learning” phase (School and University)
  • 25-65 “Doing” phase through working (25-55 in France … see “Vive l’avantage” posted 27 Sept 2010)
  • 65-85+ “Resting” phase (for many the “TV watching” phase … see “Vive la France” posted 25 June 2010)

    Two men and woman sitting on sofa, watching television

There is a pervasive attitude amongst many senior, well educated people that once they have graduated with their PhDs and MBAs that they are now past their learning phase and that from now on they will just absorb anything extra by osmosis as they just go about doing things. I have always seen early formal education mainly as a way to learn how to learn, and as acquiring a “hunting license” in the job market. However, just because you have a license to do something doesn’t actually mean that you will get the opportunity to actually do it, nor does it mean that you already have the skills to do it well. In most cases these skills need to be developed and honed over a lifetime before they can be well deployed. To become proficient, learning and practice must continue forever whether formal, on the job, through coaching and mentoring, reading and trying, and failing sometimes just to not get too overconfident. (See “First Secret of Success” posted on 16.09.2010).

This belief that they already know enough tends to be truer of people in management roles, as individual contributors, such as engineers, at least have an understanding that their science keeps changing with each new breakthrough in their field. Managers have to go through this same process of learning, as the science of management changes with the changing expectations of each generation. Management styles of “command and control” may have worked with my father’s generation, but already didn’t work with mine, and certainly don’t work with today’s generation who see a much more collaborative style of management with much more involvement in things like job definition and measurement. (See “Quality of Management for the Future” posted 02/09/2010).

It is our ability to continually redefine ourselves as the world changes around us at an ever more rapid rate that will define our ability to keep on succeeding.

As Charles Darwin so succinctly puts it “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor is it the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

I have less problem convincing younger people of this, but am amazed at how many board members of major companies resist ongoing training, some even seeing this need for further learning as being a visible show of weakness to subordinates. It may be acceptable to have a noted university professor come in and talk to the board on some related subject as this can be seen more as an intellectual exercise rather than a learning one, but I have found significant resistance when I have suggested that a corporate board could do with some serious training on, for example, how to function effectively as a board.

At least I am fortunate that in my retirement I get to mix with lots of younger people. I could not imagine a more terrifying existence than having to spend all my time just with people my own age, as I have long believed that it’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts.

FIRST SECRET OF SUCCESS

I have long held the belief that one of the main differences between successful people and those that are less so is that successful people use the same amount of time doing things, as do less successful people apply to wasting their time.

By successful, I am not talking about how much money they have made, but about how successful they have been in achieving significant things in their lives. I have a nephew who is a talented and dedicated high school teacher, who has played a significant role over the last 30 years in changing and developing his young charges, and I am sure that he will be remembered with gratitude by those that have passed through his classrooms. In the same vein, I doubt that Mother Theresa spent much of her time sitting in front of a TV set watching re-runs of Sally Field in “The Flying Nun”.

As well, when I talk about doing things, I don’t just mean things that are necessarily of world shattering significance. I mean things that expand our life experiences, skills and knowledge, like sport, reading, going for a walk, working in the garden, or sitting and thinking about something real rather than just sitting and watching the general rubbish that is dished out on television these days.

This was well understood even back in Geoffrey Chaucer’s days (c 1343-1400) , when the expression “Idle hands are the Devil’s tools” was a well known maxim, so why is it that so many people seem have forgotten it these days.

I recently read “Outliers, the story of success” by Malcolm Gladwell. In it he discusses the fact that to become an expert at something you need to be able to put in 10,000 hours of commitment, practice and application to achieve this, whether it is as a pro-golfer or a concert violinist.

Girl playing violin

10,000 hours is a number that is large enough to not be easily comprehensible, so I decided that I needed to break this down into smaller chunks along the lines of the expression that “the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time”. So, over 20 years these 10,000 hours equate to 500 hours per year, which are about 10 hours per week, or only 1.5 hours a day. This means that it should not be terribly hard for most people to become expert at something that they find important with just a little application, commitment and planning.

Even if we start this journey say at 30, assuming that before then we are still in the irresponsible phase of our lives, we could all be experts at something worthwhile by about 50, which would still give us a lot of time to use this expertise well. Furthermore, this use of 1.5 hours per day is not a major sacrifice, as for most people it just means giving up just 30-50% of the time in front of their TV ….they can still watch a large number of re-runs and bad movies.

Theoretically, if people gave up watching TV completely (apart from things that they actually planned to watch and were worth watching), many people could easily halve the elapsed time needed to achieve their 10,000 hours and actually become experts in their chosen field in just 10 years rather than 20.

Unfortunately it just isn’t going to happen … we will continue to have a small number of true experts, and a large number of people who just think that they are experts.

As John Cleese points out in a must-see 10 minute video which you can find on Youtube by searching on “John Cleese Creativity”, to know how good you are at something requires the same skills needed to be good at that thing, so if you are absolutely hopeless at something, you lack exactly those skills to know that you are hopeless at it.

This does explain a lot about life, and why there are so many people around who are self-proclaimed experts about all sorts of things in life, and yet who do spout the most awful drivel continually on their area of so called expertise, and why there are so many obviously incapable people in senior positions around the world.

I have decided that when I come across these people in the future, I will ask them to prove to me that they have actually passed the requisite 10,000 hours in true dedication and application to their claimed area of expertise, before I accept anything that they have to say on the subject.

I do hope that I have the skills to be able to identify them.