Success factors

In my endless quest for productivity, I have found multiple success formula by different authors. Here I want to discuss some of the factors involved including the things that I know about them.

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

This is a quote of Thomas Edison, maybe the most successful inventor ever, and possibly the most successful formula for success.  Smart and creative come up with wonderful ideas occasionally, but even when you have a whole company working for you these occasions are rare. Most of the time is spent on more trivial things. For an inventor this would probably be:

  • Trying less successful ideas and analyzing the failures.
  • Gathering data and wisdom from every source possible.
  • Brainstorming various things to try.
  • Organizing the experiments if not running them.
  • Keeping diaries of things tried, hoping to find the perfect marriage of modification of ideas.
  • Writing down patent and protecting the patents.
  • Working on the commercial implementation of the ideas,

Disclaimer: I wrote my fair share of patents, but none of these patents was commercially successful so far.

Clearly, other professionals may have different ideas about their inspirational and perspiration activities. As someone with ADHD, I am in serious trouble if I need to do the things I do not like. On the other hand, the jobs that I do are not that glamorous. Most of my day I press different buttons on my computer and try to guess what will happen next.

Go to bed a little smarter each day.

Warren Buffet’s formula clearly resonates with me. I try to earn every day. Typically I start talking or writing about something and then I understand there is a hole in my knowledge, so I fill that hole and move on. As new areas of science and new discoveries surface daily, I revise the things I thought I knew. In a sense knowing something forever is not that valuable if we cannot revise this knowledge when the paradigms shift. This is one of the reasons I use my own mental structures.

The direction of learning is crucial. The things we have a passionate burning interest in, are the things where we happen to learn better. If the interest is very narrow, this results in expertise.  Not every expertise will bring food on the table. If the interest is very wide or unstable, no learning will be fully complete. Leonardo Da Vinci was so jumpy in his curiosity and slow in his painting and inventions, that if he lived today he would be limited to party planning.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

Steve Jobs’ quote about success focuses on passion. Never be satisfied, and always push yourself. Keep doing the things people say cannot be done. This formula directly increases the risk. Someone slightly less talented could face serious issues. Steve Jobs has done a lot of crazy stuff. For example, when Ashton Kutcher trying to portray Jobs, ate the same diet, he was found in a hospital soon after with serious pancreatic issues.

Doing a lot of things, including things other people would find strange, is one of the recipes for creativity. The issue here is a passion because without a burning passion no one has the ability to keep trying different things sufficiently fast. This passion often comes from very good understanding of the task as a riddle and the tools that allow solving the riddle.

Regarding staying hungry, I always feel I have something important to say and all I need is some time to formulate my thoughts. Every time I think I have said what I wanted to say, I end up with a very long list of things I did not consider.

Work, play and listen

I quote a phrase associated with Albert Einstein “If A is success in life, then A = x + y + z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut”.

The factors of hard work and foolish play have been mentioned previously, but keeping your mouth shut is new. People are still trying to figure out what the quote really means. Does in mean listen instead of talking? Does silence allow better focus and analysis? Is secrecy the key not to come up with half-baked solutions? Maybe the more we talk the higher the chances of mistakes?

I want to go with a focus on listening. When I was working with my thesis advisor, he said once that he envies my ability to read. He had so many things to write, that he did not find time for reading. I am personally in the same position. If I did not read as fast as I do, I would probably stop reading. Wise people listen or read first, and only then speak or write. I fish I was wiser.

Interpersonal strength

So far I quoted people who are known to be great individuals, but not so great team players. Here is one formula I read somewhere:

Empathy X Insight X Clarity = Top 10 % Performance

Empathy is about others, insight is about yourself, and clarity is knowing how best to use this information for good. Coaches often use this formula to justify their work, but what does it mean for me?

I would probably interpret it as an inventive drive: understand the need, have an idea of possible solutions, and formulate the solution in a clear form. Wait, this is a very different interpretation of a simple formula. What else could it be?

Empathy is seeing the ability of the reader. Insight is feeling the motives of the characters. Clarity is the language and metaphor used to tell the story. Now it’s about writing fiction.

This is what I like about coaching. You can take this formula in any direction you want, and it will still make sense. Give it a try as a creativity exercise.

The bottom line

I wrote this formula myself after reading a couple of articles:

Success = (Grit + interpersonal strength + growth mindset) * Effort

What I meant in this formula:

Grit is the ability to stay passionate without seeing positive results of the efforts

Interpersonal strength is the ability to be innovative yet relevant, to listen, and yet have a message. This is a very delicate balance.

A growth mindset is the ability to learn from failures, from reading, and from others. Clearly it includes intelligence, creativity, and research skills, but it does not stop there.

The effort is the amount of time and resources invested in a specific task.

Some people find me successful, but personally I see the giant gap from where I stand to the point I am trying to reach. Maybe one day I will get there, and maybe not. I sure plan to enjoy the way.



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