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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Taking Advice From Successful People

Recently I received one of those how to succeed, pump you up articles. This one was called "9 Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People" a piece written for Inc. by Jeff Haden. You know the drill, the usual if you emulate those who are successful, it is supposed to rub off on you.

This is almost always a distraction from the primary key element that I have found almost always missing in my own professional life and I am sure yours, namely Dumb Stupid Fucking Luck (DSFL).

Proof? DSFL seems to be inanely prevalent in those individuals labeled “Successful” who now sagely dole out their painfully obvious advice on how they got to be so successful.

Here's an offset of the real world we, who are not so lucky to be sages, live in, against the obvious advice of the sages.

Jeff says that his friends or the successful folks he writes their books for, come from different industries, yet have a common "approach", a "perspective and belief" if you will, that makes them successful. And that it works! Jeff thinks that this is the common reason why they are all so successful.

Rather, my own conclusion, based on the same observational powers as Jeff, is that the real thing that successful people have in common is DSFL. Just using the law of averages, I am pretty sure that I am right and that Jeff is wrong. That, and add to it that rarely can any of the successful repeat their initial trick, that they now claim was their plan all along. From scratch. Without using their past success as the launch pad for success #2.

Do it twice fairly, and I will believe that you are indeed a Golden God. Can’t pull it off again? Means I’m right.

Here's a simple Test:

The following people are the topmost successful people in history. Obvious for their success, or you should know what their success was. The test is to name the second success they had, that was not based on their first one.
Henry Ford      R. H. Macy     F. W. Woolworth      Soichiro Honda     Akio Morita (Sony)
Bill Gates     Harland David Sanders     Walt Disney     Jerry Seinfeld     Elvis Presley

But before I proceed to burst your bubble and explain why you personally haven't "made it" yet, and possibly offer that you may never "make it" statistically, let me qualify why these "success stories of the rich and successful" are in fact useful.

First, we who trudge around in the trenches need hope. If there is no hope the whole universe will actually fall apart right out of the sky. This can best be seen at your average DMV office. The showcase and epitome of institutionalized professional hopelessness.
The DMV exemplifies what happens to you when you lose all hope. When you go to window "C" or "Info" and ask how to replace the drivers license you lost when you got carded at the bar even though you are over 30, the life-sentence DMV staffer will tell you “You need to go to window K for that”. Then when you go to window "K" the same person has walked over and will look you in the eye and ask "How can I help you?" with less emotion than they gave you at the Info window "C".

Or, consider that the DMV has a dress code for dress down Fridays. Khaki pants, Denim button down long sleeve shirt. No exceptions. They don't want you to think they are not professional. Hope is what keeps you from working at the DMV and wearing a Denim shirt with Khakis on Fridays.

The second reason why these stories are useful is they offer a good goal to shoot for. OK, so that's another way of saying Hope. Stop trying and you can't become successful. If you don’t play, you can’t win. Or according to my theory, get DSFL. 
So, here are my reality checks in response to Jeff's "9 Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People". Most of these appear to be post-success philosophies, since almost none of them would get past your average weasel Mid-Manager Level I, who has to nip you in the bud, in order to get that coveted Senior Mid-Manager Level II spot. 

"If that bitch Suzie wasn't in the way. Her numbers are totally unbelievable, she must be fudging them. Why can't Mark see that I am the better choice? I mean we play golf every Friday, do you know how many putts I've blown on purpose?" Yeah, reality.

“1. Time doesn't fill me. I fill time.” Jeff would have you believe that successful people don't work to deadlines. They work quicker than the assignment or task and then fill that remaining time doing more work than everyone else.

Reality: If you do the work faster, they will only give you more work to do. If you do anything too well or too fast, they will punish you for making the rest look bad, and then make you do what you obviously and apparently now "love" to do, for the rest of your life. Always try to Fail up.

“2. The people around me are the people I chose.” Jeff doesn't seem to see the "Duh" factor here. Even though he says it quite eloquently. “Successful people are naturally drawn to successful people.” No argument here, Jeff.

Reality: You don’t get to choose who you work with. That, like most success I argue, is DSFL. Treat everyone fair, don’t talk behind anyone’s back, and well, don’t talk so much. It’s how thoughtful and ponderous you look, not what you actually think. When you do speak, choose vague subtle statements and concepts that upper management can get.

Something like ”There are a lot of realistically cost effective options that we can consider for this challenge Bob, we just need to find the solution that gets the best result for the least cost.”

“3. I have never paid my dues. Remarkably successful people never feel entitled--except to the fruits of their labor.”

Reality: I am stunned by the audacity of this statement. Until I realize that it is of course absolutely true. A successful person benefiting from DSFL couldn’t have possibly had any time to pay any dues, so hence the obvious philosophical insult. The sudden speed of success makes one think you can cut corners, bypass, and end-around to get to your destination.

You actually can’t.

More often you don’t have the authority to make any big decisions, and if you do, your superior is waiting to take the credit for your moment of misguided bravery. Only if it succeeds. Which it rarely will. If it fails, which it almost always will, you are on your own, and your boss will weigh taking the heat for your “moment” from his/her boss, over letting you try out your ideas, just in case you somehow get DSFL. Then prepare yourself to find out he/she told the boss that it was his/her idea all along. To reward you or shut you up, he/she will take you along when he/she gets promoted. Go with him/her.

“4. Experience is irrelevant. Accomplishments are everything.”

Reality: Actually this one I know does not work. Especially in that crucial job interview. There is a nose or sense of smell that an HR or Mid-Manager has that can sniff the scent of unlikelihood on you. If something seems too good to be true, it is usually bullshit. Even if it is true.

“5. Failure is something I accomplish; it doesn't just happen to me.” This and the other moronic concept that the more you fail the more you learn from failure, and that successful people fail a lot or that you should “embrace” failure. I disagree. I think successful people  fail about the same amount as anyone else. They just say that to avoid the harder explanation for DSFL. Because no one mentions the nutritional value and health benefits of failure when they are unsuccessful, they always do it after they have become successful. Then it suddenly becomes an obvious chantable mantra.

Reality: Failure is something you knew would happen, but ignored the many warning signs and sirens in your head telling you not to do it, and then you finally failed to avoid failure. Usually this is the result of someone “Tryin’ Shit” they should not be “Tryin’”. It spills over onto you and your colleagues. Quickly. Failure becomes known quickly and is unstoppable. That’s why it is called failure. Kind of like Faith. Or Death.

“6. Volunteers always win. Whenever you raise your hand you wind up being asked to do more.”

Reality: The early bird gets eaten by the waiting fox. Again, show too much enthusiasm, or scare the rest of your colleagues into worrying about what you are really up to, can lead to disaster. Be as average as you can be. It is a marathon with no end in sight, or one that is eventually going to head towards a cliff. You don’t want to actually win this race. Coming in third or fourth is just fine. If you are first or if you sprint, you may not be able to stop fast enough to change course.

Not too hot. Not too cold. See the Porridge. Be the porridge.

“7. As long as I'm paid well, it's all good. Specialization is good. Focus is good. Finding a niche is good. Generating revenue is great.“ Again, audacity and cocky philosophies especially comes with undeserved success. Or DSFL.

Reality: if you are paid well, you are usually overpaid. Don’t ever be overpaid. if you are, you are a target for the slightest RIF (corporate parlance for “reduction in force”, or layoff). If you get laid off, yes, it might very well be the “best thing that ever happened” to you, but you will only say that if you become successful. Which will only happen if you get DSFL.

“8. People who pay me always have the right to tell me what to do. Instead of complaining, work to align what you like to do with what the people who pay you want you to do. Then you turn issues like control and micro-management into non-issues.” Or, listen to whatever they tell you and then do whatever the hell you want afterwards

Reality: Not a good idea if you get caught. And unlike DSFL, disobeying an order or “going off the reservation”, is the anti-DSFL. And yes, you will get caught every single time. Meet expectations. Barely. Survive. Don’t thrive. The fat get eaten first. The lean are too stringy.

“9. The extra mile is a vast, unpopulated wasteland. That's why the extra mile is such a lonely place. That's also why the extra mile is a place filled with opportunities. Be early. Stay late. Make the extra phone call. Send the extra email. Do the extra research. Help a customer unload or unpack a shipment. Don't wait to be asked; offer. Don't just tell employees what to do--show them what to do and work beside them. Every time you do something, think of one extra thing you can do--especially if other people aren't doing that one thing. Sure, it's hard. But that's what will make you different. And over time, that's what will make you incredibly successful.”

Reality: I left this one completely intact, because this completely exemplifies the utterly cluelessness of successful people with DSFL. “Going the extra mile” is code for kissing up. And the punishment for it is swift and harsh. Usually meted out in generous portions by Mid-Manager Level I. With glee. Make an extra phone call, or send an extra email or do some unauthorized research, and you risk jeopardizing an already sensitive customer or vendor relationship. Better to not meddle. Especially if it ain’t broke. Help a customer unpack or unload? And you risk a union lawsuit.

Be different and be let go.

Final Reality: There is no statistical possibility or probability that everyone will be successful. Most of us will not become successful. It’s not so much that the world needs ditch diggers, but it kind of does. And like a bee sting, or a lightning strike, or a bird shitting on you in mid-flight, the harder you work, the luckier you might get, and sooner or later, or never, you just might find yourself staring straight into the gleaming jaws of DSFL.

Shortly after that, your phone will ring. It will be Jeff asking you what the secret of your success was. Give him any or all of the 9 above. Or make  9 up. Then Jeff will ask to write your book for you. Let him.

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