Nov 12

Learning to succeed

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Learning to succeed

Over the summer I was at a business network event and met someone who I will call Ed. He was very young, a little disheveled and looked like he had just got out of bed (his hair was all over the place, his shirt was un-ironed and hanging out). He was clearly out of his comfort zone and seemed quite overawed by the event.

I was quite curiosity about his reasons for being there as these usually attract older business people (note this is just a statement of what is ‘usual’ and not a stereotype!). This got the better of me so I went over to talk to him. It was a very surprising discussion. Ed had recently graduated from University with a first class honors degree in a business related subject. Whilst he realised he could have got a job with a large organisation, Ed wanted more than that. He had a business idea that he was serious about getting off the ground. In fact he had so much more than that, he had youthful enthusiasm and a passion that he described as being about “becoming the next Richard Branson”.

However, it wasn’t hot air. When talking to him about his idea, he had done his research. He was armed with various statistics, facts and data that supported his proposition. In fact he had also got a number of supporting businesses lined up to deliver on his business idea. The detail that he had at his fingertips and the enthusiasm and clarity that he had about his business idea was impressive. I won’t tell you his idea as this is a start up, but it was innovative.

I quickly concluded that there was something about Ed.

He reminded me of two really important attributes of successful people:
1.Ed had not learned helplessness – he wasn’t full of excuses about why he couldn’t be successful. He had an idea and he focused on why his idea would work. He understood that there were challenges and he tackled these head on. He wasn’t even sure that his idea was going to work, so he had others. If this idea didn’t work it wasn’t going to affect his ambition.
2.Ed was living in the present. There was no psychological distance between him and what he was trying to achieve. By thinking through all of the aspects of his idea and how he might deliver it, it meant he had been able to work out what he needed to support the delivery of what he would be offering. He wasn’t planning on deferring how he was going to deliver his proposition, he had worked it out. He knew. Consequently he was able to speak with authority and confidence about what he knew he could do. This is a much more powerful position to be speaking from than a stumbled conversation about what might be possible. Consequently he came across with confidence and authority and I know he impressed a large number of the people in the room in this respect.

There is also a lesson in there about pre-judging people. How often do you hear of people discounting what other people have to offer because they don’t fit or are held to be unconventional. This usually proves to be a mistake – which is very true in Ed’s case. Instead of judging, try curiosity, you never know what you will find out or learn.

So what can we learn from Ed?

  • Successful people don’t have per-conceived concepts about what will or will not work, or what is right and wrong. To them, failure isn’t an end it is a part of the process. When something doesn’t work they move on to the next great idea and try that. As long as this doesn’t become a problem it is a great strategy for them. In addition, he didn’t leave anything to chance. He thought his ideas through to ensure he could deliver them.
  • Don’t create psychological distance between your idea and the point where you have to deliver it. Often we make decisions or agree to things that will happen tomorrow, next week, next month. The lack of immediacy means that we don’t really think the implications through. Try making future decisions by visualising them as if you were going to have to do them today. This will often bring clarity and focus and stop you committing to things you may regret committing too later.
  • Being able to talk about what you can do is so much more effective than having conversations about what you might be able to do. If you don’t know what you can do, try. It reminds me of a quote I saw recently along the lines of:

“if you don’t know what your limits are, are you pushing hard enough?”.

It sounds easy, but change is often difficult and this is where coaching can help. Can you think of situations where psychological distance meant you committed to something you weren’t really interested in? If you were truly honest with yourself, where do you limit your options for success through learned helplessness? What holds you back from working on your goals? What is it that you really want to do, but are holding yourself back from. Who have you learned helplessness from and why did you take their feedback at face value?

The only sure fire way to find out what you can and can’t do is to try. Why don’t you start something (#Startsomething) or try changing something (#Changesomething)? If you need some help with this, why not give me a call?

  1. Jacques M 9 Mar 2016 | reply

    Hi Pete, nice piece. Maybe get hold of a book called Good Strategy / Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt…. it ads some science and method to your article. Rumelt is probably the leading practitioner of good strategy. He isn’t an academic

Leave a Comment

reset all fields