Success needs change

We have known that success needs change for a significant amount of time. The well-known Greek Philosopher Socrates (who died in 399 BC) said the following:

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

There is a surprisingly modern twist to this quote. You may have seen the Google DeepMind AI challenge around the game of Go which concluded this week. DeepMind was playing the South Korean Lee Se-Dol at this ancient game. Go is a game of significant strategy and is massively complicated despite having only simple rules. The objective is to surround a larger total of area with your stones than your opponent does with theirs. How does this relate to Socrates? You can capture your opponents pieces and remove them from the board. Whilst this may benefit you, it also requires effort and resource to do. Many players will sacrifice their pieces in this situation, as it enables them to focus on building better strategic positions elsewhere on the board whilst their opponent is distracted and wasting effort and energy. This clearly shows that Socrates was onto something. Why waste time and energy on things that are done or which you can’t change, when you can refocus it on things that will benefit you in the future?

So why, when we know that we may have to change, do we seem to do everything we can to avoid it? Three of the reasons we don’t change are (there are more) and some suggestions on how you might make changes:

Confirmation Bias

We look for all those things that support our current thinking and ignore those that do not. We convince ourselves that we don’t need to change by discounting evidence to the contrary. We make the mistake of linking change to our self-worth, when in reality strong self-confident people realise that we need to learn from situations in order to improve or to be more successful.

So why not spend some time looking at other perspectives? You’ll either genuinely confirm that your position is right. You may strengthen your position by addressing risks and problems that might impact you. You may abandon your thinking altogether and do something different. Simply shoring up where you are with convenient arguments may not be that helpful. We have known that this is a feature of the human condition since the time of Socrates as we have mentioned above).

Sunk cost fallacy

We reflect on all the time effort and resource we have already invested in what we are doing and hold on in the hope that this will eventually give us the expected return. What is in the past is genuinely in the past, you cannot go back and undo it. As an example, say I invested £10 in a project and it doesn’t come good, it’s a disaster. I tell myself that I can fix it for £5. Even though I know it looks hopeless I convince myself that it can be fixed. I spend the £5 and the project is still in a ditch. Consider what would have happened if I walked away… I would have lost £10, but would still have £5 in my pocket. Compare this to where I probably ended up, £15 out of pocket and in the same place.

At times you need to be brace and challenge yourself really hard. Put the sunk cost considerations to the back of your mind. You can’t drive forward by looking at what happened on the road behind you. Operate taking full account of what is happening now and what needs to change now.

The habit of saying ‘Yes’

We want to be good corporate and social citizens, we want to be helpful we want business and career success. So we learn the habit of saying ‘Yes’ to everything. Pretty soon that well-ordered morning we had planned dissolves into a chaos of unplanned interruptions, unstructured meetings and off the cuff requests that we hadn’t anticipated. Instead of getting the ‘big’ things we needed to do, done, we forget that we have a choice and allow other people to make our choices for us. Some people are better at saying ‘No’ than others, but ask yourself this – when was the last time I was at work, in the office etc. when I was fully in control?

When we realise that we can do anything but not everything (see reference at end of this post), we stand a chance on focusing on those things where we desire success the most. Remeber saying ‘No’ doesn’t make you a bad person. If you prefer, make an ‘offer’ of what you can do (which maybe somewhat less than has been requested of you)… but only if you have to!


Underlining all of the points I make above is the dialogue we have with ourselves. We listen to the constant radio chatter in our heads that makes reference to what other people may think, what could go wrong, the consequence of failure, how we would feel about ourselves if we fail… the list goes on and on.

What we don’t do is deal with the facts and balance what could go wrong with what could go right. We don’t look for the evidence that supports or disproves what we are thinking. We use all of that energy fighting the old, when we could get completely different results by focusing on developing the new.

So we don’t embrace change and therefore lose out on the success we could otherwise achieve. It sounds simple, but these are often conversations that are difficult for you to have with yourself. If you need to change something that isn’t working (#Changesomething) or need to start doing something to realise the future success that you need (#Startsomething) then coaching can help. Coaching is particularly helpful with perspective, options and choice.

After all what will happen if you don’t:

If you do not change direction you may end up somewhere where you are heading (Lao Tzu)

If you don’t like where you are headed, isn’t it time to #Startsomething or #Changesomething? After all, what can you achieve by deciding to choose a new mindset?

Reference: Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (2014), Random House.