Beware of success recipes


You have probably noticed that many « success recipes » out there are based on the amazing success stories of individuals (or organisations), which then become models of what we must do to succeed. You have also probably noticed that even if we apply to the letter all the elements of the recipe, the amazing successes do not systematically follow…

And this is normal, because these recipes are for a great part illusory, even if their authors mean well and even if there are many interesting, thought provoking, and innovative aspects that deserve our full attention.

Nevertheless, when we look at someone’s (or an organisation’s) success, we tend to build the story of their success from specific elements, without realizing that we chose those elements amongst a fantastic amount of other elements. This is due to certain automatic and incredibly fast mental mechanisms which, totally out of our awareness, are prompt to take shortcuts and make instant associations that make us see the world as much more simple, orderly, consistent and much more predictable than it really is. Why? Because we need things to make meaning, and to do this we select the elements that allow us to give events a logical and rational explanation. Moreover, if we like the story that those selected elements tell us, we want to believe in it, and naturally deduce that it is a formula for success.

But this is far from the truth, as there are way too many other factors at work - one of them being luck - to be able to produce a fool-proof « recipe », even though we can find common elements between the different success stories…but we can also find just as easily these same elements in failure stories, as for example « tenacity ». If you look at the well-known success story of the talented actor Dustin Hoffman who struggled for ten years doing menial jobs, and was turned down many times from auditions because his physique was not up to expectations (he was also often told openly to give up acting and get himself a real job), we will tend to say that he succeeded because “ He didn’t let anyone get him down and was particularly tenacious”. But there are many other actors out there who were just as talented and just as tenacious and yet didn’t succeed - and we would probably say of those failed actors that they were obstinate, unrealistic, and didn’t have the discernment to give up while there was still time…It is the same thing in music, painting, business…

LUCK, a major success factor

In his years of research in behavioural science and behavioural economy, Daniel Kahneman has proven without doubt that this element we call « LUCK » (or bad luck !) is the one that is going to make the biggest difference. When I say “luck” , I am talking about something random, that we can’t know, that we can’t predict, that we don’t provoke consciously, that we don’t control, as for example a set of circumstances that makes us be somewhere at the right time, or the fortuitous meeting of someone who is going to change the course of our life (and this remains true if you believe – as I do – in the power of intention and synchronicity, because we cannot plan the time or the place something we intended is going to happen).

A case in point is that of successful businesses: most of us tend to believe that their success is mainly due to the exceptional leadership skills of their leaders. Well…although these skills (or lack of) do have an undeniable impact, they are not the major success factor, and represent only 10% of the impact – above or below - as compared to the “luck” factor (everything that the leader does not control) which represents 50% of the impact.

Oh, and by the way, what is the recipe then to attract luck ?...

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