Looking for success in the wrong place

Did you know …

  • Coca-Cola began as a pharmaceutical product.
  • Tiffany & Co., the fancy jewellery store company, started life as a stationery store.
  • Raytheon, which made the first missile guidance system, was a refrigerator maker.
  • Nokia, who used to be the top mobile phone maker, began as a paper mill.
  • DuPont, now famous for Teflon non-stick cooking pans, Corian countertops and Kevlar started out as an explosives company.
  • Avon, the cosmetics company, started out in door-to-door book sales.

There must be some lesson in that.

FOR THE SME: If things don’t work out as planned, there is always a plan B.

FOR THE ENTREPRENEUR: Launch quickly, iterate rapidly and pivot to a more viable business model.

FOR THE CONSULTANT: With good strategic planning, a company can be steered in the right direction.

FOR THE MANAGER: Even with the best resources at their disposal (including research) anyone can screw it up.

Maybe I am wired different, but when I look at these cases, I learn completely different lessons:

For each example listed here, there are tens of thousands of companies who stuck to their knitting and failed, and just as many examples of companies who stuck to their core and succeeded.

I post these thoughts to share with you dear reader ONE very important truism:

It is extremely dangerous to rely on one example of someone who ‘has done it’, one example of a company that did things ‘a certain way’ – or any ONE explanation of why something succeeded.

Go into your nearest Dymocks and look at the shelves full of books by authors on the topic of success. Everyone has a recipe.

One guy will tell you to ‘Be a Maverick’ (ex Pepsi), one guy will tell you to ‘Be Paranoid’ (ex Intel) and one guy will tell you to follow ‘these 7 habits’; not to mention a book a year by Richard Branson telling you to ‘standout from the crowd’.

I could go on, but you catch my drift.

The same goes for (and especially so) for business people who have made a success of something and then offer advice about that.


  • They can tell you what they THINK has made it work for them – and they may be wrong.
  • They can only tell you what they think has made it work for THEM – and it won’t work for anyone else.

The internet is rife with examples of entrepreneurs who made it big, who sold out and then write the books and goes on the speaking circuit. I challenge you to name the number of entrepreneurs who have made a similar success twice, and I am confident that in the world there will only be handful. How many CEOs have backed up their successful tenure at one company with an equally successful tenure at another? Just a handful in the world.

This may be the most pervasive success myth ever: if you want to be successful, learn from the successful.

  • Other people’s success is not your success – copying their ‘approach’ at best a starting point.
  • There is no ‘secret’ – the recipe for a successful business is well-known.

This seems counter-intuitive, right? It SHOULD work.

But it does not. So let’s turn to that trusty terrain of the sporting analogy.



The most successful coaches are (extremely) rarely the star players of yesteryear. I have looked at a range of sports, but for this example I will use the Australian sport called Rugby League. The only very successful coach that was also a bona fide star of their era is Mal Meninga of the Queensland State of Origin team. (I am sure you can argue about the star power and coaching success of say Ricky Stuart, but the fact that it is subject to argument already disqualifies him.) Meninga on the other hand has won 7 series in a row – at the highest level and in his playing career he was the National Captain and had the most caps of any player and made the Australian team of the century.  (A US equivalent might Yogi Berra of Baseball fame.)

Of the 100s of coaches, there is one that qualifies clearly. Even then his coaching credentials can be questioned because it just so happens that his tenure coincided with having the best group of players of this generation playing for his team at the same time. But let’s not get petty.

Despite this dismal track record of star players to perform as coaches, clubs continue to offer them first dibs on plum coaching gigs.

By the same token, the coaches who have impressive track records may have played the game, may even have been good players, but often weren’t stars of their teams.

(Of course, being an average player, does not mean you will be a great coach either!)

To stretch the analogy even further.

When a coach is successful, other coaches adopt their strategies, which eventually nullifies that particular strategy because everyone uses the same strategy and they learn how to play against it week in and week out.

The really successful coach never copies another successful coach, they work on building a game plan that is unique and gives his team a competitive advantage.

From this analogy, I want to emphasise two things.

  1. What made you successful as player, does not make you successful as coach.
  2. What makes one coach successful is not worth copying, because in the long run a successful coach needs to carve his own strategy that suits your personal preferences and your resources.

Every successful outcome is the product of a unique set of circumstances, a range of complex processes and countless, dynamic human interactions.

To attempt to seek success by copying someone else a poor strategy, and it is even worse investment of time to read about it.

Success comes from doing your own shit. Maybe.

Everyone embraces failure - this is why

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