Success is more than a witty quote


Success is more complicated than a witty quote

(And becoming successful is not easy. There is help at hand - see the invitation at the bottom of this post.)

But a good analogy does help explain what it is involved.

Before I share that, let me first put some cards on the table.

I have personally failed more than I have succeeded.

I don’t know if it is just a way of post-rationalising my failures, but I really believe that you learn more from failures than you do from successes. The path to the top is a unique journey because individuals are unique and their value proposition should be unique or at least is offered in a unique context. Even if you are opening up just another coffee shop, you should be the only one on that particular street corner.

I have succeeded enough times to be able to recognise the patterns at least, so I like to think I can at least recognise success and what it takes.

And I can assure that, without any doubt, there really is NO FREAKIN’ SILVER BULLET! Innovation is important, but it is not the only thing. Leadership is important, teamwork is important, customer experience is important and so on – but none of these is the panacea that the solution merchants peddle.

All the bromides about ‘passion’ etc probably do no harm, but alone it is not sufficient.

Luck plays a role, but since we don’t control that (by definition) it serves no purpose to worry about it.

Product quality and a relevant value proposition along with acceptable service standards are assumed.

This post is not about these things.

Rather, it is about understanding the interplay of factors at a strategic level that business leaders must juggle in order to optimise their decisions for success.

To that end, this analogy of the FOUR FORCES OF FLIGHT:

To run a successful company is complicated matter requires a lot of juggling. Usually there are a range of variables involved that must be balanced in order to inch the company forward. These variables are like the four forces of flight.

For an aircraft – in your case, let’s imagine a supersonic jet – to become airborne, remain airborne and eventually land safely in another destination requires that the pilot knows and understands and juggles a range of forces.

The plane must be designed right.

There is preparation.

They are using the right technology

And so on.

But all of these are generic factors that apply at all times and are well known.

The four forces of flight that are required for a plane to fly, are the same for a plan to fly.

Consider the diagram below.

This matrix is meant to convey a few salient ideas:

There are specific forces that are more granular and are easier to define and describe and therefore to manage.

There are general forces that are less readily understood; even though we may understand the words, the concepts are so big that it is not easy to wrap our heads around. E.g. economic trends.

There are internal forces that are controllable to a greater extent and there are there are external forces which of course can’t control, but must navigate nevertheless.

The examples I have listed in this diagram are not necessarily the only ones that fit the description. Most readers would recognise the language employed here as being quite reminiscent of strategic planning (e.g. internal factors vs external factors).

But the main point is that there is an INTERPLAY of forces. To be successful in your ‘flight’, the pilot must balance thrust and drag, weight and lift.

At any point if any of those forces are out of whack, the plan(e) will fly into the stratosphere and explode or crash into the ground and explode.

Any one of these forces is easily understood and is part of the strategic staple diet in any company. The more important point is that all these forces are in play at the same time, and consequently influence each other as much as they influence the eventual outcome.

Success is more likely for those who understand the intricacies of this interplay, and make their decisions accordingly. It is not always the appropriate strategy to provide more thrust, as much as it is intuitively appealing that there is no harm in accelerating the company. For example, anyone who has experienced cash flow issues will know that you can actually grow yourself broke as easily as go broke for lack of revenue.

These four forces have been chosen as the examples of those categories of factors influencing strategic outcomes, because they are critical to organisations articulating their business model. The two forces on the left (external) is where the opportunity lies and the forces on the right (internal) are where the response (value proposition) is formulated. Your business model is created as a result.

My key message here is that success does not come easy, it is a somewhat chaotic process that requires decision makers to balance conflicting demands and juggle many balls. It is therefore wise to avoid the glib solutions that suggest that is “all about (fill in the blank)”. It is usually about more than one thing and it is more than one thing at the same time.

Those who are struggling with this will recognise the truth of this.

In conclusion, my warning is to those of you who (consider yourself and your organisation) as successful. Success is a seductive mistress and protecting the status quo seems like an imperative. It is the hardest for those who have tasted some success to see the need for change as much as those who find themselves in a hole.


This note has been adapted from a presentation I gave to the Young Presidents’ Organisation in May 2016. I only had 45 minutes and I had to halve the presentation I originally had constructed, so there is a lot more to it than that. If you are planning an event/conference/seminar – talk to me about adapting it to your needs, and let’s see if we can shake something lose for you.

PS: One of the people I caught up afterwards said my presentation was the best and most thought-provoking; which was nice, especially since one of the other speakers was the recipient of a speaker-of-the-year award.

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