Why is it that in many cases, winners continue to win? What are they doing right that propels them into more and more wins? I'm an entrepreneur, just like 95 percent of the readers of this blog, and I love to win. But to win you must compete, and competition—by definition – means you may sometimes lose. So, when it comes to my livelihood and that of my family and staff, I want to eliminate as many losing factors as possible and lock in the factors that keep us on the winning team.
Norm Brodsky has a great line: Smart people learn from their mistakes, but wise people learn from the mistakes of others. I'll try to coin a corollary rule about success—smart people learn to replicate their own successes, and wise people can replicate the successes of others. The trick is to pick the right characteristics of the right people and avoid the bad. That is often harder to do.
At my publishing company, the pillars of our business model are built largely on the weaknesses of our competitors. Where they fall short, we push forward. This isn't to say that we don't make mistakes, or even repeat mistakes that have plagued the industry for decades. But, by trying to follow a systematized approach to success, we've been able grow revenue and profitability in an industry where that's less and less common.
This summer, we're releasing a book by author Les McKeown based on this philosophy, aptly titled Predictable Success. While we have done some of these things naturally, the principles give us a step by step plan to make sure we continue to win. Our team is working to better predict our successes through improved systems and stronger awareness of the things we do that are successful and those that aren't.
But, you say, think of all the success stories you read in the news—overnight successes where someone followed his or her intuition and won. The reason you hear about them in the news is because they are so uncommon. That's the success bias in action. Rather than cover the 99 percent who fail, the media covers the 1 percent who succeed. (Think of how much more depressing the news would be if they covered the failures!)
The good news is that, according to McKeown, predictable success is a state reachable by any group (an organization, business, division, department, project or team) through which they will consistently achieve their common goals with relative ease.
Those who manage groups want to get to predictable success for a simple reason: It's easier to manage a group when you—and they — know how to be successful. Just like it's easier to manage a football team that already knows how to win, groups with a history of success have a substantial competitive advantage over those that don't.
We were never taught "predictable" success in business school - that success could be learned and replicated, understood and scaled, nurtured and sustained. Sure, we were taught about cash flow, human resources, people management, vendor selection, 5 "P"s and 6 sigmas — and a thousand other nuggets of information. But we were never shown how all of it could (and should) add up to more than fleeting or momentary success; how, if we took the right steps, we could develop success to be replicated over time and in any environment. Put simply, we were given the tools for success, and an expectation of success, but no dependable way of combining the two to consistently achieve success.
Because of this missing link — no dependable connection between the tools we have and the results we want — our experience with success is patchy: sometimes stuff works, sometimes it doesn't. As a result we have developed a collective belief system that throbs along in the background as we work, telling us that success will just 'happen' eventually, if we do the right things (whatever they are); that while success is there, it is locked up in a vault waiting for us to crack the code. If we spend each day trying different combinations on the lock, one lucky day we'll guess right and the tumblers will fall, the safe door will swing open, and success will be ours.
Part of that underlying belief system is true. There is a code that will unlock success, predictably and consistently, in any organization. The untrue part is that you have to guess at what that code is, or that you have to experiment every day to get it right. McKeown's book teaches us that the code for predictable success is sitting in plain view and is available to anyone who wants to pick it up and use it. You don't need to experiment day in, day out to discover how to make your organization predictably successful. Organizations have been in existence for long enough, and in enough numbers, that the patterns of success and failure in all business areas are as clear as the night sky, if you know where to look.
The question for you, now, is how can you use existing knowledge to predict your success? Who can you emulate? Who should you avoid? Although this will be an intensely individualized exercise for everyone, share your ideas so we can all learn from them—and how we can apply similar ideas to our industries.