If you're like most people, you probably think business success is the result of innovative products, strong financial backing and long work hours.

But you'd think wrong.

Most successful business ideas are stolen from other companies. And millions of companies have spun through billions of dollars, only to fold up and die.

As for long work hours, as I explained in this post, consistently working more than 40 hours a week actually makes you less productive.

What, then, are the true reasons that people (and the companies they create) become successful? There are three:

1. Ability to Empathize

There is simply nothing so important in business as understanding what other people are feeling and likely to feel in the future.

This capability determines whether customers will want your products, whether employees will accept your leadership, whether colleagues will work well with you, and whether investors will be willing to take a risk on you.

Without empathy, there's absolutely no way that you'll get all these folks pulling in the same direction.

2. Clarity of Purpose

In the science of physics, unfocused energy is quickly dispersed and that's true in business as well.

Vague all-encompassing corporate statements like "we're a one-stop-shop," "we sell to a broad customer base," and "we have a worldwide focus" are certain signals that a company is destined to fail.

Successful people and companies concentrate with crystal clarity on a single highly-desirable product or service that they can make or provide better than anyone else.

3. Sense of Timing

Every good business idea has a brief period in time when it's ripe for the plucking. Move too soon and you'll be a footnote; move too late and you'll be an also-ran.

Business history is littered with great ideas that died because they were before their time: Altavista, Lisa, Friendster, Newton, Visicalc and Wordperfect, just to name a few.

As for the "me-too" products that were late to market... why, they're not even memorable enough to mention.

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