Being in the top 1% does not mean you feel successful.
After all, what if you view success as a never-ending climb? That means every step up the ladder gives you a clearer view of the next-higher step.
But it does not make you happy. Instead, it makes you question whether you have sufficient drive to push yourself higher -- hoping to surpass what many have accomplished and achieve ever more.
This comes to mind in considering Ajeet Singh, CEO of business analytics service-provider ThoughtSpot.
Singh does not feel successful -- but he holds himself up to the near-impossible. That is reflected in who inspires Singh: Tom Cruise's role in 2002?s Minority Report -- a police officer with instant access to all information -- and Elon Musk -- who turned his childhood love of rockets into a company, SpaceX.
Singh will never feel successful because he equates success with drive -- which is an insatiable hunger.
Yet the rungs of the ladder he's already reached suggest there is plenty for you to learn from his success principles. He succeeded in school and climbed into the top 1% -- before starting ThoughtSpot he co-founded Nutanix, a leader in data center technology that Singh said in a recent interview "has changed a $50 billion dollar industry" by simplifying data centers.
While Singh has achieved financial success, he sees that as "only a small part of the bigger picture."
Here are Singh's four principles of success.
1. Change your definition of success throughout your life.
Every person defines success differently. But chances are good that their definitions are not fixed throughout their lives.
He won't feel successful unless most people have the power of infinite information at their fingertips.
"My current bar of success is making data really accessible at human scale. If ten years from today, a large fraction of the human population has access to data and can command it as they wish with data at their fingertips -- like the police officer Tom Cruise plays in the 2002 movie Minority Report -- that would feel like success to me," said Singh.
He also wants his ThoughtSpot people to become entrepreneurs. "Another measure of success is if ten people from ThoughtSpot go out and start ten meaningful companies in the world over the next decade and really make a difference," he explained.
And when he is older, he will certainly feel like a failure if his children are not successful. As Singh explained, "I want to see my kids become successful. If I'm successful and my kids are not doing well in life, that would be a personal failure. Their success and happiness is my eventual success and happiness."
His definition of success would hurt me since he is always pushing himself to achieve more -- but that's because I like to feel happy during the journey -- and his form of drive would feel to me like a knife pressed against my gut.
2. Drive yourself to achieve your highest aspirations.
If you see your purpose in life as achieving something great, you will never stop pushing yourself higher.
As Singh said, "It all comes down to drive. If I look at people who have been VERY successful, what differentiates the top 1% from the top 10% is that hunger."
Singh looks up to Elon Musk. "He's really gone after some extremely difficult or seemingly impossible goals, and he's made them happen. Take SpaceX. He's working on it now, but he has been excited about building rockets since he was a kid. He seems to possess a rare ability to take a really long-term view of the world, which means that he can relate to problems the world might face 50 years from now," according to Singh.
I like Singh's philosophy of taking the long view -- because it helps leaders to keep from losing focus even as they face the inevitable emotional ups and downs of running a company.
3. Create an excellent team and empower it.
People can't achieve ambitious goals without help.
Some leaders are great at recruiting top talent who want to be part of achieving the goals. But only a subset of such leaders can empower a great team -- instead of smothering it with ego.
As Singh explained, "I've worked on some teams with high-quality people who were not empowered. The leaders had a know-it-all attitude, and that limited the growth of those teams and the impact those teams could make."
Singh does the opposite. "I've tried to check myself against those types of instincts. I focus on being vocal with my ideas without compromising my respect for other team members -- who I hire because they are better than me -- and their ideas," he said.
This sounds right to me.
4. Leave 50% of your time free to do what you want.
If you could run an organization and still leave half your time to do what you think is best, you could use that time to think about where you want to take the company.
The other half you could spent creating an environment that would motivate your team to turn that vision into a reality.
Singh follows venture capitalist Vinod Khosla's advice. "He once said that 50% of your calendar should be free for discretionary time. If it is not, that means that you're not making decisions in advance; you're behind and always being reactive to others instead of setting your own agenda," said Singh.
Singh does not always achieve this. "In practice, this means I try to block two days per week as non-meeting days in order to focus on important projects and create opportunities for hallway conversations," he said.
He carves out more time by making meetings more effective. "Many issues can be solved by walking over to someone's desk. If a topic is less defined, bring together two to three people from different teams who can represent diverse views. As a small group, take the analysis 90% of the way, and then send a few options to the broader group," he said.
This sounds like a great idea to me.