This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the best-kept secrets of successful business people?
I won't cover luck, ambition, common sense and all of that. Here are some things I think very few people know and fewer implement.
1. The worst-to-best scale
You make decisions every day. With every choice, you have lots of options, but you can sum them up like this: worst, bad, not great, good, better, best. If you can avoid the bad, worse, and worst decisions, first by recognizing them, then by eschewing them, you can do well. If you want to be really successful, identify the best option and pursue it.
So many are thrown off the best course by good decisions. Sometimes you have to say no to a good business opportunity, either because of the time or resources it would take to make it happen. Really successful people learn the best ways to spend $100,000 in capital and 1 year of time to get the maximum return.
Never be satisfied with good decisions. Look to make better decisions until you consistently recognize and pursue the best decisions.
2. Self-investment yields the biggest returns
There is no shortage of financial advisers and no shortage of financial advice. Buy this, sell that, invest here, invest there, etc. A savings account at your bank will get you less than 1% interest. That's a pathetic return that doesn't even keep pace with inflation. Stock markets can do well, real estate can do well, hedge funds can do well...there are lots of investment opportunities out there. But none, I repeat, absolutely NONE comes close to the investment you can make in yourself.
First, that means investing in education. You may not learn much information, but that piece of paper that says you are a college graduate will open a whole lot of doors that would otherwise be closed.
In one of my first entrepreneurial efforts, I took $3,000 and started an online store. In 8 months, I had $8,000 in inventory in my garage and $20,000 in my business bank account. I've been able to replicate this in other endeavors. Try and find an investment vehicle that comes anywhere close to that kind of return.
You'll notice the most successful business people own a business. Becoming an executive at someone else's business is good and all, but owning a business and investing in it is the best investment you can make. You don't get rich by hoping for the best and guessing what your return will be. You get rich by working hard.
3. Exploit benign manipulation
The definition of manipulation is: "a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics."
I would call "benign manipulation" on that does not utilize underhanded, deceptive, or abusive tactics. You can influence people and change perception or behavior without harming anyone or lying to them. One way to do this is to become a polymath. Learn everything you can about everything you can. This way you can relate to just about anybody.
For example, if you work in tech and enjoy video games, you can relate to people like that. If you watch Sports Center on ESPN every night and keep up to date with major sports, teams, and athletes, you can converse with almost any guy. If you check headlines, you can be up to date with current events and always have something to talk about.
The key here is to never feel awkward in any conversation. Ever. If you can comfortably converse with anybody and relate to them, you can manipulate them, that is, influence them. Successful people tend to be the smartest ones in the room, but no one in the room ever thinks so. It's because they ask a lot of questions. If you know someone does landscaping, ask them about the plants in your yard, how to fertilize your lawn, anything about their expertise. They will like you. Now you have the opportunity to sell a website, advertising, accounting services, legal services, whatever it is you do, without actually selling yourself.
The law of reciprocity works in the human psyche. If someone ask you about you, don't you feel obligated to ask them about them? Successful people often recognize you have to give to get. They understand people, they listen in conversations, and if you converse with one, you both probably walk away feeling good about the conversation and that you got something out of it. Successful people can manipulate and influence others without their even knowing it.
4. Successful people are never bored
If you find yourself bored and looking for something to do, then you are doing something wrong. Successful people are tireless, almost never satisfied with anything, and always trying to learn more. Warren Buffet says he spends most of his time reading. What does a billionaire need to read? He can pay someone to read for him. He reads for a reason. And it's one reason he is so successful, because you know long before he was a billionaire he was doing the same thing.
Always read. Always learn. Never let a moment go to waste. Enjoy through recreation or use it to further yourself in some way.
5. Success doesn't change successful people
Like I said about Warren Buffet, he still reads. A lot. It's part of what made him successful. But the most successful people in the world recognize that whatever it took to become successful is what it takes to REMAIN successful. A lot of successful people have lost that success. You can find stories of former professional athletes, millionaires at one point, who go bankrupt. They worked hard to become successful, but it appears after earning their success, the hard work stopped, and with it their success.
The secret to becoming successful is the same secret to remaining successful after you achieve initial success.
6. Success means different things to different people
The last thing I want to say is that success doesn't always mean the same thing for everyone. There are literally millions of successful people around the world whose success goes unnoticed. I am not wealthy, or "successful" by the standard definition. But I provide comfortable circumstances for my family, and in my mind that makes me successful. I have a baby girl who is healthy and happy and constantly learning, and to me that makes me successful. I have good friends, a close family, a loving spouse, a modest home, and a healthy lifestyle. All of these things make me a success in my mind.
And therein lies the secret to happiness and success. You have to recognize that whatever makes someone else feel happy and successful won't necessarily do the same for you. Pursue your own personal happiness and success and not someone else's.
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