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Serious About Success, Part 1

Art or science?

In this first of a two-part article, I want to begin by asking ‘Is success an art, or a science? Can it be both an art and a science?’ I ask these questions because I am very serious about success, and spend a lot of time considering what the ingredients of success are, and how I can pass on this knowledge to startups and young entrepreneurs.
To claim that success comes purely from the scientific application of principles is too simplistic, and anyway if there was a one-size-fits-all recipe available, then everyone would be successful. On the other hand, if being successful is more about having the mystical qualities of a ninja, does that mean retreating to a Tibetan monastery for seven years to learn all the secrets?

Well, in fact it’s a combination of these extremes, but what I’m certain of is that the path to success can indeed be learned, and over the years I have refined the points that I think all successful entrepreneurs embody, and that I nurture in the people I coach. If you are also serious about success, then you need to be aware of, and actively engaged with the guidelines that I’m going to set out. And yes, they cover both art and science, and sometimes a touch of magic too!

The luck of the draw?

My first observation is that it’s not a case that some entrepreneurs are ‘lucky’ and others are not. The very idea of ‘luck’ is a superstitious and lazy concept, because it suggests that we are not responsible for our own affairs, and rely instead on some greater force. In fact, what we observe as luck is really when two qualities come together: Persistence, and Preparation. If you persist, and persist some more, then the possibility of success is greatly increased. Now add the factor of preparation, and things can catch light. Simply persisting, or merely preparing, are not enough by themselves. They must come together, at the same time, to form a winning combo. Take a moment and really consider this – think about examples in your own life and your own business: Success does not come when only one of these factors is present.
Develop both, and suddenly Lady Luck will be with you! Or as the movie producer Samuel Goldwyn remarked, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” 

Clarity vs ambiguity

Coupled with the qualities of persistence and preparation, comes Clarity. You must know what you are doing, where you are heading, and what you are attempting to achieve. Surprisingly, many startup entrepreneurs and teams can’t actually articulate these things. Their concept of ‘success’ is wooly and unfocussed, even down to not knowing their projected turnover in the first years of business. Don’t ‘hope’ to make a million dollars in the first year, plan to do it, and clearly see what your prospects are.
Clarity means you’ll be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. Fail to reach clarity and the downside is ambiguity, where you’re not sure what you want, or how to get it. And if you have no clarity, how do you expect to inspire your team, or attract the investors that you need?
Clarity may not always be comfortable to live with, but it’s a great deal better than ambiguity. Clarity tells you what’s real and what’s not, so strive for clarity in everything you do. Never simply do things because it feels better to be moving fast than sitting still and thinking.
In truth, thinking and reflection always lead to clarity, and clarity is a powerful tool.


My clients often ask how to pitch their ideas to others, and my response is, ‘With clarity’. You will always be able to reach the hearts and minds of investors or customers if you pitch with clarity. This means you must know your ‘shiny story’ inside out. You have to be able to tell it to any audience, at any time, in the most appropriate way. If you’re getting into a lift with a potential investor, you really do have to do an ‘elevator pitch’ that might last only minutes. You can’t tell them everything about your product or service in that time, so you must know precisely what to pitch, and how to pitch at that specific moment.

Later you’ll get the chance to make a formal presentation, or speak at a meetup, and every opportunity to pitch your idea is a unique forum. This applies across the board to every aspect of your communication, whether it’s face-to-face, or your marketing material, or how well your website ‘sings’. One of the most important roles of the core team of a new enterprise is to be able to pitch the Big Idea, and do so successfully. The Big Idea can be absolutely genius, but it won’t pitch itself. It’s a truism, that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” so every time you make that first impression it has to really count. If you are serious about success, you must reach, attract, and influence the people who will be key to your project, as efficiently and as soon as possible. Why deliver a poorly executed message hundreds of times if you can do it really effectively just a few times? Practice your pitch. Then practice it some more.


Although many startup entrepreneurs are very confident about their product or service (sometimes unrealistically confident!) they sometimes forget that people buy from people. I mentioned the importance of that first impression, and most of this comes from how we present ourselves to others. If we don’t believe in ourselves, how can we expect others to have confidence in us? I’m not talking about projecting false confidence, but true self-belief, based on the facts.
Self-confidence is not about believing in the impossible, but rather developing your skillset to be as good as it gets. When you start reaching that point, you will undoubtedly be confident, and others will recognize this in you too. For example, I don’t believe I’ll ever be a world-conquering opera singer, but fortunately that’s not what I want or need to do! I do however have deep self confidence in knowing that as a Business Coach and entrepreneur, I deliver the goods.
As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Clearly, thinking you can is the way to build self-confidence.

Finding our true purpose

Now I’m maybe sounding a little mystical here, but finding and defining our true purpose is a hugely important part of being successful. For example, not everyone can be the star striker in the soccer team, but the defenders and the goalkeeper play equally important parts. Knowing what your part is in the scheme of things is a key success factor.
Maybe you’re the inventor or originator of The Big Idea. That doesn’t mean you’re the most financially able person in the organization, or the best spokesperson for the enterprise. Maybe you are, but you must apply the rule of discovering your true purpose.
And here’s a clue, your true purpose can’t be a ‘shopping list’: If you claim that your true purpose is, ‘Inventor, business person, team leader, communicator, marketing expert, financial analyst, and great all-rounder,’ then I suggest you have yet to define your true purpose.
If you want to succeed, you’re going to have to.

Lifelong learning

All of these points so far suggest that the pursuit of success is a work in progress, and you’d be absolutely right if you think of it that way. We have to be learning all the time, stretching ourselves and pushing ourselves. This means getting out of our comfort zone, and it’s much better to do that voluntarily than to be forced into it, without preparation on our part. Maybe you don’t exactly welcome the idea of standing up at a big conference and speaking to a thousand people about your business, but if that’s what it takes, then bite the bullet, and do it. You do it – ideally – by learning and practicing, so that when the time comes, your ‘muscle memory’ is already up to the job.
(‘Muscle memory’ is the way musicians explain how they can remember a piece of classical music – not so much by what’s in their head, but how their fingers ‘know’ where to go next).
So whatever age you are, at whatever stage of your career, dedication to continuous lifelong learning is a very important marker of success.

Find a teacher

You’d be right to point out that if learning is so important to the process of becoming successful, then where are the teachers? The answer is: all around you. In order to understand ourselves and become self-confident, engaged in the lifelong search for knowledge, we need outside reference points. Everyone needs supervision, that is literally an ‘overview’ of how we are performing. We cannot give that to ourselves – it’s an impossibility. So whether it’s colleagues, your friends and family, or Advisers and Business Coaches, an external reference point is needed.
Elite sports people know all about this, because however brilliant they are at their sport, they always need an outside view to provide those extra few percent of performance that turns them from a contender… into a champion.
Find your teacher, your mentor. And however advanced or experienced you are, there will always be someone who is further up the ladder who you can learn from.

The supportive community

I mentioned friends and family, and without doubt a supportive community provides a great boost on your road to success. While Coaches and Mentors will examine your processes in forensic detail, your family and circle of friends will cut you more slack, and that’s also really useful. Sometimes when we’re feeling low, and wondering if success will ever come, that’s when we need less critical feedback. It’s said that each of us are the ‘average’ of our five closest friends, so you better choose your friendships wisely and well! A community that supports you is a precious gift – many entrepreneurs get their first start through the financial support of friends and family who are investing in the person rather than the Big Idea.
So if you don’t have a supportive community, get building! This means creating a base of ‘fans’ for your product or service – followers who will spread the word on your behalf, and also be forgiving when things occasionally don’t go to plan.

Be strategic

Ah yes, the plan! If your plan is merely ‘to be successful’, that’s not going to cut it. Planning is definitely at the scientific end of the spectrum, where results are measureable, and actions are concrete. Being strategic means that you’ve thought out everything, ahead of time. Time is an important factor in all planning of course, and especially for a startup business. Too early to launch and you risk failing to get traction. Too late and… well, there are obvious downsides to arriving late to market. Your strategy is encompassed in your strategy document, which takes you all the way from A to Z, and which vitally also makes it clear to your colleagues and investors where the company will be at every step and stage.

Now you may be asking, ‘Ah, but what if..?’ Just because you have decided on a clear strategy doesn’t mean markets will agree with you. Things change over time, and that’s where the artfulness of tactics comes in. Not only do you have to be strategic, but you need to be able to flex and change in line with your strategy, as circumstances demand.

Seriousness and Success

So far in this first part of ‘Serious About Success’ I’ve covered around half the markers which I have identified as being important for a startup business to pay very careful attention to. I began by asking whether success involves art or science, and I think you’ll now see that it’s a subtle combination of both. We’ll explore this more in Part Two.
What I’ll also be looking at in Part Two is the even more fundamental questions of what constitutes ‘success’, and exactly what I mean by ‘being serious’.
By now I trust that you are becoming as Serious About Success as I am.

To be continued...


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