Three Essential Elements of Success Built to Last
In hundreds of interviews, we learned that Builders find lasting success when at least three essential elements come into alignment in their lives and work.
The first essential element is Meaning. What you do must matter deeply to you in a way that you as an individual define meaning. It’s something that you’re so passionate about that you lose all track of time when you do it. It’s something that you are willing to recruit other people to, but will do it despite criticism and perhaps even secretly do it for free. In fact, you could not be paid to not do it.
“Success is about building lasting relationships and serving others,” said Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro in India. He took the reins of the Bangalore-based firm at age 21 when his father died, then turned it from a fledgling hydrogenated cooking fat producer into an almost $2 billion information technology services company.2 When it comes to creating lasting success in your life and career, Premji asked, “Don’t you think that building a meaningful lasting relationship with yourself about what matters to you is a good place to start?”
We’ll look at the many ways that Builders strive to build Meaning in Part I, “Meaning—How Successful People Stay Successful.”
The second essential element is ThoughtStyle—a highly developed sense of accountability, audacity, passion, and responsible optimism. We call it ThoughtStyle. Steve Jobs told us in an interview back before his famous ad campaign: Enduringly successful people “think different.” They have a talent, yes, and perhaps some even have a genius. But they also have a ThoughtStyle that supports their special accomplishments.
As Gerard Kleisterlee put it, “When you can organize your thinking around creating real value, and your thoughts remain focused on what is important to creating that value despite all the incoming distractions, crisis, and complexity crashing down all around you...then you’re really lucky because you have a sustainable model” for your work and your life. Kleisterlee is chairman, president, and CEO of Royal Philips Electronics in the Netherlands, with over 160,000 employees in 60 countries and 2005 sales of more than $37 billion.
We will focus on ThoughtStyles of Builders in Part II, “ThoughtStyles—Extreme Makeovers Start in Your Head.”
The third element is ActionStyle: enduringly successful people find effective ways to take action. This is hardly mind-blowing news, but there is more to ActionStyle than first meets the eye. Many Builders told us about times in their lives when they had a clear sense of meaning, but found it almost impossible to make things happen—to turn meaning and thought into action. Be thoughtful about meaning, but don’t let that paralyze you.
When you envision something that is meaningful to you that seems to be ideal or perhaps even perfect, sometimes “it’s like a beautiful pastry—too lovely to ruin by eating it,” said Alice Waters, the restaurateur and pioneer in organic cooking who, through an initiative called the Edible Schoolyard,3 is determined to change the world one mouthful at a time.
Anyone who has “a perfect picture in his or her head of what must be done and what matters” also knows that the results of acting on that idea might “never be as perfect as that image in their mind,” Waters said. The reason this happens is because moving from thought to action puts idealism and beauty at risk as “your dream might lose something in the translation!”
Ultimately, “it’s about the pleasure of work itself—we’ve almost completely forgotten about that. The quality of loving the work is one of the most important values that we can bring to people,” Waters said with an appreciative eye on the talented chefs who were passionately tossing, chopping, and stirring lunch in her award-winning restaurant, Chez Pannise. They looked like sculptors as they arranged individual masterpieces on each plate.
“Do it because it’s worth doing even if you can’t quite make it as perfect as your original fantasy,” said Jack Jia, who grew up “with nothing but a head full of dreams” in Chengdu in China’s Sichuan Province. Today, he’s a serial entrepreneur, president of the Hua Yuan Science and Technology Association, and founder and CEO of Baynote. “If you refuse to do something you believe in, your mind will never leave you alone. It just will torment you. If it really matters, you might as well get on with it despite the problems that will occur when you take on a new challenge. Any new beginning, anything creative, will get messy in parts,” he said. “If you do it with your eyes wide open, with discipline, it will only get better when you do it more.”
That’s the way it is, Builders told us countless times. “So, get moving and get on with what you really care about doing.”
Without discipline, some overly ambitious folks encounter the opposite problem—all action and no meaning—cautioned Singapore-based entrepreneur and government advisor, Peng Ong. People who find action irresistible for its own sake often discover they’re taking the wrong hill. “You’ve got to get yourself and your team all on the same page about what success will require of you. Think about what matters and the people you are serving first. Then, organize your thoughts and creativity around that to make it happen.” Taking action without stopping first to determine what you hold meaningful is a big reason things don’t last. Builders use a special goal-setting process and even encourage contention to help them achieve those aspirations.
We’ll focus on these and other ActionStyles in Part III, “ActionStyles—Turning Passion Into Action.”