Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Success Techniques

Because the general theme of this blog is to discuss personal success (Making That Money) in any of those environs, I would like to discuss what made the women or men I know successful in my opinion. I have seen people succeed in several ways that are most easily broken into stereotypes, though certainly the most successful knew when to use each of these styles at different times.

The first technique I have seen people use is to focus on being the most knowledgeable or well read on the subject being discussed, or at least be the most versed in written material on it. An example in a classroom would be a student who read all the required material, sometimes the supporting material, and took extensive notes before a class ever held a discussion on it. I went to school with several young people who made sure they would not be blind-sided by not reading the materials. In a working environment, these people will have read all the memos sent, literature provided, and often whatever else they might be able to find on a given subject before a board meeting. I always admired the work ethic involved in maintaining such a high level of knowledge based on written materials, probably because I was never one to read like that myself. The major downfall I saw to success with this technique, though, came when further critical thinking was required to demonstrate understanding, and many times the "well-read" student could not extend the knowledge in the book to consider new scenarios. Knowing is often better than not knowing, but being able to use knowledge is definitely important to finding success.

The second technique I have seen people use to find success is to build the best relationship with the person in charge (or in relationships, simply to find the most advantageous friends to achieve popularity). Some would call this technique the "teacher's pet" routine. By being the most favored student (or employee), choice assignments are often easier to come by and elevated status follows. An example would be a student who, because of a teacher's fondness, got picked to attend certain camps or meetings, or who received higher grades on assignments. In a work setting, being the boss's favorite could mean promotion opportunities, lighter workloads, receiving credit for the work of others, and many other advantages. I have seen many men and women utilize a teacher's pet technique to go far in life. The downside of this technique is that it turns off many teachers, bosses, or individuals (those who are popular often avoid opportunists) who do not like sycophants. Being the favorite of one person can be disastrous when dealing with others as well, because it creates resentment on the part of those who are not favored and because it can tie the pet to that teacher, boss, or friend. In professional sports, many coaching staffs rise and fall together, meaning the assistants are fired with the head coach.

The next technique I have seen work is most easily called the "dumb blond" routine, though it can be employed by people of any hair color. Sometimes it is easier to exude sexiness along with stupidity in the hopes that someone else will do the actual work on a project or assignment. I remember one young girl who got into Duke University pre-med with a 1400 plus SAT who regularly would pretend not to understand an assignment in the hopes (often successfully) of getting one of the smarter kids (often ones labelled as nerds) to do it because they just appreciated the attention. I have seen athletes use their status as big men on campus to get other people to do their assignments in exchange for the benefits of their friendship. In a work environment, a male co-worker of mine regularly played to my ego by suggesting "Well, you're so much better at this and do it so much faster, so will you do it?" I think he had used that to find success in the past, but it did not work so well in this case, because a month later I had his job. The danger of the dumb blond routine is two-fold: people actually believe the image over time and cease to rely on the person's knowledge, and (as mentioned) it can lead to dismissal when it becomes obvious the person does not pull their weight.

One obvious technique I have seen for achieving success is expertise. When a person truly achieves an expert knowledge of a subject, success very often follows. One motivational speaker explained to a club I attended, "Sinatra never set up his own piano." His point was that Sinatra became an expert in the field of entertainment, and he let other people who specialized in other areas support his success. By focusing on his own talents, he became a great success in his field. Professional athletes demonstrate quite often that dedication can pay huge dividends. Other stories, such as Bill Gates and Michael Dell in the computer field, show how passion for a subject can bring success. The danger of the "expert" technique is that it often leaves out development in many other areas. Family is left behind, social skills may be less developed, or knowledge in general may suffer as one subject is mastered. Nevertheless, without experts, we would have far less innovation in the world.

I started writing this post as it related to women, hoping to bring in the different ways males find success, and I found the different roles of success broke down into similar stereotypes. What worked for one gender often worked for the other. The differences between the genders probably came in the perception of their success. Women who succeed using the same technique as men might not receive the same praise as men. I also realize that not all forms of success are broken into these stereotypes. I could list a dozen more and still have only scratched the surface. That's the great thing about success: there are many paths to finding it, if the passion and desire exist to do so. Certainly some receive more opportunities at success because of good fortune (or literal fortune in terms of wealth), but with those chances can often come just as many downfalls if the desire is lacking.

Desire is absolutely the key element I find in all techniques people use to achieve success. Even someone who finds success by winning the lottery (though whether that constitutes success is an entirely different discussion) had to have the desire to win demonstrated by buying a ticket. Without trivializing desire too much, though, I truly do think that is what so many in today's world feel has been beaten out of them. People content themselves, or worse relegate themselves, to careers they do not love just to pay the bills, and over time stress builds in their lives as they find less and less reason to get out of bed in the morning. Why else do we need so many types of alarm clocks and stimulants to awaken ourselves each day? Here's to a world where the joy of living is stimulant enough to jump out of bed each day, kiss your spouse and children, and go forth into the world to a true calling, not just a J O B.

-- Robert


Melissa said...

Your comment in and of itself deserves a reply. :)

I want to expand on your desire theme a little bit.

It's not just enough to want something. We ALL want SOMETHING. One thing I always have to ask myself is "Are you willing to do what you have to do to get what you want?" In other words, the sacrifices, the practice, the extra effort. Right now, I have to constantly remind my very soccer-talented son that "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard".

Good post. :)

Julie Pippert said...

I found that the same personality traits and techniques that worked in high school often work in the real world, too.

I agree desire is a necessary element.

Robert said...

I agree with both of you. Willingness to do what it takes matters a great deal in the grand scheme of things. I'm not, for instance, willing to work ninety hours a week to someday become partner at an accounting firm or a top executive at a Fortune 500 Company. I'd rather enjoy my family. And yes, Julie, high school techniques definitely work in the real world, which was sort of my point. People have lots of ways they use to win, and a lot of them are what they "learned in kindergarten" (like the book says).

le35 said...

I would rather live on $25,000 a year with a husband who desires to go to work every day than live on $110,000 a year with a husband who hates his job. I'm so glad that Rob likes his job.

Robert said...

I'm glad I like it, too. :)