Sunday, May 06, 2012

What You Really Need To Succeed…or To Succeed

"Intelligence Is Overrated: What You Really Need To Succeed"
That was the headline from a Forbes editorial. But do you really agree with it?

The problem for me is that the article doesn't define success comprehensively and from whose perspective, except to say, "...executive competence and corporate success. Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success (emphasis added)." In other words, the amount of money you make in life is the criteria it deals with, although the title might leave the discussion open for a broader perspective about success. Even if monetary success is the goal, the desired level of monetary income and accrual might vary greatly from one person to another.  When I read about success, I really want a more rounded consideration.

How should we think about success: success as society views success, as an individual views success, or some hybrid?  Do the criteria in the Forbes article apply across the board for all types of success or just executive competence and corporate success?

Consider this.  Was Steve Jobs successful? What about Paul ErdősColonel John Boyd?

The qualities required to satisfy "success" from one perspective may be different from those of another perspective.  I'm not so sure the four criteria (IQ, EQ, MQ, BQ) in the Forbes article are equally relevant as predictors across the different perspectives of success.

In their given fields of endeavor, I would say Jobs, Erdős, and Boyd were all successful, but none of them mastered all four criteria described in the article. Jobs, Erdős, and Boyd were frequently described as lacking emotional intelligence. Some might argue that Jobs lacked both emotional and moral intelligence. Erdős was notorious for his (ab)use of amphetamines and caffeine and limited sleep, showing little regard for his BQ. But they each sought a different kind of success premised in the Forbes article. Personally, I think the characteristics consistent with them were high IQ and dogged, relentless, obsessive pursuit of their goal. I especially don't think the article addressed the latter.

Furthermore, the article didn't really address the idea that there are different levels of success and different strategies to get there related to risk preference and the means of managing it. I think the article most likely addresses the kind of success associated with managing the probability of success/failure to achieve desirably moderate returns versus pursuing higher potential value with a low probability of success.

Of course I'm speculating, but I'd wager that people who master all four criteria in the article usually achieve moderate levels of personal and financial success, and the failure rate among them is low. These are people who finish high school, get a college degree (or more), and become day-to-day leaders and executives.  But they aren't the kind of people who typically change the world in far reaching ways. They do keep the world running, and that's important.  It is one measure of success.

On the other hand, people who pursue the potential value side of the equation tend to be extreme risk takers. Unfortunately, they may frequently fail to understand when they are wrong, so the rate of failure among them is high. They make up for their lack of mastering the latter three criteria with unrelenting obsession, though. So while many of these people might often head down a dead end pathway, when they do get it right, you see world changing kinds of success. They may profit from it with money and fame, or they may not. In some cases, they may not even know about the extent of their contribution (think Nikola Tesla).  The success with this crowd is self-selecting, as you rarely hear about the people who pursue the same strategy and fail to achieve their goals.

As Jobs being the most prominent example, significant commercial areas were affected by his success. Even if you don't use an Apple product, you benefit from the design esthetic he developed, or the advancements he led in other commercial areas, or the resultant competition his success drove. Maybe you wouldn't want his success for yourself, and there's nothing wrong with that.  Jobs, on the other, wanted it at the expense of the ideals you might hold dear. The same could be said for Erdos and Boyd. My thinking here, on a late Sunday night, is that success first needs to be clearly defined for yourself, and the tradeoffs required to get there need to be thoughtfully considered over and over.  But success by our standards shouldn't necessarily preclude our recognition of success by other standards.

Your thoughts?


Robert D. Brown III said...

For another perspective on the inhibitors of successful management, see my friend's recent blog post: "Paralysis, Amnesia & Megalomania – the Inhibitors of Successful Project Management"

Alicia said...

It's of no surprise that I agree with you. Success looks different for different people. One thing that's always frustrated me are the people who look at those with big fancy houses and/or cars and say to themselves, "s/he is successful." What these same people may not realize is the fact that those they think of as successful by outward appearances alone might actually be employees of someone else and can use fancy trinkets to show off success. There's also the people who have robbed, cheated and participated in other heinous acts all in the effort to get ahead. As an entrepreneur, my personal definition of success is to be able to create financially viable, malicious-free, and LEGAL opportunities for myself and my family such that I can go to bed at night with a clear conscious. Sadly, some will argue that it's not possible to do this in a capitalist society.