The COVID-19 pandemic, which could really have been worse, was tough on most people, companies, and the global economy. Money, livelihood, and lives have been lost. From developed free market to the developing economies, country after country had to come to the aid of people and companies in ways that made the 2008 interventions a child’s play. Individuals, families, small and large businesses had to be supported in various ways that go contrary to free market principles. This was nothing less than the acceptance that we all must first survive before we could stand a chance to succeed. Put differently, the year 2020 reminded us that the fates of all human beings, regardless of race, creed or geography are intricately conjoined.
What should we remind ourselves and what should we do differently and better?
In my book, SAIL YOUR BOAT – Success is a Lifestyle and a Journey, I posited that even as we may individually pursue different things in life, there should be certain principles of success that must apply to all regardless of the specific endeavours we are committed to. These included principles of legitimacy and value irrespective of whether there is commerciality in the endeavour or not. In the same book I also argued that social laws of success are as dominating and effective on us as the physical laws of nature. We cannot defy any of them without unwanted consequences.
Another key issue I discussed is that achieving success is independent of time and location. People have succeeded since the world came into existence and will continue to. Success has been recorded by different people in different parts of the world at different times.
In the coming year and those after it, we should strive to cut out the noise and return to the basics of what brings true success and I hope this serves as a refresher.
Everything starts with our mindsets: Successful people have an amazing vision of what they want to achieve years and even decades before it becomes reality. These people start with a clear vision in their minds, knowing that unless they are sincerely convinced internally, nothing external can help them achieve their goals.
In the conceptual development and production of the ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, Walt Disney faced an unbelievable level of resistance from financiers, contributors and other associates including his bother, Roy Disney. Hollywood wags referred to the project as ‘Disney’s Folly’. But Disney was very clear in his mind as to what he wanted to achieve. He refused to lose focus on his desired outcome. At the end, the project cost a whooping 1.5 million in 1938 US dollars. But in the first weekend of its release, Snow White brought in $8 million, representing about $134 million in current dollars!
This level of confidence is never accidental. Look at it this way,
Our ‘internal universe’ is that sphere within us accommodating and processing the individual thoughts and feelings we have about everything that happens around and to us. Both may influence and be influenced by our knowledge, experiences and actions. Outside of us is ‘the world as it is’. This comprises of other people (with all they think, feel, say and do) and the physical and social environments within which we all exist and operate, similarly with all the opportunities they provide and obstacles they throw on our paths.
Each of us, mentally, knowingly or unknowingly, classifies what happens in ‘the world as it is’ as either ‘controllable’ or ‘uncontrollable’. Note that different people in the same circumstances can classify the same variable differently! These classifications are based on our perceptions (knowledge, experiences, beliefs) and future expectations. They are also a reflection of our confidence levels and capacities. It goes without saying that most successful people tend to have a feeling and confidence of being able to control, influence or simply manage what happens around them a lot better than others.
Between our ‘internal universe’ and ‘the world as it is’, there is continuous and relentless interactions by way of flow of information and experiences, with both impacting each other to some degree and extent. Our individual thought processes, feelings, and pre-emptive actions and response to what is happening or may happen is what largely builds ‘the world we create’. Just like Walt Disney ‘created a world’ with successful animations of feature-lengths like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He felt, thought, and acted in control. Nothing could stop him. It is the same kind of mindsets that propel the great politicians, freedom fighters, scientists, etc. to successes.
How can you think, feel and be in control?
Be purposeful: Successful people are highly purposeful. This means they are clear about what they want to achieve. Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress (‘ANC’) comrades were very clear about the freedom they wanted to attain for their people in South Africa. This gave them the focus they needed to raise required resources for their activities. It enabled them to put in the effort and make the sacrifices the needed to.
Without a clear purpose, resources will be wasted and nothing significant can be achieved. A clear purpose gives us a basis of assessing the results of our efforts. It should be noted that we can have different purposes in different spheres of our lives. But as much as possible, all overall goals must dovetail into each other and be in congruence. Otherwise dissonance can cause great inefficiencies and undermine our ability to achieve some of our objectives.
Purpose is the foundation of all worthy activities and on which other critical factors are built upon or revolve around.
Prioritise your activities: Once we set a purpose on an endeavour, there will be a million things to be done over the days and weeks and years to come. Again, think of the ANC scenario: The leaders would have needed to mobilise their people to support them; They would have needed to gain the support of other countries in Africa and the rest of the world; They would have needed funds to procure arms and train their people in their use, etc. Each activity will consume resources and hopefully contribute towards the required overall results. But we do not have all the resources we need (such as finances, time, energy, relationships etc.). Hence, we must prioritise along importance, urgency, opportunity costs and expected value return.
Prioritisation will provide focus and make for the efficient utilisation of available resources. This is ultimately critical to success.
Plan your activities and develop your strategy: With your priorities set, you then have to plan your strategy and tactics on how each immediate, medium-term and long-term goal can be achieved. This is about deciding exactly what needs to be done and how they are going to be done. Other relevant issues are what resources are required and how they will be provided; who does what and when, must all be decided in advance of actions to be taken.
Planning helps you provide a basis for and sense of control, risk management, direction, and coordination of activities.
Create a program: Most of us as individuals and groups have preferred mode of optimum operation. That means there are ways we best operate to add the most value. Some of us work best in the evenings whilst others do best in the mornings. Others operate best as field officers and others in the backend. No matter our specific preferences and competencies, we should develop a routine that get the best and the most out of us over our twenty four daily hours.
Creating this routine is a process of executing your daily activities persistently and with consistency. Once an effective routine is developed through practice, a performance behaviour is inbuilt through the discipline and repetition of habit.
Getting things done becomes a lot easier with a routine than without.
Routine enhances the efficiency in the use of our limited resources.
Develop and sharpen your skills of execution: No worthy objectives can be achieved, and neither can beautiful plans deliver any results without first taking action. Taking action is where the ‘rubber meets the road’. A robust discipline of execution is a necessary condition for success in any calling. In all spheres of our endeavours, we have to make execution an integral component of our strategy. One of the greatest corporate leaders of the twentieth century, Jack Welch said of execution:
“… you can have positive energy, energize everyone around you, make hard calls, and still not get over the finish line. Being able to execute is a special and distinct skill. It means a person knows how to put decisions into action and push them forward to completion, through resistance, chaos, or unexpected obstacles. People who can execute know that winning is about results.”
To succeed, you must learn and be good at getting things done.
Evaluation, or performance reviews: Everything we are doing is about applying resources for the purpose of achieving some goals. Unfortunately, sometimes we miss our mark for varying reasons. Consequently, it is imperative that we have a system of periodic evaluation to assess where we are vis-à-vis where we want to be.
Periodic evaluations are required so that we understand where we are. When we are lagging, we should understand what is happening and what remedial action(s) we can take to rectify what may be a one-off or recurring problems. Even in situations when we are doing better than anticipated, in-depth evaluations can reveal opportunities that we can further leverage on to achieve even more.
You must be religious with your performance reviews.
Enhancements, or continuous improvement: We are never at the same station over any two points in the timescale of our lives. It is either we are making progress, or we are in fact stagnating or even retrogressing. The regular evaluation mentioned above is supposed to provide opportunities for continuous improvement. Sometimes, results of assessments may indicate the need for local corrections at individual or unit levels and other times the enhancements must be across all units.
The Japanese have the concept of ‘Kaizen’, literally meaning ‘good change’. The philosophy was introduced by Toyota in the 1980s and has since been adopted by thousands of companies around the world. It is about a continuous ‘good change’ for better quality and efficiency. Similarly, Six Sigma was introduced by Motorola in 1986. It is basically about using requisite data to limit mistakes or defects in business processes.
All successful people use the simple model described above, in some form or way, knowingly or unknowingly, to achieve their objectives in life. But beyond the above, there are other soft issues that we must remain conscious and alive to if we are to live a successful life. These include:
Hope and optimism: Nothing gives the human spirit any basis and justification for living and the desire for success more than hope. The first condition for achieving true success is to have the hope that achieving something desirable is possible. It might not be easy, but we must believe that it is possible and keep the belief alive if we are to stand any chance of success.
Conviction, Courage and Resilience: There are always setbacks, costly mistakes, failures and even betrayals on the path of success. There will be the emotional and physical stresses. Accordingly, you must have the ability to understand what is happening, put things in their perspective and forge ahead with greater zeal and resolve.
Risk management: Contrary to what you may have read around, successful people do not just go about taking risks for the sake of taking risks. Rather, what they do is to identify and understand the risks in any enterprise they wish to embark upon; assess the risks; mitigate all those that can be mitigated and make a deliberate call on others as to whether they can be lived with or the entire enterprise should be called off.
Be alert to the risks you are taking.
Relationships: Relationships are key to our successes. With the right relationships there isn’t any challenge that can’t be surmounted. The right people in your circles can inform and educate you on what you do not know; they can open doors for you; they can partner with you to achieve goals that neither of you could on their own, etc.
Strive to build and develop the various circles of relationships that you need such as your immediate and larger family, friends and confidantes, mentors and mentees, advisors, colleagues and business associates, etc.
Continuous personal development: The world will continue to change in ways that we cannot always control. We have to be the ones to continue to learn how we can always seize opportunities and address challenges as they arise. We can do this through continuous personal development such as through reading, engaging other people we can teach or learn from, attending training and development programs, etc.
A noble spirit: Over and above all the above, I believe successful people must have a noble spirit. A person of noble spirit is conscious of what true success is: Things must be done honourably; people must be treated with respect; we must impact others positively; the environment must be protected; our word must be our bond, etc. A successful person of noble spirit has the strength of character to distinguish between their raw and untempered ambitions and true, honourable and sustainable success.
The ‘world as it is’ today is the result of everything we have done in the past. The ‘world we create’ in 2021 and beyond will be the result of everything we do today and tomorrow. When we become conscious of the significance and impact of the things we do on a daily basis, that we often take for granted, we can begin to be more serious about everything we do, thereby standing a good chance of building a world we will proudly handover to those after us.
We can succeed honourably and be on the right side of human history no matter our situations in life. It starts in our minds and end with the things we do everyday.
Feature photo credit: Pexels