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The Success Curve

December 12th, 2013 by dimpledbrain

It took me awhile to realize this but have you ever thought what success might look like?

It’s a U-curve.

Let’s call it

(a) Phase 1 – initial stage

(b) Phase 2 – middle stage

(c) Phase 3 – final stage

During Phase 1, enthusiasm and optimism kick in. One would almost always feel excited and thrilled. This is the start of the curve.

Phase 2 is when reality kicks in; things don’t seem as easy as first projected. Missing deadlines. It’s the flat area in the middle. This is where either success or failure is determined. Most endeavours would fail here.

Phase 3 is where one reaps the harvest. Joy and sense of achievement kick in.

(1) When reality sinks in

  • I blame it on the instantaneous culture where immediate gratification, impatience and quick fix become the norms. TV made it seem so simple in the court house, the emergency room and the crime scene. Except to say one court case may take up to years to complete vs the standard 45-minute action packed Suits format. Or House or C.S.I. for that matter.
  • In a way, Gen-Y (including myself) may think success has 2 phases only – the initial stage and the champagne stage.

(2) Anticipate failure

  • I think the best remedy in this case is to anticipate failure from the very beginning. One lowers the expectation so as to cushion the landing spot when reality crashes in.
  • On a separate note, Paul Sullivan, in his book Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Other Don’t, offers an interesting insight on clutch performers (i.e. those who excel or succeed under extreme pressure. The opposite of it is one who chokes, which shouldn’t be confused with no skill. A professional tennis player chokes under extreme pressure while an amateur simply lacks the necessary skill when both couldn’t return a rally.
  • Although I have my discontentment with the way it’s written ( you can check out my review on Goodreads.com), this particular insight is worth mentioning. One characteristic of people who choke is that they tend to rehearse their speech before the victory. Meaning to say they get overconfident.
  • Now in my mind, this overconfidence can stem from either talent or conducive environment to do something. Regarding the former, it’s the age old debate over talent vs hard work. (Surprise, surprise, it’s also one issue highlighted in Naruto, i.e. between Neiji Hyuga and Rock Lee). I don’t know which is greater but this much I can tell; talent plus hard work will always trump talent alone. On the latter, it could just mean being at the right time in the right place.

(3) Reflection and the frog in boiling water

  • Now the previous statement ought to get you to think of at least 2 issues :
    • Choosing talent + hard work strategy means competing in something you are naturally good at, and not something that’s popular at the moment, i.e. herd effect.
    • The second lesson is not meant as a scathing judgement on anyone (to each before his master stands or falls) but as a way for us to reflect and learn –  why two seemingly skilled and successful people behave differently under extreme pressure? i.e. one of them chokes? In short, clutch performers learn from their failures.
  • I think that’s the reason why some executives succeed in a new environment but others don’t. Warren Buffett used to say, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” Emulate the former, discard the latter. Give more credit to people who succeed in new environment, who turn around things after facing challenging adversities.
  • This also ought to give us hope when we face insurmountable problems, for if we persevere through Phase 2, success is definitely within reach.
  • Now you may think what about the frog in boiling water? First, we ought to differentiate between perseverance and persistence, where it’s pure madness trying to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Second, compile a personal statistics on our ventures where we succeed, abandon midway or fail. That way we’ll be clearer what we need to improve on.

I would like to end with a Solon’s quote or a Khalil Gibran’s quote to make this look more intelligent but instead this much I’ll say today: give more credit to the elders who have seen it, done it and come out alive.

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