Adults, parents – they lie to you don’t they? Remember that thing, ‘you can be anything you want if you really set your mind to it’. That sounds so inspirational doesn’t it? But it’s not true.
If you’re from some tough background in a Northern English industrial town, you really are not going to be made President of the USA. And if you have no particular talent you’re never going to be joining Real Madrid as a striker. Let’s get real.
So what can you do, what can you be, what can you actually achieve? The answer may surprise you.
No, that subheading is not the answer to the previous question. But one thing is absolutely certain – you can achieve more than you think. Not a bit more, not 50% more, not 100% more. People that really achieve the most would never accept such limitations. YouTube is full of videos showing Olympic stars failing or coming 10th or whatever, then at subsequent Olympics they get better and better until they get a podium and then a gold.
They achieved their dream and you can too. But first you have to decide what it is you want to achieve. Society pushes you hard to achieve visible, material success. The cars, the houses, the boats, the parties, the ‘friends’. But will that make you happy? Would you say the singer and songwriter and brilliant guitarist Prince was happy? In 2016 he was worth somewhere around $200m. What would you do with all that?
Was he happy on 15 April, 2016, on board a private plane he’d chartered to take him back home to Minneapolis? On that flight he overdosed and nearly died. Was he happy less than a week later in his Paisley Park mansion? Wouldn’t you be happy in a place you designed yourself that was so huge that it had its own nightclub with capacity for 1000 people? Yet it was in his private elevator here that they found him slumped, on 21 April, dead of another overdose.
What did all that material success achieve? Nothing but a sad, lonely death. So – not that.
Here’s something you notice if you’re lucky enough if you get to spend many years alive – people who want to ‘fix the world’ very often have a personal life that could do with fixing first. It’s easier to tell people how to live their lives than to live our own properly and successfully.
It’s easier to tell the world how to clean up the ocean than it is to actually buckle down and clean up our room, clean up our own act.
So first off it’s a solid idea to get ourselves in order before we start trying to act out some grand scheme. People who try to ‘help’ a million people usually end up helping nobody, or at least nobody who needs it, but the person who tries to help one other person – they’ll succeed. That is how we start, one person, one step at a time.
Now What Can You Fix?
Virtually every successful business succeeds because it fixes something, it fixes a problem for someone, and eventually for enough people. That gives your business meaning, purpose. As Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos says:
‘For most people it’s about meaning. People want to know they’re doing something meaningful and useful.’
Success has a habit of turning up when you’re engrossed in something meaningful, so busy you don’t even notice it’s there for a while. But go chasing it – and it becomes elusive.
Objectives and Results
So you want to achieve something meaningful, something that helps, something that makes a difference not just to you but to others. How will you know if you’ve achieved it?
Firstly you need to have an objective, a goal. (We’ll discuss the subject of systems versus goals in another post.) Something inspiring, that requires action, dedication, your 100% focused input. The objective, the goal, is the ‘What’. What is your ‘What’?
Then there is the ‘Why’. Why do you want to achieve this? For greed, for ego, for pride? Or for better reasons? Could you say what those were?
And then there is the ‘How’. What strategies, metrics, ways are you going to use? These have to be measurable. We have to hold ourselves to account every day and none more so than with this.
What, Why, How
Let’s think of an example to illustrate this trio of What, Why, How.
I want to run a company that recycles and upcycles vintage, 90s-era clothing. It will save on landfill, help reduce waste and help people buy cool clothing for less, and there is a decent profit margin. I’ll sell online through my website. I’ll know if I’m successful because I’ll see the orders and revenues.
What is wrong with this? Okay, it’s not exactly a business plan in full detail, which is fine. But there’s something wrong. Can you see what it is? It’s not the What. That’s clear. It’s not the Why. That’s clear too. But the How lacks any form of measurement to quantify and track ‘success’.
What is success here? Selling anything at all in a week? Turning over £500 a week? (Remember that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.) How do you measure it?
When Google set out to create Chrome the engineers had one metric only. Number of users. Simple.
Goal for first year: 20million users. They missed it.
Goal for second year: 50m. They missed it.
Goal for third year: 100m. They smashed it.
So for nearly three years they stuck with the same metric, the same way of measuring whether they were improving or not. And note that for that entire time they were ‘failing’. They were growing but they weren’t hitting their own markers.
What would you do in those first couple of years? Get despondent, give up? Set yourself some nicer, easier targets you think you could definitely hit? Tempting huh? Google’s engineers didn’t. They kept at it, constantly chasing an almost impossible goal.
That’s how you achieve almost impossible goals. Aim high, and keep that aim steady. What you want to achieve should be achievable. But only just. Only just.
So what is it you want to achieve?