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Mantra For Success: Don't Trust Teachings Of Successful People

Social media is full of articles and memes talking about successful people and their achievements. It is not uncommon to be intrigued by articles talking about - top 10 traits of successful people, 10 tips from World's most successful people, taking risk is the key to success and other such success mantras. People's logic of following such success tips is that if it worked for the 'successful' people it will surely work positively, even just a bit, for them as well. However, such logic is flawed and can actually make you worse off than you already are.

Let me demonstrate this with an example -

  • Let's say there is a guy called Ramesh who starts a stock market analysis company. He gathers a list of 1,00,000 investors.
  • He sends an email to half of those on the list saying that the stock market will rise at the end of the week and sends an email to the other half saying that the stock market will drop at the end of the week.
  • The stock market will surely rise or fall by the end of the week.
  • Let's say the market rises and 50,000 people who got the right prediction are somewhat impressed.
  • Now he sends another email to these 50,000 people. He tells 25,000 that the stock market will rise and to the rest 25,000 that the stock market will fall by the end of the week. The stock market will surely rise or fall and this impresses the 25,000 people who got the correct prediction.
  • He then takes 25,000 people who were given the correct prediction and repeats the same process, again and again, every week for ten weeks straight.
  • By the end of the tenth week, Ramesh will have 100 people who have got the accurate stock market prediction for 10 straight weeks. That is super impressive. Ramesh has earned his respect in their eyes.
  • Now these 100 people will trust Ramesh with their investment. If these 100 people gave just Rs. 1,00,000  each; Ramesh will have 1 Crore rupees with him.

What the example above shows is that those 100 people who thought Ramesh was some stock market genius were not seeing the bigger picture. If they were told of the Ramesh's secret, he would have been exposed for the fraud he was pulling off. We are in so much awe of success of these successful people that we don't even realize that there could be other factors at play.

Let's say you want to get financial advice. One super common advice of 'successful' people on how to get rich is by taking risks. They would often say that if you fail you can always learn from your mistakes. However, do not forget that a lot have failed and filed for bankruptcy. Those now bankrupt took risks, didn't they? So the way to success can also get you ending up on the bankruptcy street. If you only listen to the success stories, clearly there is no balance. Where are the stories of all those bankrupt people to strike a balance and give you a clear picture!

Another example is one of the most popular books titled In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. This book, which sold over 3 million copies worldwide, is an analysis of 50 great companies and identifies common traits that propelled them to their success. This book was published 1982. Since its publishing, 20 of those analyzed 'successful' companies have fallen below the market average, and 5 of them have gone bankrupt. It could be that some of these 50 companies were actually the lucky ones that survived out of a pool of 100,00. And if they were so, then analyzing their success is in vain. Here, the problem becomes apparent.

If you only take advice of the successful people and ignore the failures, you will be left with a heavily distorted view of reality. No one really knows what it takes to be successful. People achieve success through a combination of hard work, attitude and training. They probably have failed multiple times on their way to success. Therefore you should be sceptical of such teachings. Make sure you are not getting fooled. Consider both the winner and failures and you will learn more and better your chance of success.

Here let me leave you with my favorite quote on success; by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  -

The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.

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