How to Stack Your Successes to Win Big
When you find yourself becoming uninspired, stuck in a funk, or admiring your own intelligence, go sit down and have a talk with someone smarter than you.
The world is full of brilliant people doing incredible things and the chances are good that you will learn something from talking with them. Today, I was blessed to have lunch with a friend of mine who is a rare combination of brilliant and driven. He’s founded or co-founded multiple businesses and, in doing so, amassed a storehouse of knowledge across a diverse spread of industries. While I sat down to catch up and talk shop, I got up with an increased understanding of life. No shocker there. Here’s the wisdom he imparted:
Don’t win too fast.
You see, in the digital age when 23-year-olds can become billionaires and everyone and their momma is starting a business, quick, big wins are not unheard of. The widespread success of these youngsters has produced a new perspective on business that you must win big and win early. Sadly, these quick, big wins often adopt a similar track record as fashion fads. Here today. Gone tomorrow. Think of music hits such as PSY’s “Gangnam Style" or tech stars such as "Flappy Bird" - their success was explosive but short lived. Contrast those fads with classics like “Don’t Stop Believing” or the ever-present eMail. Journey didn’t crank out the iconic words, “Just a small-town girl, livin' in a lonely world” until their seventh album. Rather, with each album they refined their craft, kept giving more value over time, until their name became synonymous with quality because of their consistency.
So what… we can’t win big before we’re 25?
I don’t think that’s what he was saying. I do believe that some people happen upon unexpected success because their creation was perfect for the market and the times. It certainly happens and I - nor he, I believe - wouldn’t dare suggest that they should forgo this opportunity. The kicker is in the expectations. For those kids looking to make some quick cash or go down in the internet hall of fame, their focus is on the quick win. In the long run, this quick victory rarely sets up the winner for a succession of future wins because of the difficulty in topping their first. Often, this leads to an unfruitful, disheartening, declining career.
Instead, if one pursued a consistent stream of smaller successes, each building on the previous wins, rather than flaring up and dying out like a sparkler, they produce for themselves a steady growth peaking toward the end of life more akin to a bottle rocket.
To help you visualize the distinction, I’ll give you a few road marks of what a succession of smaller wins might look like over a life-time career.
1. Time-tested Record
Rather than settling for a grand slam right out of the cage, producing consistent quality - each better than the last - over a period of 40 years sets you up to peak at 65. As with any journey, there are small backslides here and there but the curve is primarily in an upward swing. Since each success is progressively larger (in part because it builds on the previous successes), most projects can’t fail completely. Stacking success is equivalent to paper mache in which layers upon layers of thin paper continually fortify and strengthen the whole.
2. Established Authority
With the steadily increasing level of knowledge and wisdom within a given field comes a steady increase of following, respect and thought leadership that can only come with an extended period of consistent, relevant, valuable contribution. In a word, you build trust. Track records tell a lot about a person because it reveals where their priorities lie. Rarely will someone do something contrary to their nature for long stretches of time, and I only say “rarely” because con-men with their darn long-cons ruined it for everyone. Trust is not easily won and must be earned. When it is, people listen.
3. The Whole is Greater Than the Sum
Each year you pull in another touchdown but it doesn’t mean the championship is won yet. You’re steadily building upon each small win and in the end, the whole (a championship ring) is greater than the sum of all of the small wins (5 or 6 touchdowns). 2 + 2 no longer equals 4. It equals 6. Imagine the perfect season finale of a TV show you love. That season finale, standing alone, would probably be quite entertaining, however, it’s powerful win comes as a result of the season’s worth of episodic wins behind it.
4. Development of Knowledge
A funny thing happens when you stay the course over a period of time - you begin to discover every detail, know all the ins and outs, and understand the complexities. Your knowledge of a particular subject becomes imbued with a certain wisdom that truly, only comes with practice and time. After you’ve been in the game for a bit and you’ve had enough time to experience all of the nuances that reveal themselves, you finally have a semblance of control over your work.
You, like me, might find it enticing to win big tomorrow. Don’t let the shiny lights and sparkles fool you. As Donald Miller wrote, “...try to peak as late in life as possible.” Fire-harden your track record, prove your dedication to your craft and, in the end, you’ll look back across a lifetime of wins.
Okay, maybe try to squeeze a few grand slams in there ;)