We all want to be "successful." But what does it mean to succeed? And what does it take to succeed? We asked 15 undeniably successful business leaders and thinkers to answer those questions — and offer hands-on advice for the rest of us. Wall Street billionaire Michael Bloomberg emphasizes the importance of outworking the competition. Leadership guru Warren Bennis offers his own success test. Author and athlete Bonnie St. John Deane presents a tough-minded definition of success. These 15 contributions represent a blueprint for personal success. What it is. What it's worth. What it costs.
CEO, IVillage, New York, New York
Success is about creating value. And it doesn't matter whether you're financing a new company, launching a brand online, raising a daughter, or scaling a mountain — the process of creating value requires some specific steps.
First, imagine what you want to see in the world — something that doesn't exist. Then take out a blank sheet of paper and design it. It could be a company, a product, a garden — anything. Second, inspire the people around you to become comfortable with the concept of "filling the blank page." Do this by example and by experiment. Third, stick with it through the hard times. You will learn that they are the best teachers. You will also learn that they are inevitable.
My character was formed by mountaineering. Enduring rainy slopes and cold bivouacs to spend an hour at the top of the world shaped my ability to handle adversity. If you are committed to creating value, and if you aren't afraid of the hard times, obstacles become utterly unimportant. A nuisance perhaps, but with no real power. The world respects creation. People will get out of your way.
Candice Carpenter has been president of both Q2, Barry Diller's cable network, and Time-Life Video and Television. She was one of the first women to climb Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
Founding Chairman, Leadership Institute
University Of Southern California
I used to think I wanted to be a university president. And for seven godforsaken years I did just that. The problem was that I wanted to be a university president but I didn't want to do a university president. In retrospect, I realized, there was an unbridgeable chasm between my aspirations and what actually gave me satisfaction and happiness.
Based on that experience, I developed a four-question test aimed at anyone seeking "success." You have to answer with complete honesty, which means you have to have a fair amount of self-knowledge.
- Do you know the difference between what you want and what you're good at?
- Do you know what drives you and what gives you satisfaction? (Clearly, in my own case, I didn't.)
- Do you know what your values and priorities are, what your organization's values and priorities are, and can you identify the differences between the two?
- Having measured the differences between what you want and what you're able to do, between what drives you and what satisfies you, and between your values and those of your organization — are you able to overcome those differences?
If you are, then success will be yours. In a nutshell, the key to success is identifying those unique modules of talent within you and then finding the right arena to use them.
Warren Bennis is one of the world's most influential experts on business and leadership. His most recent book is "Organizing Genius" (Addison-Wesley, 1997). He's writing a play on Victorian politics.
Vice President, Network Operations
U S West, Littleton, Colorado
Much of who and what I am, along with whatever level of personal success I've achieved, was shaped by my athletic experiences in high school and college. In particular, it was my high- school basketball coach who taught me two lessons that I still practice today. First, he had me write down specific personal goals before each season started. And he insisted that I look at them every single day. Second, he convinced me that a critical part of my success was helping to make my teammates better — that I could win just as much recognition and have just as much fun passing the ball as scoring myself. Since I was the team's leading scorer, this reasoning was hard to swallow. But again, I followed his advice and good things happened: we won more games, my teammates liked me better, and I had more fun. I have applied those lessons throughout my entire professional career: Set your personal goals. Write them down. Look at them every day. Share credit with lots of people and experience the joy of their achievements. The results have been amazing.
Robert Knowling was the most valuable player on the basketball, football, track, and baseball teams at Maconaquah High School in Bunker Hill, Indiana. He led a major change program at Ameritech before joining U S West.
Founder And Chairman, Bloomberg L.P.
New York, New York
Success is entirely relative. But anyone who has achieved a great deal of it will demonstrate a serious work ethic and an essential love of what they do. Years ago, when I started working at Salomon Brothers, I was always the first guy in and the last guy to leave. Why did I work harder and longer than other people? Because I loved what I was doing.
The energy and momentum of my daily routine didn't just allow me to do more work. It gave me access to top levels of management and allowed me to develop personal relationships with many of the people who made key decisions at the firm.
It's simple, really. The more you enjoy your job, and the more you want to outwork everyone else, the more likely you'll make an invaluable contribution to your organization — and succeed.
Michael Bloomberg is one of Wall Street's most successful entrepreneurs. His just-published book is "Bloomberg by Bloomberg" (Wiley, 1997). His personal net worth is estimated at $1 billion.
Cofounder and President, Tom's of Maine.
Author, "The Soul of Business: Managing for Profit and the Common Good" (Bantam Books, 1993), Kennebunk, Maine
Success means never letting the competition define you. Instead, you have to define yourself based on a point of view you care deeply about. The point of view of our company shapes who we employ, where our ingredients come from, who sells our products, how we finance operations, and how we work together internally. We've learned that if any decision is made that goes against our beliefs then we don't look like ourselves and we won't maintain our level of success.
It's not always easy to meet those standards. To make tough business decisions, we hold something called a "circle up." We flatten the hierarchy and create a circle of people who can offer diverse perspectives. The circle doesn't make the decision; that's still up to the person with the authority. But that person always benefits from the dialogue.
One last point. Success is not about individual achievement. A few years ago I wrote a book about the emptiness of success when you're driving it all alone, not listening to others, and just working for the numbers. Success is a shared experience connected with lots of people. It is a bottom line with a heartbeat.
Tom's of Maine, makers of all-natural toothpastes and other personal-care products, has won many awards for innovation and social responsibility.
General Partner, Sequoia Capital
Menlo Park, California
Success comes from always worrying that you're going to lose.
Sequoia's many successful startups include Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, and Yahoo!
Cofounder, Global Business Network
Success is when something you've said or something you've written enters the public discourse — usually without your name attached. It becomes something people find worth saying to one another on its own merits.
My friend Brian Eno's phrase "Been there, done that" (originally a song) is a classic example of that form of success.
Likewise, success is when something you've done in your own business becomes an accepted way for lots of businesses to do that sort of thing - again, usually without public credit.
I've had personal experience with that form of success. There's a school of thought that says that trade paperbacks — now an important category of books in the publishing business — came into existence after we invented the "Whole Earth Catalog." Back in 1971, when Random House contracted to distribute the book, which was a large-sized paperback, I got on my environmental high horse. In negotiations with the company, I insisted that unsold books be returned — in the same way that hardbacks were — rather than be pulped.
Evidently the idea worked well enough that the "trade paperback" became a whole new distribution category in the publishing industry.
Of course, I'm diminishing my success by telling this story.
The Global Business Network advises some of the world's largest companies on strategy, change, and future scenarios. Stewart Brand is best known as the founder of the "Whole Earth Catalog" and The Well, one of the most influential communities in cyberspace.
President And CEO,
Snyder Communications Inc.
Succeeding in business is not just about making money. Money is important, but it's not the real driver — certainly not for me. I have found that what drives me is the desire to prove, to myself and to my peers, that I can do what I set out to do and build something that matters. I've done that by recruiting smart people — many from traditional corporate environments —and giving them a dose of entrepreneurial spirit.
You achieve long-term success step by step. Try to achieve your goals one at a time, like you do target practice. I look at each day as a chance to move one notch above yesterday — whether it's in service quality, delivery, speed, or any other aspect of the business. I don't measure my "success" every day. I measure how much we have left to do.
In that sense, business success is just a form of persistence.
Daniel Snyder, 32, is the youngest CEO of a New York Stock Exchange company.
Founding Editor, "Tricycle: The Buddhist"
Review, New York, New York
The most important ingredient for success is the willingness to fail, to be made a fool of, to fall on your face a hundred times a day. And to be dumb. What makes repeated failure endurable is being in love with the work you do and being convinced of its value. Then the process becomes self-rewarding.
Try not to make hard divisions between work and play. Figure out how to make your job fun, creative, and inspiring for you and for others. And don't underestimate everyone's need to be affirmed. That includes: coworkers, suppliers, the janitor, messengers, advertisers, saints, and sinners.
Helen Tworkov is the editor of "Zen in America" (Kodansha, 1994).
Marketing Communications Strategist
New York, New York
Success depends on surrounding yourself with the best people. But picking the best isn't easy. Resumes don't tell the entire story, and neither do references. Even a great track record elsewhere can create a cultural disaster in your company.
But don't despair. While I was a partner building a successful advertising agency - Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein — I developed a people-picking formula that can work in any business. When evaluating candidates I made it a point to look for "head, hands, and shoulders."
Head is my estimate of the person's business IQ. How smart is she?
Hands is a measure of skills. Is she just good enough for the job at hand? Good enough to help us grow?
Shoulders asks how much responsibility I can delegate. The more she can handle, the more she develops, and the more managerial muscle I develop to build the business.
Good people are the critical factor in any business success and the "head, hands, shoulders" test can help you pick the best.
Arthur Einstein's most successful ad was the Charlie Chaplin "Tramp" campaign for IBM.
Bonnie St. John Deane
Author, "Succeeding Sane" (Simon & Schuster)
San Diego, California
The definition of success should not include things like integrity, family, or quality of life. Success should be measured by objective standards of competitive achievement. That means for runners: How fast are you? For business people: How much profit did you earn? For politicians: How many votes did you get? That is success.
Too many people define success to include parenthood or personal happiness. That is a mistake. These things are not a competition. You can't "succeed" at motherhood, for example. There is no first prize. There are no outside judges. Nor is there a gold medal for acts of true integrity. The only standard that matters is your own personal sense of what is right.
Success is great, but it is an external standard. Don't try to expand it to include everything. A meaningful life involves more than success. It involves looking inward to decide what matters to you.
Bonnie St. John Deane is a Rhodes Scholar. She won both silver and bronze medals in the slalom and giant slalom in the 1984 Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
Founder And CEO, Whole Foods Market
A few years ago someone asked me to write down what success meant to me and the principles I followed to achieve it. My answer then is still how I feel. Here's what I wrote:
I create my own reality through my thoughts and emotions.
I am never a victim of anyone else.
I follow my heart in all circumstances.
Life is an adventure. Seize the day!
When confronted with alternatives I always choose the one that creates the most excitement within me.
I do what I'm afraid to do until it doesn't scare me anymore.
I would rather be happy than right.
Love is the only reality. Everything else is merely a dream or illusion.
Forgiveness is the key to healing all relationships, and leads to happiness.
Always tell the truth.
Giving and receiving are one and the same.
I choose to be healthy.
Whole Foods Market (1996 revenues: $900 million) is the country's largest natural-foods grocer. It was founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas. It now has 74 stores in 17 states.
President And CEO, Talent Alliance
Morristown, New Jersey
Success is very personal. It's about energizing ideas and turning them into reality. And it's as unique as those who achieve it. I have five guidelines for success:
- Create your own trophies: Define success for yourself and learn to live by this definition. Balance the expectations and measures of the world with what's important to you.
- Dream MTV: Imagine without limits, plan with realism. Stretch your mind, bend your brain. Then bring your creativity into focus. 3. Mind your mission: Do for yourself what you do for your business. Develop a personal mission statement - and do what it takes to make it happen.
- Mix with those who don't match: Seek out people who are different. They'll have fresh ideas that can help drive your success and enrich your life.
- Share success: No individual or business can lead or succeed alone. Sharing success sustains success.
The Talent Alliance coordinates career management among some of the nation's largest companies, including DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, and UPS. Before founding the alliance, Galvanek spent nearly 25 years in HR leadership with AT&T.
President And CEO, Business
For Social Responsibility
San Francisco, California
The people I consider successful apply ethical values to their lives. Several years ago a group of retired executives, interviewed for an oral-history project, were asked what they wanted to be remembered for. Their responses were very similar: values-related achievements such as developing their people or serving their communities. Later I participated in a series of retreats with business leaders. Success for them — and for me — meant being viewed as having integrity and treating others with respect.
BSR's more than 800 members include FedEx, Home Depot, and Starbucks.
Executive Director, Share Our Strength
A fundamental ingredient of success is self-interest — which should be viewed idealistically rather than cynically. It is a powerful motivator and can be extremely effective in getting people and organizations to do good as much as to do well.
We've mobilized thousands of talented people to fight hunger not by making them feel guilty or bad about themselves, but by giving them opportunities to express themselves on behalf of a worthwhile cause.
When altruism is selfish, it becomes sustainable — perhaps forever.
SOS has distributed nearly $30 million to anti-hunger organizations in its 12 years of operation.
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.