For those of us who consider our own professional ambitions, or a greater organizational mission, to be a driving force in life, the idea of success is what propels us toward the accomplishment of our most meaningful career-related desires. There’s little doubt that, regardless of our occupation, field, or industry, we all want to leave our mark on the world while hitting it big, but rarely do we aim for the target with the professional development mindset needed to make it happen.
Ultimately, it’s due to this unfortunate truth that all too many promising individuals and businesses never reach their full potential and fail to manifest the dreams that guide them professionally. Fortunately, however, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Although we may wish monumental achievement could be had with the snap-of-a-finger, the reality of life is that all accomplished individuals and iconic corporations share a similar story of being built from humble beginnings with a clear vision for the future, persistent effort and a patient unwillingness to settle for less.
This means that if we are to achieve our loftiest goals related to work, as both individuals and as organizations, we’ll first have to understand that professional development and business growth are unfailingly guided by an evolutionary process before making a ceaseless commitment to incrementally improving ourselves and our companies over the long term. Benjamin Franklin, a man who achieved legendary levels of success in a variety of different ways, reminds us:
Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
The Myth of an Overnight Success:
In the information age of today’s world, where we’re constantly connected and kept up-to-the-minute on happenings around the globe, it would appear that there are a seemingly endless number of up-and-coming individuals and trendy new businesses that rise to the top of their respective fields or industry in no time at all. As we watch these transcending luminaries and revolutionary companies become the talk of the town, we’re left to wonder ‘How’d they become successful so fast?’ ‘What great idea did they stumble upon?’ and ‘How come I can’t catch a break like that?’, all the while we sulk about our own situation and lose hope for the future.
Despite the fact it may seem like the hot new artist, sensational rookie star and culturally transforming organization came out of nowhere to achieve instantaneous praise and acclaim, because we only become aware of them once they arrive, the truth is that behind every ‘overnight success’ is years of dedicated effort and a story of crawling from the bottom to the pinnacle position.
Assuredly, this explains why whether you’re examining the lives of individuals like Albert Einstein and Walt Disney or the history of iconic businesses such as Apple, Facebook, and Google, you’ll find lots of failures, slow but continuous growth, and an unwavering commitment to continue raising the bar of excellence. The highly accomplished entrepreneur Richard Branson sums it up by telling us:
There are no quick wins in business – it takes years to become an overnight success.”
There’s a good reason why the idea of achieving greatness overnight seems too good to be true, and that’s because it’s nothing more than an illusionary dream that can’t be grasped in the real world. Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t manifest the success you fantasize about, but to accomplish your loftiest ambitions, you’ll have to understand that the idea of overnight success is a myth and that relying on miracles isn’t a viable model to distinguish yourself from the competition.
Instead, what you’ll have to do is immerse yourself in your work while fully trusting in the evolutionary processes of professional development and business growth. Biz Stone, the American entrepreneur who co-founded Twitter, reiterates the fact that overnight successes aren’t what we assume them to be:
Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.”
The Long Road to Becoming a Consummate Professional:
When looking at the road quintessential corporate leaders, industry experts, skilled craftsmen and creative artists take to becoming the authority in their respective fields, spanning across the full spectrum of professional occupations, it becomes easy to see how a perfect blend of enduring patience, flexible focus and unbreakable determination is what allows them to rise the ranks. Now, this isn’t to say that passion, talent, humility and maybe even a lucky break aren’t needed along the way, but to become the best of the best is something that’s only possible with an understanding of what it takes and an unwavering commitment to continuously becoming better along the way. The late great personal development legend Jim Rohn reminds us of this truth by telling us:
Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.”
What this means for those of us who aspire for bigger things in our working careers is that it’ll be similarly vital to become cognizant of the fact that there are no easy road to the top while simultaneously making a resolute commitment to persistently focus on the task at hand with a crystal clear vision for the future. Additionally, it can be helpful to evaluate both your passions and talents, before aligning your career-related aspirations with them, as you’ll be able to dramatically increase your chances for success by pursuing endeavors that peak your enthusiasm. When considering that some thought leaders such as Malcolm Gladwell believe it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything, it become easier to understand why individuals who pursue careers for the wrong reasons, as is often the case with financial gains, never find themselves in the professional position they want to be in. This is why American entrepreneur and Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh advises us to:
Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion.”
Beyond having the right effort, motives and understanding for what it takes to succeed, it’ll also be important to let go of expectations about how things should be and instead focus all of your energies solely on the process of becoming the best you can be. The unfortunate reality for all too many individuals is that after giving it their all for a short period of time, they’ll begin to beat themselves up for making mistakes, moving too slowly or generating results different than they’d hope to produce, before they ultimately quit on their dream. In stark contrast to these individuals, however, are those who ultimately rise to the top by relaxing into the process of professional development and using their failures as opportunities for growth. The late great American philosopher Vernon Howard puts it this way:
Do not be impatient with your seemingly slow progress. Do not try to run faster than you presently can. If you are studying, reflecting and trying, you are making progress whether you are aware of it or not. A traveler walking the road in the darkness of night is still going forward. Someday, some way, everything will break open, like the natural unfolding of a rosebud.”
The Methodical Steps Businesses Take to Reach the Summit of Success:
Although we often assume that new trendy companies have some supernatural elixir that turns their products and services into gold, the truth is that there’s no magical formula to stimulate innovation and growth. That is unless you consider the humdrum approach, diligently built upon the foundation of slow but continuous improvement, that all accomplished organizations take to the summit of success. Of course, different variables are at play when comparing corporations to individuals, because the former has many interlocking parts that play important roles, but a business’ ability to prosper ultimately still comes down to natural evolution. Just as it takes insightful effort, persistence, and patience for an individual to become an authority figure in their field, so too does it take cohesive focus, perseverance, and endurance for a company to move ahead of its competitors. This is why Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos cautions us:
What’s dangerous is not to evolve.”
There is perhaps not a better example illustrating the methodical steps businesses take to reach the summit of success than the one given by management expert and best-selling author Jim Collins. It was in his 2001 book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t that Collins outlined what was discovered when him and a collection of highly skilled academics undertook a seemingly inconceivable research project to discover what separates great companies from the rest. Over the course of a five year period, the team would would scorer through thousands of documents, interview hundreds of people and examine the performance of 1,435 good companies, across a 40 year window, before settling on just 11 companies that we’re truly iconic.
While Collins lays out seven major principles shared by these great companies, in addition to a number of other underlying characteristics, he makes clear that all iconic corporations take an evolutionary path to greatness, as if they we’re slowly turning a flywheel to build momentum, before finally breaking through. Again, this goes to show that although we may assume great companies get to where they are with the help of some revolutionary ideas, occurrences or people, this just simply isn’t true. Collins writes:
No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.”
Ascending to the Top by Walking the Evolutionary Path:
It should now be apparent to see that to achieve your loftiest professional ambitions, as either an individual or business, you’ll have to methodically and patiently forge ahead one step at a time while remaining fully committed to progressive improvement. Despite the fact that we assume the opposite to be true, because of how success stories are presented to us, history’s most accomplished individuals and iconic companies all have trekked this path of evolutionary growth. Therefore, if we so choose, each and everyone of us can take the same tried and tested route to becoming the consummate leader, expert, craftsman or artist we know we’re capable of becoming. Quite simple, the choice is up to us. The legendary American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminds us:
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.”
It’s important to point out that while there are a seemingly endless number of ways we can improve as professionals and as companies, what’s most important for your future success is that you never become complacent and keeping raising the bar of excellence with a steadfast commitment to walking the evolutionary path. This isn’t to say that you won’t have setbacks and failures along the way, but that’s the exact reason why approaching your goals with longterm focus, persistence effort and a patient unwillingness to settle for less is your only hope. It’s certain that the only possible way to overcome the challenges you encounter on your way to the top is by fully understanding how the evolutionarily processes of professional development and business growth play out over the course of years if not decades. This is the reason why the highly accomplished Australian political Bob Brown tells us:
Behind every successful man there’s a lot of unsuccessful years.”
There is perhaps not a better way to bring this article to a close than by introducing a single Japanese word that perfectly sums up what it means to fully commit to the evolutionary processes of professional development and business growth. That work, Kaizen, represent the empowering idea of continuous and unceasing improvement, on a daily basis, with complete understanding that there is and always will be ways to grow, improve our capabilities, become more efficient and enhance the quality of our work. If our professional lives are guided by this one word, which serves as the basis for Toyota’s ‘Always a Better Way’ motto, it’s certain that we’ll be well on our way to maximizing our potential and reaching the pinnacle of our professional fields. The celebrated Canadian leadership expert Robin Sharma sums it all up by telling us:
Small daily improvements over time lead to stunning results. Why? Because consistency is the mother of mastery. And incremental improvements are the father of exceptionalism.”