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The Secret Formula to Success in Anything. (Really, There's a Formula!)

Success comes in many different forms. However you define it, though, the formula remains the same.

It starts with potential. Think of potential like the energy stored in something. A wound up spring  and a gallon of gas both hold potential energy. A person is the same. Everyone has potential that they can tap to get what they want out of life. Fortunately, people are not constrained by the laws of physics the way materials are. They can do things to improve the potential within them.

And that is the point of this article: Doing something about the things we can change. Knowing these formulas is only part of the challenge. You also have to do something with that information. Throughout this article, and at the end, I will point out some of the ways you can invest in your success. Some methods simply take a commitment of time, while others involve purchasing some of our training products. The simple fact is that if you want to get better, you have to invest in yourself.

The formula for potential is:


Formula 1. The Potential Equation


The factors of this part of the success formula are:

  • Raw Talent: Everyone has a personal threshold. Some is genetic, and some is ingrained so deeply as to effectively be unchangeable. Think of an athlete. A runner, for example, can train to run a marathon, but without the right set of legs and lungs, a 5:00 per mile pace is out of reach of most individuals. No matter how many supplements they take and miles the spend on the pavement, there is a barrier they will not break. Sorry. There is not much that can be done to improve this part of the equation.
  • Skills Training: Skills training is the way people cultivate their raw talent. A golfer may get a lesson on how to hold the club, and a manager may take a class on public speaking. Many of Velaction’s DVDs and training classes target skills training to improve potential.
  • Relevant Experience: Having seen and done something before generally indicates that a person will be able to do it well again. The potential a person has to ride a bike is greatly increased by having learned how to ride a bike in the past. But that experience may not help the person sew a button onto a shirt. The experience must be relevant to the situation at hand. Unfortunately, jobs change quickly in response to new technology and shifting markets. Experience can go obsolete in a hurry. Blacksmithing, for example, has not been relevant experience for most jobs in a long, long time.  Keep in mind that experience can be specific or generic in nature. Leadership and problem solving experience, for example, can translate across any industry.

You’ll notice that skills training has a multiplicative effect while experience has only an additive effect on potential. You’ll get bigger bang for the personal investment buck by improving a skill than by simply adding time to a job. Note, though, that skill building does require hands-on experience. There is some overlap in the factors of this equation. But given the choice, I would take a skilled person over an experienced person every time.

Potential only matters, though, when it is combined with the right opportunities. Many people just wait for opportunities to come along though. That puts a lot of value in luck. Fortunately, though, opportunity comes from far more than just the roll of a dice.

The formula for opportunity is:


Formula 2. The Opportunity Equation


The meanings of these factors are:

  • Network: Opportunities are enhanced by knowing the right people. If you operate in a vacuum, you only have the opportunities you come up with on your own. But when you communicate with your peers or work with mentors, the opportunities you see become more commonplace. Communication cultivates ideas which turn into opportunities. Velaction offers mentoring through our remote consulting services, which can help you identify more opportunities.
  • Observation: If you don’t look for opportunities, you may still stumble across them, but teaching yourself to recognize them certainly raises your odds. This is one of the biggest things that Lean does for people. It teaches them to identify waste, and every bit of that represents an opportunity for improvement. Velaction can help you find opportunities through a variety of consulting services, such as Lean assessments and kaizen planning support.
  • Courage: When opportunities come knocking, you have to be willing to answer the door. Many of these factors are related. Better training means more confidence, which means people won’t shy away from a challenge.
  • Delays: Procrastination derails opportunities. Ambivalence, long backlogs of problems, and a host of other things also keep people from acting on opportunities.
  • Resistance to Change: People have a basic inertia to them. The more they resist change, the less they can capitalize on an opportunity. Essentially, resisting change dampens your prospects for success.
  • Luck: Don’t dismiss the impact luck can have on an opportunity. But chance is only part of the equation. You may just happen to bump into the right person on an elevator, but you still have to take advantage of that opportunity. The truth is that luck really is a wild card. It can have a big or a small impact on your life, and by its very nature, you can’t control it. But a lot of what people attribute to luck is really having a strong network and being able to recognize opportunities.

Potential and opportunity are two of the key ingredients in the formula for success. But, for the equation to have meaning, we have to define what success is. More accurately, you have to define what success is to you. Whatever you want out of life comes from you tapping into your potential and acting on the opportunities you create.

The simple truth is that success means different things to everyone. Some of the meaning comes from social convention. For example, most people tend to look at senior executives or Ph.D’s as successful. But a big part of accomplishment comes from within. You may feel that success comes from landing a big account or navigating a particularly challenging HR issue with an employee well. Or, you may think that success is raising happy, healthy children, or from landing a new trick in the half-pipe.

Further confusing the definition of success is the fact that it is a moving target. Success tomorrow is different than success today. Every time the definition changes, you have to look at the factors of the equation to ensure you are still on the right track.

But the path to success, whatever that means to you, comes from the same formula.

The formula for individual success is:


Formula 3. The Individual Success Equation


You already know what potential and opportunities are in this equation.

The other factors of success include:

  • Effort: Hard work pays off. There is the old adage “work smarter, not harder”. There is a major flaw in that expression. The two are not mutually exclusive. It should be “work smarter, not dumber”. And there seems to be a belief that hard work means inefficient work. You can, in fact, work hard at an efficient task. So it follows that working hard smartly will have a bigger payoff than working very little smartly.
  • Resources: Resources matter. When I bought a more powerful computer a while ago, my video processing speed went up substantially, and I was able to get more done quicker. Having the right tools for the job improves your chances for success.
  • Sabotage: Very seldom is sabotage overt. Most often, it is done subtly, and it is primarily self-sabotage. A person may watch TV excessively when they could be studying for an exam, or they might eat poorly, lowering their energy levels. The people you choose to associate with also contribute to your success. Are your friends and family bringing you closer to your goals, or holding you back?
  • Lack of self-discipline: Staying the course takes commitment.  Every time self-discipline lags, it erodes the chance for success.

For a company, though, success may be defined differently than it is for an employee of that company. There is some overlap, though. An individual may define success as being able to send the kids to private school, or being able to move to a bigger house, which may require a promotion. In turn, that requires many things that the company would define as success.

The equation for corporate success is:


Formula 4. The Corporate Success Equation


The corporate success factors are defined as follows:

  • Relevant Individual Success: As mentioned above, this is the cumulative effect of all the individual successes of the company’s team members. Again, only the slices of their success that matter to the company are added up here.
  • Leadership: Leadership is the ability to chart a course to turn those individual successes into a big success for the company. Note that this leadership is a success multiplier. Strong guidance means a team can be more than the sum of its members.
  • Management: Management has become the butt of jokes over time, but the truth is that it is the pragmatic, reasonable cousin to leadership. Leadership gets the glory, while management gets things done. Note that I did not say leaders and managers. The truth is that the distinction is one of scale. Leadership and management cannot exist without one another. There is no such thing as a pure leader or a pure manager.
  • External Forces: Sometimes, external forces will act against you. The stronger the challenge from outside your company, the more cumulative success and leadership a company will require to achieve success.

These equations are meant to be conceptual in nature, rather than something that you would actually plug numbers into. What I want you to take away from this is that you can find the levers you need to pull to get to where you want to go, or where you want to take your team.

When you understand the inner workings of success, you will be much more likely to be able to find a factor that is one of your strengths. Very few people are strong in all of the factors. Most people can achieve success by finding a few of the key drivers that are compatible with their own personality and style, and invest in those.


How Continuous Improvement Impacts These Equations

I’ve asked myself over the years why I am so devoted to continuous improvement principle and philosophies. As I look at these equations, it is easy to see where my commitment comes from. Continuous improvement, Lean included, has a major impact in nearly all of the controllable factors of these equations.

Let’s walk through the list and think about what Lean impacts.

  • Skills: Lean has some focused tools, but many of them are general problem solving and leadership skills that improve potential across a wide range of situations.
  • Experience: Lean broadens a job’s requirements, which makes more of the work experience relevant in more situations.
  • Effort: The emphasis on efficiency and productivity means that the same amount of effort gets more done. Ultimately, that brings you closer to success.
  • Resources: Resource teams, job shifting, improvement workshops and the like are all part of string continuous improvement cultures.
  • Sabotage: Lean pushes for waste reduction, and many forms of waste act to hold back progress. Poor behaviors such as overproduction hamper progress, even if other positive actions are taking place.
  • Self-Discipline: Lean requires following standard processes. Seeing the benefit of committing to a standard tends to foster things like leader standard work and morning rituals.
  • Observation: Lean creates new ways of looking at things. When you look at the world through the filters of PDCA and the 7 wastes, you see opportunity where others don’t. Plus, the emphasis on going to gemba means you increase the likelihood of being where there is something interesting to see. You don’t notice much on the walls of an office.
  • Delays: Using good problem solving tools to power through issues means that there is less of a queue to work through. Opportunities get acted on more quickly.
  • Resistance to Change: Nothing helps a person become accustomed to change like change. Initially, Lean is hard to get used to because of the constant state of flux. But in a mature Lean organization, people are not only accepting of change, but welcome it when they are faced with a broken process.
  • Courage: Lean companies prefer failure over inactivity. Obviously, not every time, but the occasional failure is looked at as a byproduct of success. In addition, continuous improvement skills breed confidence to attack problems and opportunities.
  • Leadership: Lean promotes many leadership tools that reduce ambiguity and increase communication. Structured processes like policy deployment also create more effective leaders.
  • Management: Daily management, stand-up meetings, and the like add structure to the management process, reducing the effort it takes to keep an organization on track. Good management amplifies a team’s improvement resources.

As you can see, Lean is powerful because it can pull on nearly all of the levers of the success equations.

Investing in Yourself

You have two ways to invest in yourself. You can invest time, or you can invest money.

Consider this site. If you want to go the free route, it is certainly an option. You could spend months reading all of the information we have posted, subscribing to our lessons of the day, or putting our free forms to use. It is quality information, and it will pull several of the levers I mentioned above.

But you can speed up the pace of learning with our DVDs. Hour for hour, they are a much faster way to learn than reading our free content. Our DVDs are an investment in yourself.

Invest in Your Team

Similar to investing in yourself, you can devote either time or money to pulling the levers of the corporate success equations.

Our free content can bring your team along at a steady pace, but if you want to see faster results, we offer some premium products to improve your chance of success.

Our digital training products save you the time of developing classes on your own, and our DVDs ensure you are helping everyone improve their potential, even if they can’t make live training.


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