Four Simple Rules for Success… in Everything


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Chances are you have never heard of Scott McCloud. For those of you who are non the wiser, he is the author of the unusual book ‘Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art’, which has uses much wider than the title suggests. Still non the wiser. TED recently released a presentation he made which shows to best effect how you can turn the usual death by powerpoint into something closer to reanimation through powerpoint.

That is not why I am writing this post though. In the presentation Scott talks about four simple rules, which on recollection, have guided much of the success of some of the most successful business people I have ever met. And lots more that I haven’t.

  1. Learn from everyone – It sounds so easy yet how many new blog posts, articles or books have you read this week? How many interesting people have you talked to? How many times have you listened to the BBC World Service on the Radio? And I don’t just mean the usual suspects in your field of business. I mean those in other businesses, in the sciences, in the humanities, in the arts. If you aren’t connected to a broad variety of opinions, you will fall behind and eventually, your business will be lunch. Consumed by a more worldly-wise competitor.
  2. Follow no one – Learning from others isn’t much use if you just follow their advise slavishly. That just leads to more mediocrity. Look at much of marketing today if you really want to see what mediocrity looks like. Far better is to synthesise your own thoughts out of all the stuff you have learnt and use that to push the boundaries in your own business field in your own way. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary, but it does have to be your take on what makes things work, what makes them better and what you can do about it.
  3. Watch for patterns – We humans have evolved over the past 50,000 years to spot patterns. In the past it was the ears of a lion on the Savannah, looking to turn you into lunch. Today it is just as likely to be trends in customer relationship management, influencers in community social networks, or until recently, convertible arbitrage opportunities in financial services. Obviously, the key is spotting patterns and working out how to use them to your advantage before everyone else does so. There are no prizes for coming second.
  4. Work like hell – As I think Einstein (or someone equally qualified) said, “genius is 1% inspiration (see the three rules above) and 99% perspiration”. Learning from others is hard work. Leading others is even more hard work. Spotting patterns before others is even even more hard work. And making something out of all three is, well, you get the picture. That doesn’t mean you have to become a dumb workaholic. That deserves rehabilitation not reward. No I mean dogged, smart, hard work in support of making something out of the pattern you have spotted. Out of that big opportunity that others haven’t spotted yet.

Four simple rules for business success? Are you following them all? If not, why not? Don’t you want to be successful?

What are your rules for business success?

Tip of the hat to Garr Reynolds at his amazing Presentation Zen blog.

Graham Hill
Customer-driven Innovator
Follow me on Twitter

Further Watching:

Scott McCloud, Scott McCloud on Comics

Garr Reynolds, Scott McCloud: Presenting comics in a new (media) world

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. New research by McKinsey on decision making confirms the value of the first, if not the second rule. The research found that business decision makers who made decisions that turned out good were more than twice as likely to have sought out different opinions and evidence from outside than not. And not surprisingly, that decision makers that took decisions that turned out bad were twice as likely not to have sought out different opinions and evidence.

    This is a lesson that larger businesses should take to heart.

    As information is carefully packaged and managed up the corporate hierarchy by lower managers, there is no wonder that decision makers often get a very artificial view of how the real world looks. And because they never leave their airless corner offices to talk to real frontline staff or real custromers, they have no idea just how artificial it is. Sometimes poor decisions made in the management hothouse, without the benefit of fresh opinions and evidence from outside, can drive businesses to bankruptcy. Bankruptcy that leaves those same businesses in denial. “We are the biggest, the best, how could this have happened to us?”. This is the story of the miserable failure of the US automobile industry. An industry out of touch with its customers, its suppliers, its shareholders, the US Government and let’s face it, with the American public too.

    How the mighty have fallen.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-driven Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Further Reading:

    Flaws in strategic decision making: McKinsey Global Survey Results


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