Unsolved mysteries: What really goes into business success?

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victoria falls
That's me, at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. I had the opportunity last summer to return, after more than three decades, to where I achieved my first dream.
victoria falls
That’s me, at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. I had the opportunity last summer to return, after more than three decades, to where I achieved my first dream.

Right now, I wish I were a few years younger and more easy to impress with wisdom. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, for example, I decided to literally take the advice of motivational guru Brian Tracy. At that time, he preached the power of positive self-talk and affirmations, and I did exactly what he suggested to do, writing down my affirmations and repeating them, over and over, while jogging around the grounds of the local mental hospital (which happened to be a few blocks away from my home — and had a nice, large, green jogging path, with no security barriers.)

The ideas seemed to work: My then-new business survived its first great recession test, and in the midst of it all, my personal life changed dramatically, from an impoverished single guy with a failing business, to marriage to a woman with some financial resources (I signed the pre-nuptual agreement) and a rather dramatic increase in my living standards.

Fast forward two decades. I’m thankfully still married to the woman of my dreams, our son is 16 years old, and my personal net worth is much higher than it was when I married (then, = Zero). But we are going through another challenging business time, this year my salary take-out will be far lower than many of our peers, and part of me would love to go back to the time where I could follow some simple advice, and everything would be good.

Trouble is, the wisdom of aging has its own problems. I tested some of Tracy’s assertions and values, and they came up wanting. I validated how his assertions of early life adventures (traversing Africa) did not necessarily correlate to his future life path — see this story about Geoff Laundy, who went with him on that early African journey — and his disdain for journalists of course touches a raw nerve, since, well, my vocation is journalism (though I happen to be a publisher now.)

So, what are the solutions? Some of us look to religion (but there have been many scams perpetuated where religious faith is used as the basis of stealing money from the unsophisticated), and others look to books, consultants, and advisers. I belong to a network of 700 certified high IQ geniuses, and 500 Google ‘Top Contributors” — putting me in some pretty exalted communities — but these groups don’t have the answers, either.

More significantly, when we try to see the world through currently successful people, we can only guess at whether this success will remain valid 10 years from now. Bernie Madoff may have appeared to be a genius a decade ago; now he is in prison, and many of his clients are in poverty. Some of us remember the high-flying days of Enron, Research in Motion, and (possibly now, Apple), and we wonder why they are where they are now.

I suppose if we had the answers to these questions that everyone could apply, simply and easily, we would live in a Utopian world. There is an argument to be thankful for life as it is: I enjoy love, some financial security, and have the freedom and flexibility to change course and resolve problems before they get out of hand. But at times, I wish I could go to my genius network and solve the problems with a few simple and easy steps. However, if we actually believed that to be truly possible, we would be perfect candidates for  scammers.

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