Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan
I collect quotes. I love them and reflect on them and let them inspire me. This one is a favorite. The common interpretation of this proverb is that many people are all too willing to take credit for a success but disavow any complicity in a failure. But ponder for a moment, a double meaning:
“Success is due to many sponsors, while isolation leads to failure.”
Early in my career, I learned about the Pygmalion Effect. Pygmalion was the mythological artist who fell in love with his sculpture of a beautiful woman, which subsequently came to life. This is often used to illustrate the concept of the “self-fulfilling prophesy” and the results of studies from the late 1960’s that demonstrated that the greater the expectations placed on people, the better they perform. Hence, it made sense to me that selecting the right mentors and sponsors mattered to my success.
During my study of the martial arts, I learned that even the legendary karate masters all had masters that they revered. After all, how can you learn martial arts all by yourself?
I also had the opportunity to be part of a start-up company. We had a great team and we also had great investors. It was there that I learned about J. Paul Getty’s axiom, “If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem.” I learned that you want the right investors, and you want them to have skin in the game—so that they are invested in your success.
Now I am back in the corporate world, driving change. This means meeting with various “sponsors” to get my idea approved. However, Lao Tzu said “When the best leader's work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.'” If I truly want my ideas adopted, they must become everyone’s ideas. This means being more concerned about the power of the idea, than my ownership of the idea.
Where did I get such a counter-intuitive notion? My virtual mentors of course. People like Seth Godin, whose many books have stretched my thinking throughout the years. Godin wants people to steal his ideas and make them their own. And it’s working toward his success; people can’t get enough of his books.
And Doc Searls, with his Ten Ideas about Ideas blog post. He makes the point that “Ideas won’t change the world unless others can improve on them.” Hmm, it’s no wonder that success has many fathers.