At the 2013 Felixstowe book festival Stephen May talked about his then new novel (Life! Death! Prizes!), and his philosophy and approach to writing. Pragmatic after a first career as a teacher, May has no allusions about any birth-right to be published, or that he is the best or the most deserving of readers, recognition and rewards. His recipe for success is working hard, getting up early [to write], and not being afraid to throw material away and start again. Being one’s own editor and fiercest critic is a good way to refine and improve the end product, whatever that happens to be. Golfers use a phrase which encapsulates a similar idea, focus on getting the unglamorous basic stuff right.
Drive for show and putt for dough.
The getting up early thing seems to be important ingredient in a lot of success stories. I recently read one of those day-in-the-life newspaper profiles, you know the sort of thing, a smug and sleek looking business-wo/man, entrepreneur, politician, detailing their impossibly busy, organized and fulfilling lives. The businessman du jour in this case was Stephen Kelly, the CEO of Sage, who gets up at 5am for a quick session in the gym before getting to work at 7. Now I know that there is a 5 o’clock in the morning, I have been there, but mostly on my way home from a night out (although not in recent years), or to get flight somewhere. Under no circumstances has the gym followed by a long day’s work been involved!
As an aside, Sage is a fascinating company embarking on a challenging path; based in the North East, they are steady, successful and conservative, like a software company shouldn’t be! Despite taking charge of an established FTSE 100 company with increasing profits and a leading market share*…Kelly is a brave man with a mission.
(*More than half of private-sector employees in the UK are paid via Sage software)
With his impressive CV including Silicon Valley start-ups and as a government Small Businesses advisor, Kelly seems to have the vision, energy & zeal to make the business model fit the new technologies (not the other way around). And, in so doing:
- Move from a physical software product and licenses to a cloud-based service, otherwise known as ‘SaaS’ (Software as a service).
- Appeal to the majority of employees and Users (and probably give reluctant employers a push along the way) who want the smart devices, mobile apps, and connect anywhere convenience of the digital age.
- Move from annual renewal to monthly subscription.
- Connect the accounting back-office to the sales and operational front-office with Salesforce collaboration Sage Live.
Last person standing
There’s a third and final anecdote the complete the jigsaw. Alan Sugar and Donald Trump don’t pick their apprentices based on personality and a big showy performance in week 1.
(Ed. remember Donald Trump, he was the face of American Apprentice before he was the Republican Party nominee!)
At face value the Apprentice process is looking for leadership qualities, team-working and any number of other personality traits and behaviours, but I mostly believe it’s about resilience. The winner is a survivor, they learn from their mistakes, is consistent, persistent, and is motivated and driven…possibly even borderline obsessive!
This doesn’t help the majority of the population who has to go through a ‘normal’ short interview process, but does counter-intuitively favour the following 2 groups:
(1) An established self-employed freelancer or serial job-hopper. If you have a strong track record or other body-of-work to get you through the door, and can talk passionately about what you’ve done and want you can do, you’re halfway there. Success breeds success.
(2) An intern or an employee who is willing and able to seek opportunities and regularly re-invent themselves and their skillset. Being in the right place at the right time also helps sometimes. I’m not saying it will be a smooth linear progression, but if you have the desire and resolve, a series of small steps forward and more significant discontinuities (such as bigger jumps forward or sideways), can result in a successful career arc, even within a single organisation.
Which of these do you prefer the sound of? They are actually very similar if you ignore the notion of an employer, but think more about the Client for your services at any given point in time.
To sum up here’s my top 5 tips and recipe for success:
(1) Perspiration first, inspiration second – creativity and the flashes of entrepreneurial brilliance are all very well, but hard work pays the dividends in the long term.
(2) Be resilient, learn from your mistakes, face challenges head-on, and don’t take it personally.
(3) Make your own luck – it’s true what Samuel Goldwyn said, ‘The harder I work the luckier I get’.
(4) Do what you do well, to the best of your ability, have a working pattern and a structure that you can sustain and can sustain you (and doesn’t burn you out).
(5) Focus on what you want to do and why you want to do it. You don’t need to call it a ‘passion’ or have a ‘vision’ (overused words now I’m afraid), but what you do has to be worth the effort of (1) to (4) and has to get you up in the morning!
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.