Formula For Success? Beware.

Here is a well know formula for ‘success’:

Success= Hard Work + Luck
If I add a bit of perspective to this:

Success= Hard Work (i.e. under your control) + Luck (i.e. uncertainty, outside your control).

Perhaps being a scientist in my other life helps me appreciate how true this is. But some people would like to believe that ‘success’, however they care to define it, is entirely thanks to their own merits.

Personally, I can easily forget how really hard I worked on every achievement I made. But I can never forget how things ‘just happened’ better than I could ever have planned.

What does this have to do with business?

A great deal. If you consciously apply this formula to your business, you are likely to make informed (and profitable) decisions. What is more important, you will be far better at avoiding (and spotting) time wasters who try to sell you instant fixes.


First focus only on the part of the success formula that you can control.

Be absolutely clear about what is under your control and what is not. This is not as simple as it sounds but simpler than you think.

For instance, is the yearly target of increasing sales by 20% under your control? No it isn’t. You do not have a button to press and sales are lifted by 20%. So what is under your control that can influence sales? List your options or tactics. These may include: launch cross sells, reduce/increase pricing, improve sales training, increase quality, pay for advertising, etc…

These options can be directly under your control, and you know from experience that they may increase sales. Faced with these options, you now make a Strategic decision on which tactic(s) to execute.

What next?

Re-visit your yearly objectives, and underline those that are not under your control. Then decide (and work) on the tactics and objectives that you can control and that can influence those objectives you cannot control. Focus on those tactics while keeping an eye on your original objectives. Be prepared to change tactics if necessary.


If you have ever come across some ‘top 5 secrets for success’ you are likely to find one such secret that goes something like this “ You should have a focused and well-articulated Strategy”.

Let’s try to fit this tip into our Success Formula. To do that, we will separate what is under your control and what is not. Staying focused and clear about your strategy is under your direct control (and often it is hard work).

What about the outcome of the Strategy itself? This can be completely outside your control. Strategy is always directly influenced by competition, alternative products/services, consumer preferences and tastes…over none of these do you have direct control.

This is why you have to be aware that these “secrets of success”, have within them the very seeds of risk and uncertainty. It is very easy to analyze success in hindsight when a strategy was successful. But how many focused and well-articulated strategies did not make it?

I share a few real market examples to illustrate real strategic risks in these posts: Focus Group Can Shift Your Focus and You Create We Improve.