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Up, up and above

Achieving success is almost like finding God?the destination is the same but the roads are as varied as the seekers.
PTI | By Anupama Bhattacharya & Saurabh Bhattacharya
PUBLISHED ON AUG 03, 2004 03:16 PM IST

Achieving success is almost like finding God—the destination is the same but the roads are as varied as the seekers. All you need to do is choose your path.

Success is a high. Trouble is, the higher you go, the more difficult it may seem to stay where you are. There would be thousands vying to outrun, oust and supersede you. To reach success-and to stay there-is a momentous challenge. Yet, going by the verdict of management gurus from all times, it's actually quite simple- provided you know how to.

"Winners don't do different things, they do things differently," proclaims Indian management trainer and author Shiv Khera. "Success," chips in Promod Batra, former chief general manager of the Indian multinational Escort group and seminar leader, "is basically about how you can turn adverse situations in your favor."

Thomas Edison failed approximately 10,000 times before he finally invented the light bulb. Henry Ford was broke at the age of 40. Beethoven, as a young child, was told he had no talent for music.

Or take Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the loin-clothed leader of India's struggle for independence. "Few people face as much failure and humiliation in one life as Gandhi did," says Batra. "But he did not give up. He was there, at the right time, still struggling, when his fate changed." The issues may not have been big enough. But the dreams were. And each step was taken in that direction.

"Successful people compete against themselves," writes Khera in his book You Can Win. "They better their own record and keep improving constantly." The idea is not to be second best, even to your self. For success, like lady luck, comes with its dose of fickleness. To live up to it, and to keep it by your side, you may need all your human ambition—and your godliness.

In search of excellence Why is it that out of a teeming population of human beings, perhaps each essentially as capable as the other, only a handful leave a mark? Where do talent, hard worked and dedication fall short of that crucial margin?

"You don't have to want to successful," writes psychologist and motivation teacher Edward de Bono in his book Tactics: The Art and Science of Success. "You don't have to value success, but if you do want to be successful, then there are two attitudes. The first is the passive attitude, which tells you that there is nothing you can do except wait. The second is the positive attitude, which tells you that there are things you can do that will make a difference."

Success is 70 percent effort and 30 percent luck. You may burn the midnight oil on a regular basis, but if luck doesn't come your way, it will be to no avail. On the other hand, you can't get lucky if you don't go on trying. Most success gurus agree on one point: talent alone is not enough.

You have to be different, do things differently, and perhaps have that elusive quality that most people, for the lack of a better word, call excellence.   

But then, what is excellence? To define this term, we waded in futility through a number of books-until we started staring at the walls of our office in perplexity. There it was, staring us right in the face, in the form of an aged poster. " Excellence," said the poster, "means doing your very best in everything. In every way." In every way-right from going that extra mile to achieving perfection in every little thing. As Indian industry leader and creator of Air-India JRD Tata was wont to say, "I know that aiming at perfection has its drawbacks. It makes you go into details you can avoid. But that is the only way you can achieve excellence."

Excellence, like that poster on the wall, stares us in the face every minute of our waking life. The point is to achieve it. According to Abraham Maslow, father of humanistic psychology, most people evade their growth and are actually fearful of their own potential. Which is why peak experiences of ecstasy, self-worth, unlimited capacity and an indefatigable faith in the self never last long. Maslow felt that the concept of sinful pride, hubris and the like have been invented to guard man against this fear of the unknown and limitless power within. "For some people, this evasion of one's own growth, setting low levels of aspiration, the fear of doing what one is capable of doing, voluntary self-crippling, pseudo-stupidity, mock-humility are in fact defenses against grandiosity", he wrote in his book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.

Achieving excellence is obviously not a day's work. It demands large doses of effort, tenacity, will-and originality. Or, to use a chic word, style. "Determine your own style," advises de Bono, "even to the point of verbalizing it or writing it down." An identification and awareness of your own style is a prerequisite to beginning the journey towards success.

The image of a winner
For many successful people, the journey began as a search for the self-image or self-creation. As New Age guru Deepak Chopra puts it in his best selling Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: "Each of us is here to discover our higher or spiritual self."

Self-image, according to de Bono, is a prime motivator. He describes this motivating force thus: "This is a view of oneself as being significant, of being different from others, as being someone who can stand out and make things happen." And often, this self-image gets a boost through facing, and overcoming, challenges-through industriousness, tenacity and an efficient awareness of reigning circumstances.

Jack Welch is a name that nobody, apart from those in the corporate sector, would recognize. But the firm that he once headed is known to the world— General Electric (GE). When Welch took over as CEO of GE, the company was a behemoth of 420,000 people that had become so used to its world-leaders that it couldn't care less about improving. Welch single-handedly brought about a complete transformation in the company's vision and productivity. But in the process, roughly 300,000 people left GE, many of them sacked. And Welch was unrepentant. 
 
The stern visage
"Where single-mindedness and efficiency meet, ruthlessness is the charge," says de Bono. But ruthlessness is hardly ever looked on favorably in the pursuit of success. Is it all that essential for attaining your goals? Says Arindam Chaudhari, Indian management consultant: "I personally believe in the ancient Indian philosopher Kautilya's theory of changing and adapting yourself according to the circumstances, like a chameleon. For, ultimately, it is all for the greater good."

Which, of course, is success. For Kautilya, the end justifies the means and any means you use is right-so long as you achieve what you set out for. Cunning? Perhaps. Unethical? Kautilya did not think so. If it is the dharma of a king to kill thousands in order to expand his kingdom, or if it is the dharma of a corporate head to step over his competitors, he is justified in doing so. "Having regard for thine own duty, thou should not falter. There exists no greater good for a kshatriya (warrior) than a battle," says Krishna to Arjuna in the ancient Indian philosophical sermon Bhagavad Gita, a scripture that has, in recent times, become a management Bible.

"An open war is desirable only when you are sure that the opponent is on the verge of collapse and that nothing can come in the way of your success," says Kautilya in his seminal book on statecraft, Arthashastra. In an open war, you have to go by the rules. But if you compete through subversive means, nobody can point a finger at you and you can reach your goal faster.


This is the predator. The man who creates his success by watching the moves of other and strikes when the iron is hot. Though few entrepreneurs and business magnates would acknowledge this strategy, success, in many cases, is an outcome of others' weaknesses. The best example of this strategy could be the stock market, or better still, rogue trader Nick Leeson, whose predatory trading led to the collapse of United Kingdom's much-respected Barings Bank.

This, in the words of Stephen R. Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is the win/lose paradigm-where one has to lose for the other to win. But there is another paradigm: win/win. According to author and philosopher Ayn Rand, in a perfect economy, each person who succeeds honestly and ethically automatically benefits others since the society is based on a value-based exchange. "Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value," she writes in her cult novel Atlas Shrugged.

According to Rand, if you say that values or philosophies are not practical and cannot lead you to success, then there is a fault in your basic premise-the value system. "A philosophy that cannot be practiced is no philosophy," she says. And any institution based on duality is bound to collapse since the key ingredient to success is integrity. "Integrity is recognition of the fact that you cannot fake your consciousness-that man is an indivisible entity, and integrated unit of two attributes: of matter and consciousness, and that he may permit no breach between body and mind, between action and thought, between his life and his convictions," she writes in Atlas Shrugged.

The right approach
One percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration—Edison's definition of genius has often been quoted to define success as well. Even before Edison, the rigors of success were described by painter Michelangelo thus: "If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem wonderful at all."

There is hardly a parent in the world who has not, some time or the other, exhorted his or her children to work harder. But simply slogging, says experts, hardly ever pays. It is necessary to have a clear-cut vision, a particular goal in front of your eyes before you begin running. As de Bono states: "Certainly there are people who seem to think that hard work is a substitute for strategy, but filling time is not the same as time management. Being busy is not the same as working. Dealing with the urgent is not the same as dealing with the important."

So, focus your energies in a concentrated manner on your goal and then start perspiring for it. The choice of the goal and the effort taken in reaching it are complementary: if you want to achieve something for the love of it, and not because it is the done thing, no amount of hard work would tire you. As de Bono puts it: "Successful people do often enjoy their work that it does not seem like work." A theory that Mumbai based personal growth trainer and former leader Khursheed Merchant would heartily second. "There was a time when I used to take life too seriously," she says. "Now I see it as a fun game, and the idea is to enjoy it. My ultimate goal is to wake up in the morning feeling good, be excited by events of the day and go to bed satisfied."

Deepak Chopra extends this concept of effort to a more universal level while describing the law of least effort. "Nature's intelligence functions effortlessly," says Chopra. "It is nonlinear intuitive, holistic, and nourishing. And when you are in harmony with nature, when you are established in the knowledge of your true Self , you can make use of the Law of Least Effort."

In Zen Buddhism, least effort is transmuted further to absolute non-effort. You don't try to do something-you just do it. As Eugen Herrigel quoted his Zen master in his classic Zen in the Art of Archery: "The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede." Any swimming instructor will tell you that the harder you struggle to learn swimming the harder it becomes to learn.

Focused and responsible effort, and a consistently positive outlook. Together, they form the key to abundance-not merely in terms of material wealth but also in the form of opportunities that can become steppingstones to a completely successful life. Says Chopra :"All problems contain the seeds of opportunity, and this awareness allows you to take the moment and transform it to a better situation."

Transformation, thus, is a largely internal phenomenon. However adverse may be the external scenario, however many obstacles lie in the road to success, achievement is possible, nay, certain. You can win if you want. Whenever you want. Whatever you want. 

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