Prepare for success

Most major disasters involve multiple failures. For example, aeronautics has such a great safety record that it usually takes three or more major problems to cause an accident. Weather, maintenance and pilot error conspire to doom a plane when any two factors would not cause a crash.

As humans, we tend to be biased to the negative and analyze what went wrong to avoid risk and problems in the future. This makes sense, but it got me thinking about circumstances when the reverse is true: Really magnificent events rarely happen in a vacuum. They, too, require multiple things to go right. This is why our mothers told us to prepare, our teachers to practice and our coaches to excel. While there are no guarantees, these activities create the potential for unexpectedly good outcomes.

When I consider some of my biggest successes, I know this is the case. While not everyone works in private investment like I do, these ingredients are often found in business success of any kind.

Outstanding relationships. Nobody is truly self-made. We all rely on mentors, friends and trusted colleagues along the way. That’s why building a network of the right people in the right industries is vital for anyone to succeed. And remember that a good relationship is a two-way street. Be sure to contribute and nurture the ties that are helping you thrive.

Exceptional people. This goes hand in hand with relationships, but working with, for and around gifted people who are also blessed with emotional intelligence makes work a lot more fun, satisfying and ultimately rewarding. This goes hand in hand with relationships, but working with, for and around extraordinary talent usually makes you and your work better.

Ethical behavior. Ill-gotten gains are not a long-term road to success. Following the Golden Rule doesn’t just feel good — it’s good business. And don’t just take my word for it: This belief dovetails a bit with a growing demand across society for values-based activity in business, or so-call environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns. It’s part of what I consider doing good while doing well. If they’re not already doing so, your customers and stakeholders will demand it soon.

Processes and checklists. You can wing it. Or you can prepare rigorously and follow tried-and-true approaches with some degree of rigor and discipline. Which do you think is more likely to contribute to your success?

Differentiation. The world is incredibly competitive. Home runs tend to come from ideas that rise above the clutter and deliver something truly better and often unique.

Experience. Oscar Wilde said that experience is the name we give our mistakes. It’s worth noting that you’ll have lots of setbacks on any path to success. Make the most of them. The most painful lessons often deliver the wisest insights — about yourself, your company, your colleagues or your approach. It’s wise to embrace those missteps as learning opportunities. At my firm, we call them Lessons from the Loo, because we post our worst missteps on the walls of our office restrooms. It’s lighthearted, but also a stern reminder to never make the same mistake twice. After all, there are always so many new and creative ways to screw things up.

So as you set out to find your next big success, remember that it probably won’t come from a single action or choice. It will be built on a foundation of multiple good decisions, with the help of others and by doing things the right way. And the best part of success like this is that it’s repeatable.

Here’s to many great outcomes in business and in life. ●

Stewart Kohl is Co-CEO The Riverside Company

Stewart Kohl

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