“Luck” factors and success

Brian Tracy recently posted about “luck” factors. I take exception to the use of the word “luck”, and prefer the word “opportunity”, as it more accurately reflects the points he is making. “Luck” implies that results simply fall into our lap, that success is a matter of chance; opportunity implies taking advantage of a situation, one’s knowledge and skills, etc. The former is not repeatable; the latter is. The former is not within our control; the latter is.

Tracy lists seven factors that he believes contribute to our success in converting opportunities:

  • Clarity
  • Activity
  • Mastery
  • Energy
  • Personality
  • Honesty
  • Intensity

Of these factors, I believe that three are the most crucial: Clarity, Activity, and Honesty.

Clarity—“Clarity simply means that you know exactly what it is you want…” This means having clearly defined goals. You have likely heard it many times, but you can’t shoot at what you can’t see. If our goals are not clearly defined, we tend to bounce all over the place, changing direction according to whatever momentary influence comes along.

Activity—“High levels of activity, especially pro-activity, increase the number of things that you do…” Having a clear goal and detailed plan isn’t going to get us anywhere unless we take action. We have to make things happen. Life is not solely about planning; it also involves implementing the plan.

Honesty—“In the final analysis, people only want to do business with people that they like and trust.” While honesty is often viewed as a trait that involves others—how we relate to other people—it is primarily personal—how we relate to reality in general. The primary benefit of honesty is not social, but personal. If we try to fake reality, we harm ourself far more than anyone else—we are trying to live in a fantasy.

As you can see, each of these items is completely within our own control—they are not a matter of “luck”. We can define our goals, actively pursue them, and live our lives with a focus on the facts. Each is an integral part of business success. To attribute such characteristics to “luck” is to diminish the effort required. And it absolves the irresponsible for their actions, or lack thereof.

It can be “easy” to attribute the success of others to “luck”. But the truth is, “luck” is seldom an important factor in that success. What is far more important is taking advantage of opportunities, and we all have an abundance of those. We will be in a much better position to recognize those opportunities if our goals are clear. We will be able to take advantage of those opportunities if we are actively pursuing our goals. And everything will be easier if we focus on the facts.

Build a recipe book for your painting business

Would you expect your painters to bake a pie and not provide a recipe? They might squander many hours mixing ingredients attempting to find the combination that creates a tasty pie. And in the end, you could finish up with a sticky mess that tastes nothing like what you anticipated.

A similar thing can occur with your painting business. Without operating policies and procedures, your workers can waste hours attempting to carry out a task, only to discover that the results are not what you sought. You can labor conscientiously and meticulously, only to discover that your “recipe” was mistaken. But what happens if you actually do use a recipe in its place of “winging it”?

A recipe offers step-by-step directions for baking a pie. As long as you stick to the recipe, the results will be consistent. Indeed, anybody who follows the recipe will turn out a pie that is quite comparable in flavor and texture. The same is true of your small business.

Consistent actions generate consistent results. Written policies and procedures–when followed–produce consistent actions. With operating systems and processes, you can get dependable results–the results that you desire.

A policies and procedures manual provides your business with a “recipe book.”. It provides step-by-step instructions for the tasks you and your workers carry out. When the procedure is followed, you will achieve predictable results. It is just like using a recipe to bake a pie. Except a great deal additional is at risk with your business.

Perhaps you have made hundreds of pies and don’t find a need to use a recipe. You understand which ingredients to use and in what quantities. You know how to combine them and how long to bake the pie. And the pie comes out of the oven flawlessly each time. But is the same true of your employees?

Odds are, they have not baked as many pies as you have. They might not recall precisely the amount of of each ingredient to use, or how long to mix it, or how long to put the pie in the oven. And the results will echo that fact-they will be lacking consistency. But if you provide them a recipe to use they should be able to make a pie just as tasty as yours.

Consider further than the operation of your company consists of much more than baking a single pie. You must prepare cocktails, appetizers, a soup, and an entrée. And these might be different each day. Lacking a recipe book, is it any surprise that your company struggles to attain dependable results?

If you wouldn’t ask your painters to bake a pie-let alone a four-course dinner-without a recipe, why do you desire to run your business without a policies and procedures manual? Regardless what type of painting business you own–residential, repaint, commercial–policies and procedures will help you consistently get the results that you desire.

Systems for the one-man band

I hear a lot of contractors object to developing systems for their business because they operate alone. They have no employees and don’t intend to have any. They are happy and content working by themselves. Why I should develop systems? They wonder. Unless they have an unlimited amount of time (which they don’t) systems can be beneficial.

For example, we all have to pay bills and do some basic accounting for our business. Would you prefer to do this as efficiently as possible, or spend hours spinning your wheels in frustration? Would you prefer to have accurate records that are organized and easily accessible, or would you prefer to dig through boxes of receipts to prepare your taxes? Having systems in place for these procedures will allow you to perform these tasks quickly.

I seriously doubt that you would approach a painting project in a state of disorganization. You have certain steps that you follow so that you can complete the job efficiently and well. Why should this be limited to only one aspect of your business? It shouldn’t be.

Certainly, if you are a one-man band the depth and scope of your systems will be different from a company with 50 painters in the field. But the same basic principles apply, no matter how many people you employ. Efficiency, accuracy, and organization are beneficial to every business.

I have many tasks within my business that I perform only a few times a year. I often forget the exact steps required. However, I have these steps written down and easily accessible. Rather than wasting hours trying to re-invent the wheel, I simply consult the written procedure and the task is completed efficiently. Over the course of a year, I save myself countless hours and a ton of frustration because of this.

Personally, I have better things to do than try to figure out how to set up a new email account or file my tax reports online. I figured it out once, and see no need to repeat that process every time I need to do it.

Setting up systems is not as hard as you might think. When you perform a task, write down the steps you follow. Then put the task in a binder, which you can have divided into sections for particular types of tasks, such as accounting, marketing, and sales. Then when you need to perform that task in the future you will know exactly where to go to find the procedure.

So unless you have lots of time to burn, systems will save you time, effort, and frustration. And then you can spend your time doing things you really enjoy, like putting paint on the wall or playing with your kids.

A matter of perspective

Seth Godin makes an interesting point, using a restaurant at the Atlanta airport as an example:

Atlanta brags about having the busiest airport in the world. Like most municipal facilities, they don’t brag about having the best, the most pleasant, the most engaging or the most remarkable airport in the world.

That’s a shame, because airports are great opportunities to create value. Lots of curious, alert people with money to spend and connections to make. Yet the lowest-common-denominator is served, relentlessly.

A lot of painting contractors take a similar approach. They compare themselves to other contractors, and try to convince the customer that they are somehow better. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it misses out on a great opportunity.

Do we simply want to be better than the other guys, or do we want to be the best that we can be? Do we want to do the same things as the other guys, only better, or do we want to do things that nobody else does?

Certainly, we need to have some reference point, and our competitors can provide that to some extent. But using them as our only reference point and gauging our business by theirs is a recipe for disaster. You could easily find yourself traveling down a path that is filled with frustration, stress, and myriad other ogres.

When I was a child, I would often plead with my mother to allow me to do something. “Everyone else is doing it,” I would argue. And her response was always the same, “If everyone else was jumping off of a bridge, would you want to do that too?”

Your business—like your life—is unique. The goals you pursue and the actions you take are your choice. You cannot control what others do, but you can control what you do. So don’t worry so much about what others are doing. Set your goals as high as you possibly can and then go for it.

Success is often determined more by our attitude than our aptitude. While knowledge and skills are certainly important, we can often overcome our limitations with the proper attitude. No amount of skills or ability will motivate us to persevere in the face of obstacles, but the proper attitude will.

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