Defining Success...

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Here's another Corante post from last week that I thought ought to get some play time here:

John Winsor points us to this post by Seth Godin today in which he poses this astute question: "What is success?"

Per Seth:

"It's a serious question. How do you know when you're successful--when you have enough market share or profit or respect or money? How do you decide what success is?"

I've run into my share of people for whom success was simply owning a Porsche, a few great sets of golf clubs, and having a 6,000 sq.ft. house on the right golf course. I've met a few for whom success meant designing products or ads that would be used or seen by millions of people. For some, success is being on the cover of Vogue or Elle. It's winning the Tour De France. It's having your own sitcom. It's celebrating 50 years of profitable business. It's getting 5,000 hits per day... or 500,000. It's hearing yourself on the radio three times an hour. It's a title on your business card. It's the corner office. It's a 75-year wedding anniversary. It's an award. It's a 4.0 average. It's the size of your garage or of your yacht or of your third home. It's how much you can bench press. It's beating the S&P. It's being able to spend your own weight in cash every day for the rest of your life. It's beating cancer. It's winning a war. It's curing Polio. It's watching your kids grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults. It's serving 500 plates in an hour without making any mistakes. It's getting a big fat check from a VC. It's increasing profits or expanding operations to Asia. It's rescuing every hostage. It's fixing Social Security. It's winning a Gold medal at The Games. It's winning the election. It's getting that promotion. It's graduating. It's getting the account. It's breaking a record. It's kicking heroin. It's getting her to say yes. It's winning the lottery. It's walking on the Moon. It's making your first dollar.

The thing is that every single one of those definitions of success is personal. These are all individual measures of success. They don't involve other people's expectations. They don't involve the success of groups or organizations. And that's precisely the rub.

Per Seth:

"Too often, we let someone else define success. Critics, for example, want a movie to be only modestly popular and modestly approachable. Geeks want your brand to be new and edgy. Alexa-watchers want you to be bigger than MySpace. Stock analysts want you to beat the numbers that they told you they wanted you to meet. Your boss wants you to show up a lot and work late, regardless of what you actually do for her... A lot of organizational conflict comes from mismatched expecations of success."

More often than not, the definition of success is not well defined at the start of a project (which could be as simple as the design of a print ad or as complex as... well, I'll just let your imagination fill-in the blank there). The project manager or CEO typically goes straight to the "goals" but forgets to take a few minutes to go around the room and poll his team (and/or his bosses) to a) find out how they all define success as it pertains to the project, and b) make sure everyone associated with it understands the many different elements that will either make the project successful, or not.

(Sales and profits are usually pretty important on the ROI list, but they aren't always the end-all, be-all.)

Some measures of success may very well be "having the best _________ on the market," or "having the coolest ______________ on the market," or having "the most user friendly ______________ on the market," or having "the most durable ______________ on the market." The smallest digital camera. The flattest phone. The fastest assembly line in the world. The fastest flash card on the market. The most arresting ad campaign of the decade. It could be getting the most out of every penny in the budget, or getting designers and accountants to speak the same language. It could be a side-effect, like creating a cultural phenomenon, or giving birth to a fashion icon.

It can be hundreds of things. Thousands, even.

The point is that all of these things must be 1) communicated at the project's launch, and 2) agreed upon by all relevant parties.

This is not something you can afford to skip.

"As we launch this new company, we will measure success thus..."

"As we launch this new product, we will measure success thus..."

"As you begin your new career, you will measure success thus..."

Simple concept, yet too often overlooked.

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