Bill Gates once said: “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” I’ve learned the hard way that this statement is true. Of the many ventures I’ve founded over the years, three of which worked pretty well and four that were outrageously unsuccessful, the main learning and insight has come from what I did wrong rather than right.
One of the biggest problems I suffered from was past successes that, in my opinion at the time, almost guaranteed future gain. In reality, this delusion was dangerous as it caused a significant reduction of thought, and to paraphrase Lao Tzu, this is a major issue as our thoughts determine our destiny by becoming our words, actions, habits and character.
Over time I’ve realised that the starting point of success is from our ability to expand the way we think. Figuratively, our thoughts can be prison guards, travel agents, defence attorneys or sports coaches. Our thoughts create our hopes and our fears. Our thoughts control our perception of everything that we call reality. Therefore we can expand our chances of success in all walks of life by expanding the way we think.
In contrast, one of the most common issues I sense, in personal and professional contexts, is a lack of awareness of what is happening around us. This lack of consciousness is one of the primary culprits in failure. Humans are exceptionally bad at making rational decisions and even worse at being curious in the first place. It’s not our fault per se, our minds are wired with heuristics and biases that skew reasoning, and our lives are full of information that we try and filter on a constant basis. This has been accelerated by the sheer volume of digital connections that generate news feeds, blog posts, tweets, status updates, likes, pings, alerts, and messages every minute of every day. Our lives are full of noise and it is increasingly hard to work out what our signal is.
So, what tends to happen is that we pre-determine what we view as pertinent and disregard the rest. We limit our curiosity as it takes up valuable time that we could use for comforting ourselves with familiar thinking. Paradoxically we limit our expansion of thought as a way of being efficient, despite the fact that limiting our expansion of thought will directly impact our ability to grow and succeed.
Not everyone falls into this trap. The winners in life and in business have a curiosity and flexibility that I find very alluring. And so, without wishing to argue against Bill Gates, it would seem that success can sometimes be a lousy teacher, but ultimately it is down to whether we personally choose to expand our thinking and unlock potential. Our thinking is our own teacher first and foremost, and from our thoughts onward, our destiny is determined.