Measuring Success

Each of us is in business to be successful.

That’s an assumption I am making when writing this blog.  But have you defined what success looks and feels like for you?  Ignoring society’s assumptions about success, do you know what you are aiming for?  Will you know when to stop? Are you able to distinguish and recognise your real wealth?

You may recall that I’ve been away most of April.  One of the reasons for my journey was to research sustainable living.  I had the privilege of visiting two communities in Ecuador who define their success and wealth very clearly.  The first I visited is San Clemente, an indigenous-owned community-based project situated on the flanks of the sacred Imbabura volcano.


Research on sustainability

Laura with sons Edwardo and Giovanni in front of the house they built

This community has chosen to re-learn and retain traditional skills, agricultural practices, cultural activities and even dress.  They farm their rich lands organically, feeding the community largely by their own effort.  They follow an ancient agrarian calendar which determines planting, harvesting and celebrations.  In this community clear purpose, peace, harmony and beauty suffuse all activities.  Success here is defined as:  A healthy ecology, living an uncomplicated simple life close to family members where everyone is engaged in meaningful contribution to the vibrancy of the community.

As a visitor I could gauge success simply by the light in the eyes, the warmth of their relationships and the smiles on the faces.

Researching sustainability

Inside an Achuar home, one of our hosts sings for us

The second community in which we spent 5 days is the village of Tiinkias in the heart of the Ecuadorian rain-forest.  Here a small community of Achuar people – about 35 families I understand – get everything they need for their daily lives provided by the rain forest.  They have no ‘money’ or money equivalent.  Tiinkias lodge is a recent innovation to supplement their lives.  It offers visitors a chance to enjoy their community and learn about their cultural practices and activities in return for some money which they use to access medical services and education.  Success for the Achuar is defined as a happy, healthy family.  It was very informative to experience their productive, happy community.

I’m not saying we should all return to an agrarian life, what I am saying is that these people are clear about what success means to them and so can lead purposeful, fulfilling and happy lives knowing they’re achieving what they set out to do.  If we defined success clearly, saying no to ‘busyness’ for the sake of it, or even the next bigger TV would be easier and we would reduce the complications and stress we feel much of the time in our lives.

On returning home I notice the NZ Herald is reporting that 48% of NZ businesses believe the economic recovery will gain pace.  Which is good news – I believe we need a thriving economy.  Because thriving is part of my definition of success.  Thriving for me means I make a meaningful contribution, I can support my family to eat well, be healthy and enjoy a fulfilling life.  And my community is also thriving.  Thriving also includes an ethical dimension – I am not thriving at the expense of others.

In creating successful sustainable businesses the question it is important to answer for ourselves – particularly as the pace picks up again – is what does success look like and what is real wealth?    Is it our health? Is it our relationships? Is it money in the bank or owning our own home?  Is it financial security and our ability to enjoy our work and fellow workers, and have fun with our families?  It is certainly not accumulating lots of things – things don’t bring fulfilment or happiness.

And that’s a marketing challenge because the easiest way to sell something is to attach to it a thing or an emotion that people do want.  Sex is used to sell toothpaste these days!  A current ad for Coke uses the slogan “Open Happiness.” The promise is false, and all of us know it, yet we keep falling for the illusion. We can begin to free ourselves from that illusion by being clear on what success is, what happiness is for us.  My guess is that for most of us it includes many of the same things the San Clemente and Achuar communities are clear about —family, community, good health, good work, intellectual endeavour, no financial stress, experience of art and nature, service to others, a sense of purpose, even spiritual insight.

On the weekend I was speaking to a client I worked with between 2005 – 2007.  His business is thriving and he is enjoying life with his sons, building a new home and able to say no when asked to reduce his margins on the work he does.  In 2005 he clearly defined success as “We be proud, We be fun, We be profitable”.  These three simple statements have guided him clearly through the last couple of difficult years in business to stay proud of the work that leaves his premises, to ensure that everybody at work is having fun and also to say no when pressured to reduce his margins.  Finding great staff is easy, maintaining standards and deliver in on his promise to his customers is all systemised, life is uncomplicated. He told me that one of the most valuable things he got from working with me was the confidence to stand by his values and run his business aligned with them.

Over 95% of people I speak with identify with most of the things the San Clemente community have identified as being most important to them.  The question is of course how do we build our businesses to honour our dreams, our highest aspirations, our vision for our lives – those things we actually want that determine our real success? And then how do we measure this as a person, a business and as a country?

I’d love to hear your thoughts so please comment if you have a moment.

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2 responses to “Measuring Success”

  1. Go to Top David Thompson

    Another good article. A few years ago I cold called John Harrinton, a local brewer to do some marketing. I was told he was in the smoko room, so I wandered up and introduced myself. His comment was “why do I need to do marketing?” I responded “to make more money”. His response has never left me: “Why would I want to do that? A man can only eat and drink so much, and I do too much of both already”.

    I ended up doing some work for him, but based on the idea that more people would enjoy his (outstanding) beer instead of mass produced swill from foreign owned companies.

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