So you want to be a success

Eveline Goodman KleinWe live in a society increasingly obsessed with material success. We are exhorted to “Get on!” “Get ahead!” “Get a step on the ladder!” “Make it to the top!” If you don’t prosper it’s easy to feel like a flop, that you’ve wasted your life and failed your family.

But is such success open to all? Do we all have the potential to be millionaires, and can success be taught? What can we learn from those who do make it to the top? Becoming a millionaire is a surprisingly haphazard affair. At school we are told that if we work hard and pass exams we will do well. But a recent study by Professor Cary Cooper, of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, refutes this advice. When he studied the lives of successful entrepreneurs, he found that nearly 60 per cent left school early either because they were thrown out or were “bored”. Other studies suggest there is little correlation between how well children do at school and the salary and the job satisfaction they achieve as adults.

The most certain route to riches is to start out wealthy. Over half the people in the most recent Sunday Times survey of the richest 200 people in the country inherited money. Twenty+five per cent of those who head large corporations were born into affluent families. If you’re not born wealthy, you may be able to capitalise on another advantage: good looks. “Good looks make early life easier. Teachers and other children will expect you to be kinder, cleverer and to do better than plainer peers,” explains Dr Raymond Bull of Portsmouth University, expert on the effects of facial appearance. Being tall is also an advantage. Other qualities being equal, employers are more likely to select taller and more attractive people. However, unless you want to work with children, it can be a handicap having too pretty a baby face. You are likely to be regarded as kind, but not very efficient. You may fare better by taking to crime – juries are far more likely to acquit you.

In a new book, Business Elites, Professor Cooper compares a number of successful entrepreneurs with people Cooper calls intrapreneurs. He defines intrapreneurs as those who rise through the ranks to the top of large corporations.
Cooper found major differences between the two groups. “Intrapreneurs tended to be the kids everyone thought would do well. Over half went to university; they are good organisers and get on well with people.”

But the entrepreneurs often had early reputations as troublemakers. “They probably left school early, had several business disasters and are awkward personalities. They are also intuitive and very determined.”

The Most dramatic difference between entrepreneurs and corporation high+fliers was that only five per cent of Cooper’s entrepreneurs had both parents present throughout childhood, compared with 91 per cent of the intrapreneurs. In some cases the parent had died, in others they had been absent for long periods. “Coping with disaster early in life appears to give people vital resilience later on,” suggests Cooper.

Nearly half of Cooper’s entrepreneurs also felt that they had been the victims of discrimination early on – some were Jewish, some were immigrants, some were just physically small. But even if you are born poor or ugly to parents who refuse to absent themselves from you, there’s still plenty you can do to influence your chance of success. A range of courses and self+help manuals are available to help you forge your way to the top.

Go into any large bookshop and you’ll find a section with titles such as The Magic of Thinking Big, or Riches While You Sleep. There’s even a magazine called Personal Success, filled with ads for courses that will “unleash the power within” or “transform your thinking, behaviour and relationships”. “Successful people,” says Breen, an organisational consultant, “are the ones who, when something doesn’t work, try something else. Unsuccessful people keep on doing the same thing, only harder.”

Most of today’s courses on positive thinking originate in America. Many start by advising you to try “positive affirmations” such as this one from Success Magazine. “Look in the mirror every morning and say to yourself: “You are rare, unique and different. You were designed for accomplishment, engineered for success.” Sounds embarrassing? Don’t forget that self+belief is crucial for success. In his training programmes, Breen shows people how to banish negative thoughts and put themselves in a more productive frame of mind. Motivation is the key. Working in a big organisation can provide motivation (if only because the boss shouts at you), but entrepreneurs have to learn to “gee” themselves up. Breen gets students to concentrate on immediate specific tasks that need attention, rather than allowing themselves to be overwhelmed by a mountain of things waiting to be done.

“We get them to imagine getting one thing done, and how good it will feel when they’ve finished,” says Breen. “If you really concentrate on those thoughts for just two or three minutes you’ll find you can’t wait to start work instead of dreading it.”


Text: Eveline Goodman.

„Eveline Goodman ist Geschäftsführerin von EforP – English for Professionals, einem Sprachinstitut, das sich auf maßgeschneiderte Trainings – auf „Integrated Trainings“ sowie auf Sprachtrainings – für Unternehmer und deren Mitarbeiter spezialisiert hat.

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