April 18, 2007

We can't copy our way to success

An interesting quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the following: "A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe." Often, we seem to think that we can copy our way into success but usually we can't. Management books suggest that if we study other successful companies and closely copy what they seem to have done, we can achieve the same success. Books for personal effectiveness do the same. If we closely look at successful individuals we can copy their success and we'll be successful too.
But there is one thing we can't copy by definition. The successful companies and individuals which make it to the books have usually discovered themselves how to develop success. When we try to copy exactly what they have done this is the very difference between us and them. They did not copy anybody. Instead, they discovered their path to success themselves.
When we look from the outside at successful companies or individuals we can only see superficial characteristics. What we don't see is the underlying philosophy which is consequently implemented in countless day to day micro decisions. An example is US Airlines which tried to copy Southwest Airlines in 1994. US Airlines tried to understand the phenomenal success of Southwest and copied several aspects of the Southwest approach like informal clothing of personnel, no meals, more frequent flights, faster handling of baggage). The attempt failed and the market share of US Airlines grew weaker instead of stronger. It had copied only superficial characteristics, not the day to day details, not the underlying philosophy.
Here are a few hunches about successful individuals and companies:
  1. They don't have a copy mentality. They don't try to discover a shortcut to success but they patiently and persistently develop their path to success.
  2. They are skeptical about management fads. Only when they are really convinced it will be useful for them they will carefully try them out.
  3. They will not let themselves be talked into approaches by consultants or coaches.

The interesting thing about the solution-focused approach is that it helps people to develop their own goals and to discover steps forward in the direction of those goals. This enables them to develop an individual success path.


  1. Coert,

    I would add that the solution focused approach itself can't be done in a copy-cat fashion either. It has to be recreated each time by everyone using it.



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