Success lies in abnormality

You are not going to be successful just by wandering around being intelligent. Successful endeavours are those that are out of the ordinary, because they go beyond the norm.

Someone old and wise once told me that there is no such thing as a secret. Because if whatever is supposed to be secret is truly secret, we won’t know that it exists. On the other hand, the sage’s definition of a secret is “something that you tell one person at a time”.

Therefore, as secrets don’t really exist, what we call secrets are actually something else: insider information, salacious tidbits, little-known facts, or items of gossip we can’t wait to impart to someone else with an equally insatiable thirst for being among the first to know – which implicitly shows that we, the impartees, are really cool mavens with superior knowledge or insight.

So the underlying message here is that any scheme, book, article, seminar, course, or proposition that purports to reveal the ‘secret of success’ in return for wads of cash is a waste of money – we can learn it for free. The infallible route to success isn’t secret at all.

In fact, it’s so bloody obvious that anyone who doesn’t realise they’ve stumbled on it on the way to wealth, stardom and happiness doesn’t deserve to attain it.

Success is defined as the achievement of something desired or attempted, or the gaining of fame or prosperity. It is also relative. It needs a yardstick to be measured against – in other words, it needs to be compared to other activities or endeavours in a similar milieu.

Years ago I heard a radio interview with Dr Rina Moore, the first Maori woman psychiatrist. The interviewer asked her to define madness, which she obviously thought was a naff question, but with good grace she said it could be possibly described as ‘extremes of emotion beyond the normal range’. In the context of madness it could explain the highs and lows of Vincent Van Gogh. At one extreme in a manic/euphoric mood he would have painted The Bridge at Arles or Sunflowers, but at the other extreme, taken his own life.

Nevertheless, the phrase has always stuck with me and I believe it could also be a simile for success. It can also describe genius. As with Van Gogh, when it comes to genius, success is an active rather than a passive thing. You are not going to be successful just by wandering around being intelligent. To be a successful creative genius you have to do something that is both clever and original.

While it is true that all creative people are bright, it is not true that all bright people are creative. There is a body of evidence which suggests that beyond a certain point (such as an IQ of 120) higher intelligence has no real bearing on creative powers. In other words, bright people aren’t destined to be creative geniuses just because they are very clever. To be successful, these bright buggers have to show what they can do when they go beyond the normal range.

Quite simply, successful endeavours are those that are out of the ordinary, because they go beyond the norm. When we, who don’t have their extraordinary ability, read a book, see a performance, or watch an artist, a singer, or a sportsperson, do something beyond normal range, we are prepared to pay extraordinary money for it.

It could be as simple as being served a beautifully cooked meal, getting great service at a restaurant, or watching an outstanding performance on stage or a tennis court – we instinctively value it when we see it.

Therefore, the obvious path to success lies in doing something out of the ordinary. If we only play within normal bounds we’ll only get average rewards. If we keep doing the same things over and over again we’ll keep getting the same results. We won’t get extraordinary rewards, discover new territory or gain profound insights.

Even winning, in itself, doesn’t cut the mustard. You can be winner at anything if you select an easy goal, or have low expectations. But that is not success. Doing something ordinary doesn’t propel you into the pantheon of the gods.

So that’s it. The so-called secret of success is to ask yourself if whatever it is you’re doing goes beyond normal range. It the answer’s no, you’re not going to be successful, if it’s yes, you’re on your way.

Now keep doing it – keep pushing the boundaries.