Why the secret to success really isn’t that mysterious

Over my career, I have observed people with different personalities, backgrounds and behavioral styles achieve success in life.

Many times I wondered if there was a reoccurring theme running through their success stories that would clearly illustrate what creates success. When I was interviewing people for my book, “Masters of Success,” I asked thousands of everyday business people what they felt the “secret” to success was. They generally told me things like vision, goals, passion, persistence and systems.

I then asked many highly successful people who had obtained great wealth or personal success in business, sports or science. They generally told me that success involved things like vision, goals, passion, persistence and systems. Sound familiar?

This made me very curious. So much so that while I was teaching at a state university in the Los Angeles area, I asked hundreds of college students what they thought was the secret to success. These were all undergraduate students in business with little or no real-world business experience. Same responses.

Everyone I interviewed or wrote about regarding the secret to success — from Buzz Aldrin to Erin Brockovich, from average businesspeople to undergraduate college students — gave me virtually the same answer. So if we all know what it takes to be successful, why is it that we aren’t all as successful as we’d like to be?

No great mystery
I have found that many people are looking for some mysterious and ever-elusive secret to success beyond what they already sense to be important. The truth is, there is no great mystery. In fact, very often “success is simply the uncommon application of common knowledge.”

When you hear successful people talk about the secret of their success, have you noticed that you rarely hear any real secret? What you do hear about is their unwavering adherence to some system or approach they believed in and followed with intensity and determination — an uncommon focus on something that less successful people simply take for granted or pay lip service to.

Successful people focus on the goal and work through or around everything else. In sports, this is called “keeping your eye on the ball.” They do this with a passion and a vision — and they do it with persistence.

Even when the ideas are simple and easy to understand, they often don’t get implemented, because people think there must be something more. After I presented a keynote speech in Sweden a while back, a woman in the audience came up to me and said, “Everything you said makes so much sense. Much of it was about things that I’ve heard were important to do, but I never did them because they seemed too simple. I thought there had to be more to it than that.”

In the end, everybody knows what the goal is and how to achieve it. This is common knowledge, and it’s been around for a long, long time.

Success is about knowing these things and having the will to go after them without giving up, making excuses or getting sidetracked. It’s about the uncommon application of common knowledge. ●

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman at BNI, the world’s largest business networking, referral and word-of-mouth marketing organization.