What drives Success ? Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

A friend yesterday asked me a simple Question  – “What are the skills needed for a teenager today to be successful in life?”  –  My first response was quick and simple – aligning success to the Corporate world  – Be a specialist , Make your presence felt – Build your BRAND – Communicate right , Adapt , Be ready to learn and unlearn and integrate technology as part of your day to day life . Last but  not  the least learn to be a tactical diplomatic conformist – dissent is no longer the voice of progress.  But then as  I thought thru this for 24 hrs and started peeling the onion a totally different set of perspectives started to emerge.

The first question I asked myself  – How do you define Success ? The easiest answer is the materialistic answer – Being successful in todays world is Being Rich, Famous and powerful. A good job , managing a large team , a big house , International Holidays , No Debts, Large saving in the bank  and a good education . Maybe a powerful job like a politician. (Remember this is defining Success not Happiness)


Thats the path which we normally take –  most parents in India would say that if you get to an Harvard – MIT – IIT – IIM….  chances are that you are on the right track and all set for a successful career and hence a successful life.

If you do a Google search on “Traits of successful people ” – its easy to find lists that include the following attributes as the key to Success – Resilience, Honesty, Time Management, Courage , Passion , Vision , Adaptability , Creating Value, Drive , Ambition  ….. etc

When everyone knows this Track and everyone wants to be successful – The Question I ask is why do only some people have these qualities and why is it that only a very few % less than 1% make it to the hallowed portals of Ivy League Colleges and then hop onto the so called Successful league.


To answer this question – let me reference a recent dinner meeting I had with Ishani – a colleague from Durgapur –  the small town where we grew up. We lived in ABL – a model township. The officers quarters had about 100 Flats/Bungalows. Ishani was an encyclopaedia and knew details of almost every boy & girl who had passed out of ABL from 1975 to 1990. Across these 15 years about 100 Kids would have completed their class 10 . It was amazing to observe that almost 90% of them could be termed as very successful. More than 50% were in good jobs outside of India and the remaining doing very well in the country.

How could a small township generate such stupendous success demographics? What were the Ingredients? How could this work not just for one year but for 15 years at a stretch ? Could the answer for what makes you Successful lie here ?

And its not just ABL the above phenomena can be attributed to BARC Colony in Chembur, an IIT Campus where the kids of the staff do so well , and large colony like TISCO / TELCO etc.

Key Ingredients from these ecosystems ( Like ABL Township) that could be the defining Criteria for Success  

I was able to quickly identify 4 key Ingredients that could possible be the defining criteria on how the Kids from here had a great start

  • All parents were highly educated – Engineers and top notch professionals from good colleges and schools  – GREAT GENES
  • The two schools in town St Xaviers and Mount Carmel – ICSE were best in Class – Good faculty, good environment , Good Syllabus – GOOD SCHOOL
  • Township life was perfect to develop the all rounder – Sports , Plays , Public Speaking – there was always an opportunity to get the sporty or creative juices out – EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  • Being a small group people interactions was high, bonding was high, it felt like an extended family – GOOD COMMUNITY

The formative years are so critical and getting an excellent grounding from birth to Age 16 with a  good school and a good community , backed with the right Genes made all the difference for this group of Kids . Of course you needed to work hard – but the community and peer pressure and school ensured that part happened.

But is that all – Basis this I developed a very simple model to define the key elements of success

Success copy.001

At the root of everything is Destiny – why were these 100 Kids born in that community, getting all the favourable Tailwinds to succeed. Why did the balance 10% not take off ? Why were there some cases of  two children born in the same family – One taking off to a very successful career and the other falling back down the way ? Why did some have a slow start but accelerate later ? Why were some doing so well – suddenly fall back ? I would argue that at the root of everything is DESTINY. We may all say that we are self made men – but then the seed with which we are born has a significant part to play on which tree we grow up to be .

Destiny – Genes – Community – School are the Basics that gets you started with a great foundation. Then you build your competencies and skills thru college and work. And here the hard work, perseverance pays off as you polish your skills and get better with age.

And then you have another block called the  Personality Trait on which you may not have much control. This may be linked to you as an Individual. The personality trait some Psychologists argue stays with you from birth to death – you can works towards modifying them … a little but the personality is YOU and cannot be modified totally. Like Destiny you may have little control over them. You may at best know your Personality Trait and operate in an environment conducive to that.

The 5 Common Personality Traits 

  • Openness refers to traits such as how inclined someone is to conform to societal or cultural norms, how concretely or abstractly they think about things, and how open or resistant someone is to change. A person who is a creative thinker and always looking for ways to do things better would likely score high on measures of openness
  • Conscientiousness has to do with a person’s degree of organization, level of discipline, and how prone he or she is to taking risks. The college student who never misses a class and has a 4.0 GPA would probably prove to have a high degree of conscientiousness as measured on a personality assessment
  • Extraversion is a personality characteristic that describes things like how social a person is, or how warm and loving they tend to be. Extraverts are people who would typically prefer to go out to a party with lots of friends as opposed to stay in and watch a movie with one or two friends
  • Agreeableness takes into account how kind, dependable, and cooperative a person is. People who score high on scales of agreeableness are typically more interested in doing things for the common good as opposed to fulfilling their own self-interests
  • Neuroticism is a personality characteristic that describes how nervous or anxious a person tends to be, as well as, the degree of self-confidence and self-contentment he or she possess. Individuals who score high on levels of neuroticism will often be preoccupied with the ‘what ifs’ of life. They tend be worrisome and preoccupied with things that might not be within their control

And last but not the last – you may have everything going in your favour but Lady Luck may be missing. And without her – its difficult to find the magic called Success. With all your competencies, attitude, skills , personality Traits you still need to be at the right place at the right time to encash your cheque. If your Personality has A Positive attitude and some risk taking abilities that beckons Lady Luck faster – but most of the time its a wave that sweeps a generation to success. We had the baby boomers in the US and we in India were a lucky generation – thanks to the economy boom and 7% + GDP Growth rate since the 1990’s. We have hardly seen war or unrest. And with a high energy PM promising Acche Din – lets just hope that lady luck continues to smile on us for ten more years and see us thru our productive phase of this life.

So what are the levers that you have ?  Destiny, Genes & Luck are out of your control. You really can’t choose what community and school you will study in – thats your parents call. Yes you can work hard and get into a good college and develop the right set of Competencies all across your career to succeed. And knowing your personality traits strengths and weakness – work on some visible areas of weakness.

So is this the one formulae for Success ? Of course not. You will always have the Ramanajuam’s and Dr Abdul Kalam growing up to global brilliance after studying under a lamp post in a small village with no school or infrastructure. But these are exceptions and not the norm.

The huge advantage that some kids get – will go a long way in helping them get ahead in the race. But how they capitalise on it remains to be seen. Sadly most of them don’t see the advantage they have and let complacency seep in. Is that laziness or Destiny – I don’t know !

Spread A Few Good Things

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