Category Archives: What Makes You Tick On Success

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: Outsiders are ‘in’

Outsiders are ‘in’
By Michael Berland
Published May 24, 2010

Q: What’s a politician to do? Voters rejected the incumbents in this week’s primaries in Pennsylvania and Kentucky (and Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln faces a runoff), shirking experience for new faces. What is so attractive about upstarts? In your experience, are you more likely to achieve success as a wise insider or a brash outsider?

The best prospect for making a difference and achieving real success is an outsider.

Outsiders can bring a fresh perspective and new ways to solve problems — they haven’t been “corrupted” by politics as usual and the insiders game. It’s not about anger or narrow ideology; it’s about competence and leadership and a fresh start.

One outsider I have worked for and admire is Mike Bloomberg. He ran for office as a leader, not a politician. He brought in new ideas from outside that cut across party lines and was willing to do what it took to achieve results.

And he was not beholden to special-interest groups. He has helped break through the gridlock and has brought a very different spirit to the political environment in New York.

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: A golden opportunity

A golden opportunity
By Michael Berland
Published April 26, 2010

Q: U.S.-made cars are now held in higher regard by American consumers than Asian-made vehicles — a significant turnaround in public opinion. Is this the result of negative publicity about Toyota or have Ford and other U.S. carmakers made the changes needed to change the perception about their vehicles? How hard is it to transform a person or product’s reputation once it’s set in people’s minds?

We live in a fluid culture, where things change and opinion changes. That is a good thing.

Toyota’s troubles could not have come at a better time for the American auto industry.

This is true from both a consumer point of view and a businessperson’s point of view.

(It seems like just yesterday you couldn’t sit down on an airplane or a commuter train without the guy next to you reading the bestselling business books on “the Toyota way” about the company’s successful business philosophy.)

Toyota had a long way to fall in the eyes of the American consumer. But fall they did. And to be sure, American car companies stand to benefit.

But the schadenfreude that GM and Ford must surely feel at Toyota’s misfortunes is not enough to carry them laughing all the way to the bank.

The new study showing that Americans are giving domestic autos a new look means the American car companies have a real opportunity, once Toyota’s troubles fade from the headlines, to re-invent themselves in the court of public opinion and appeal to new car owners.

Lucky for Ford and GM, America is all about comebacks. And we’re a culture that respects them.

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: ‘Muscle memory’

‘Muscle memory’
By Michael Berland
Published February 6, 2010

Being an established winner is an advantage over being a hungry upstart. And the main reason is that you have the ‘muscle memory’ of success. That can be a huge asset.

‘Muscle memory’ typically refers to how we train our brains for successful physical endeavors through repetition of activity — it’s what athletes do day in and day out in training.

On the field, by way of example, when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl against my beloved Chicago Bears three years ago in the exact same arena in Miami, he learned how to handle the pressure of the expectations and what was at stake.

So in this year’s game, Peyton Manning certainly has nothing to prove personally. So he can relax into the game and focus on it.

(But of course muscle memory transcends sports. I think there is a muscle memory of success in any field. When you’ve already succeeded, you already know what to expect. There is less of a fear factor. And you already know how to get the best out of your people. )

Muscle memory aside, an established winner can also mean you have something to live up to: a reputation to protect. That can be an added pressure and not a good thing.

Hungry upstarts, on the other hand, like Saints quarterback Drew Brees, have little to lose. Having little to lose can lead to an openness towards risk, to creativity and flexibility in decision-making. There is also something to be said for the drive and ambition and sometimes the humility of a hungry upstart.

Either way this Super Bowl going to be a great game. Now if the Bears can just start reading On Success!

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: It's hard work

It’s hard work
By Michael Berland
Published January 26, 2010

Q: How often do achievements like that of the newly elected Republican senator from Massachusetts seem to materialize out of thin air? Do you believe in the concept of overnight success?

The media can seize on something all of a sudden –a candidate, a cause, a consumer product — and then it seems like overnight success, but it’s not.

My fellow “On Success” panelists Misti Burmeister and Seth Kahan are absolutely right to emphasize that Scott Brown’s success only appears to be made “overnight.”

I’ve worked for two decades on political campaigns large and small. I know first hand that a successful campaign is like any business success: It’s about good people, teamwork, a nimble but effective decision-making process and good communication both internally and externally. And that is not something you can do overnight, though you can do it fast, especially if you have some seasoned people at the top.

I also know that “momentum candidates” can seem unstoppable, like Scott Brown last week and like President Obama himself became starting in mid-2008. They catch a wave. Then, it seems like there’s nothing that other candidates can do.

But that momentum usually gets going only after a long time of dong a lot of hard work, thinking and planning — in the dark and unnoticed. Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent bestseller Outliers explores this, turning the old “How to you get to Carnegie Hall?” joke (“Practice, practice practice!) into an in-depth examination of success in a lot of fields outside of politics as well.

In my book, What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It – And What You Can Learn from Them, my co-author Doug Schoen and I examine success by analyzing super-successful people using five archetypes.

I think that Scott Brown’s career fits our success archetype of the Independence Seeker. Independence seekers are all about seeing an opportunity and positioning themselves in the right way to seize on it and make the most of it. When you look at his accomplishments, it’s all about his success and achieving it on his terms; it’s not about having a larger vision and leading a body of people there as with the kind of person we call a Natural Born Leader, like President Obama.

An effective career in politics, especially in the Senate, demands collaboration, vision, teamwork. The Independence Seeker is goal oriented but doesn’t have a lot of patience for process. George W. Bush fit that category too — lots of interest in winning, but little interest in governing. In Scott Brown’s case too, the election was his goal, and whether he can “win” at legislating too remains to be seen.

Brown will have to work hard to morph himself, yet again, to attain a new level of success among his peers at the Capitol. One thing is sure: it’s not something likely to happen overnight.

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: Leadership on Leno

Leadership on Leno
By Michael Berland
Published January 14, 2010

Q: NBC’s bold decision to move Jay Leno into prime time has been a ratings disaster. How often does a roll of the dice hurt instead of help? Are gamblers more likely to succeed than those who are cautious by nature?

NBC President and CEO Jeff Zucker took a risk in bringing a late-night show to prime time. But just because the experiment seems to be a flop doesn’t mean — as some have said — that people should question Zucker’s value as a leader.

Zucker apparently championed the idea of stripping Leno’s low-cost comedy hour across the prime-time schedule in lieu of expensive-to-produce dramas. NBC has been trying to boost its broadcast business, which has been losing audience to the Internet and to cable channels, including those like Bravo, in which NBC has a stake, and which have thrived under Zucker’s reign.

What’s important is that the prospective new owner of NBC, Comcast Corp., has rightly shown confidence in Zucker, who signed a new three year contract. In fact, my co-author Doug Schoen and I included Zucker as an example of the success archetype we called the “natural born leader” in our book What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It — And What You Can Learn from Them.

What makes Jeff Zucker a natural-born leader is his combination of skills — his unique vision, competitive spirit and, above all, his willingness to take risk, as with trying a new time-slot for this format that in recent decades has only really succeeded on late-night TV.

In our book, Zucker was profiled in good company along with others who aren’t afraid to take risks in their respective fields: the leaders of Sara Lee, Hearst Magazines, National Hockey League, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Major League Baseball.

Jeff Zucker himself said it best in his interview for our book:

.”…I believe you can take risks and try new things and not be afraid and not be beholden to anything that’s come before. There’s a degree of risk taking in everything. If you’re not willing to put yourself out there and take a chance — to go for it, to win the match –you probably won’t have the kind of ultimate success you’d wish for.

“If you’re not willing to try something new on the ‘Today’ show, to try a new kind of programming in prime time, you may never succeed in network television. It’s not for the faint of heart; you have to take risks. I think you have to be willing to fail. But if you’re not afraid of failing, then you probably never will fully succeed.”

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: Look long-term

Look long-term
By Michael Berland
Published December 30, 2009

Q: Why do most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions so quickly? How much of a role does goal-setting play in achieving success? What are the most effective resolutions you have made?

I have never believed in New Year’s resolutions as a key tool for life success. I believe in life resolutions, or more specifically, in setting life goals and achieving them rather than “resolving” to do things that are good for me … or, more commonly, to refrain from engaging in self-defeating behaviors.

There is something to be said for the feeling of a fresh start and a break from the past that comes with a new calendar year. So I can understand the appeal of New Year’s resolutions. And they can be helpful for matters of personal health and fitness. I am proud to say that I lost 25 pounds in 2009. And sure enough, I started my fitness regimen a year ago.

In What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It — And What You Can Learn from Them, my co-author, Douglas E. Schoen, and I explain motivational traits are a key to understanding an individual’s success archetype (along with both inner personality traits and external traits such as how they interact with people and leverage relationships).

By motivational traits, I mean how do you set goals for yourself and how do you lay the groundwork for reaching them. When you achieve, how does that sense of fulfillment motivate you more, in turn? When you fail to reach your goals, how do you handle that, how do you recalibrate?

If you can be introspective about those issues in setting your New Year’s resolutions, you learn a lot about yourself. And, you can use that information to help you set long-term professional and personal goals that are not about beating the clock.

Happy New Year!

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: Santa, as spoiler

Santa, as spoiler
By Michael Berland
Published December 21, 2009

Q: What accounts for the fat guy’s success as an enduring, worldwide symbol of the holiday? The quirky suit? The fawning elves? The antlered entourage? How often do unlikely figures catch fire and seize the popular imagination?

If Christmas were my client, I’d unequivocally advise keeping Santa on as the face of the operation. Here’s why:

For starters, kids like Santa Claus because he is the “good” bad parent.

Real parents must set boundaries, know when to say yes and when to say no, so our children become moral and well-behaved people. Real parents would be doing the world a disservice if we did not set boundaries and punish kids when necessary.

But Santa, while he watches over kids and knows that kids are capable of being both naughty and nice, has never been known to carry through on the threat of that lump of coal.

Santa’s slogan is pretty much just “yes, yes, yes” in the form of “ho, ho, ho!” He is always benign, and approachable-lap-sitting is his main value-added feature.

For those of us lucky enough to have known our grandparents, we can recognize that Santa fulfills a lot of the grandparent job description, but in a more vibrant, uncomplicated way: He spoils you.

And that’s why parents, consumers, like him too. Because as parents, we can hide behind the myth to spoil our kids in a way that we know isn’t good for them and that we don’t have to take responsibility for: “Nope, I didn’t buy that ridiculously expensive gadget that my child had the tantrum over — Santa did it!”

We can even spoil ourselves — playing both roles, as seen in the popular Santa pub crawls throughout the country where people go bar-hopping dressed in stiff red -and-white, fake-fur costumes.

Santa is a timeless icon, yet there’s no worry about him aging so much that no one will find him attractive, which is a risk with other spokesmodels. In fact, Santa is as old as can be and people love him that way, precisely because he keeps everybody feeling pretty young by comparison — who doesn’t feel like a kid when Santa’s around?

Moreover, Santa has cornered the market on the adjective “jolly” — no one can use that word, even in mid-summer, without conjuring Santa. His red and white colors help the jolly factor, something obviously not lost on another of the world’s most successful brands: Coca-Cola.

Santa is successful as a brand in part because modern-day society needs him; his existence and his persona facilitate the commercialization of Christmas. Without him and the lore of the reindeer, Christmas would be another religious holiday.

Word from the North Pole is he’s becoming a real mentor to the Easter Bunny.

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: Love of learning

Love of learning
By Michael Berland
Published December 14, 2009

Q: A recent series in The Post painted a bleak picture of the prospects for millions of U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants, who will play an outsized role in the future of the American workforce but are dropping out of high school in greater numbers than other any other U.S.-born racial or ethnic group. What needs to be done to help more of these young people succeed in school and get college degrees?

In this excellent series on the U.S.-born kids of Hispanic immigrants, a recurring theme in several of the articles is that parenthood often forces these teens and young adults into taking their own lives seriously for the first time.

On the one hand, it’s good that parenthood can make young people of any background suddenly want to make a success of themselves. And parents in their teens and twenties are holding onto their dreams of graduating from high-school or even college some day.

On the other hand, it’s tragic the sudden desire for betterment, as reported here, often happens after many mistakes that can have lifelong consequences, including years of poor scholarship and, in the case of several of the young men profiled in the series, criminal activity.

I was most alarmed by the article “Young, Latina and Already a Mom” about teen sisters Angela and Edelmira who deliberately had babies so that their parents would stop trying to separate them from their boyfriends. Their story made me realize the importance of a truly comprehensive and culturally relevant sex education that addresses why it’s self-defeating to use pregnancy and parenthood as strategies to manipulate situations and people.

More generally, the key for all young people is to ignite early on a love for learning; a sense of fulfillment; a curiosity about and an ability to understand and communicate with a world outside the world they know. That’s something that immigrant parents who don’t speak English can teach.

When you love learning, it becomes the carrot you end up following and that leads you to make the choices to lead your best life. When the carrot works, you don’t need a stick.

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: Bouncing back better

Bouncing back better
By Michael Berland
Published December 11, 2009

Q: What’s the right response when you come tantalizingly close to success but fail to achieve your goal? How hard is it to recover from heartbreaking setbacks like the ones the Washington Redskins have endured in recent weeks? How often have you experienced reversals that tested your own spirit?

I have advised and consulted for many political candidates, and one of the things that everyone knows is that you typically lose before you win. It’s very rare to win every race — bang, bang, bang.

After serving as a legislator, Barack Obama lost his first run for Congress in 2000. After his first term as the youngest governor in the country, at age 32, Bill Clinton lost his governorship of Arkansas, then came back to serve 10 years before becoming our nation’s president.

One candidate I worked for is New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who learned this lesson before he even jumped from business into politics: He was fired from Solomon Brothers … and then went on to start Bloomberg LLP. Maybe that’s what made him such a formidable candidate.

In our research for What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It – And What You Can Learn from Them, my co-author, Douglas E. Schoen, and I interviewed a lot of people outside politics who overcame enormous challenges to achieve success in their fields — in business, sports, fashion, entertainment and so on.

For a lot of people nowadays, that setback is a layoff or a company closing. One of my favorite stories from our book is that of a guy named Barry Sternlicht who was a star at his companies and a father-to-be in his early 30s. In the downturn of 1991, he was laid off. He was demoralized by the setback:

“I was making money, making deals, and making friends. I was making a life for myself. They were high times, and life was good. … I was let go. I was shocked. Everything I had was lost: the dream job, the huge deals, the great salary, all of it. Of all the great tragedies in the world, this wasn’t the greatest. But when that conversation came, it didn’t feel that way. But it didn’t take me long to realize where I stood …

“I decided to go off on my own. I figured that all the things that made me successful [thus far]… could make me successful on my own. I was creative and had stamina and desire. I saw that my greatest strengths were my passion, memory, and perseverance. And it was around then, after the challenges of crashing down from the highs of the years before, that I realized just how important that last trait is. Perseverance is genius in disguise. If only I could persevere, I could succeed.”

Barry Sternlicht went on to become the founder of Starwood Capital and Starwood Hotels, with more than 850 properties in 80 countries (including W Hotels, which he created, and St. Regis, Sheraton, Westin and Le Meridien properties).

My accomplishments are minor by comparison. But every time I achieve something great, there is always a setback first. If it’s been a while since your last professional setback, you are probably coasting, which is a nice word for stagnating. Setbacks are how you know you are on the road to overcoming a challenge, toward growth, toward somewhere different.

Washington Post: On Success with Michael Berland: False idols

False idols
By Michael Berland
Published December 4, 2009

Q: Is the culture of celebrity and reality TV eroding our understanding of what constitutes success? What should we tell our children about people such as Tareq and Michaele Salahi who apparently crashed a White House state dinner in pursuit of reality TV fame?

The culture of celebrity confuses young people and creates false idols.

There’s nothing wrong with the spate of “reality” talent shows that allow great dancers, singers, chefs and clothing designers to show what they can do and try to make it in those very competitive creative worlds.

But even within Hollywood, media give equal, if not more attention, to poorly behaved stars — especially of the do-nothing trash reality genre– than to the legitimately talented.

In the case of the Salahis, who crashed the state dinner for the prime minister of India in an apparently not too misguided effort to become part of the reality TV fame machine, my fellow “On Success” panelist Patricia McGuire is absolutely right when she says that instead of focusing on the gate crashers, it’s important to talk about “the legitimate guest list and why people of achievement were invited to the White House.”

Among the invited guests were stars in medicine, film, literature, public service, journalism, classical music, diplomacy, business, and so on. For some of those people, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, a reward that recognized a lifetime of hard work, sacrifice and risk-taking of the kind that doesn’t thwart measures to protect the executive brand of our government.

Frankly, I think that we shouldn’t even be talking about the Salahis a week later, even in this “legitimate” forum of The Washington Post column on success. In my opinion, their names shouldn’t be Google-able with the word “success.” Continuing this discourse just gives them and people like them further incentive to engage in acts of this kind — like rewarding a kid with a lot of attention when he behaves poorly.

And that’s a comparison that even a child would understand.