The Secret to Enduring Success


I want to introduce you to Howard H. Stevenson. He is the Sarofim-Rock Baker Foundation Professor, Senior Associate Dean, Director of Publishing, and Chair of the Harvard Business Publishing Company board.  He has lectured and published on the idea of Enduring Success. Dr. Stevenson’s work on the nature success is something that I can really recommend for today’s world. I don’t offer this praise lightly – Stevenson covers the concept thoughtfully.  To learn more about Stevenson, link here:

Stevenson argues that success is very difficult to measure, uneven, and unstable.  We consider that success is subjective, not always fair, and transitory in nature – it must be continually renewed lest it wither away. Success itself is not very simple at all.

Stevenson comments about the difference between external and internal measures of success. Sometimes, we can be rewarded for things that we don’t feel good about (but the world values) while other times we are denied success for things we do feel really good about (but the world does not value). The world is fickle and the measure and value of success rely on perspective. Stevenson makes the point about the perspective of success: when we choose not to do something and someone else does do the very thing we bypassed and is successful because of it, we feel bad. The value of success can rely on our viewpoint – are we looking at things from a position of success or are we looking in toward another person’s success that could have been ours? That’s the trick of perception – both the world’s and our own perceptions play a role.

What makes us satisfied with success? Stevenson mentions four types of satisfaction regarding success – these can work together but that is not required. We hear about the success of achievement where goals have been met; Stevenson discusses significance as a measure where we rate what we have done to help others; yet another satisfaction of success is happiness that gives us joy and contentment in our life; finally, we have legacy and that is what we leave behind (values, accomplishments) for others to use and build upon. These satisfactions range from the present in happiness to the future in legacy. Stevenson’s outlook of the unique relational aspects of these four satisfactions resonates – understanding that success is multi-dimensional and also based on perception allows us to better understand our drives and, perhaps, make better choices as we pursue success.

You may very well find yourself caught on a treadmill that has you bypassing important successes that were waiting there all the time. That treadmill is always there waiting for us and if we allow it to consume our passion, we may find our lives poorer for the outcome.

Stevenson talks about the strategy the leads to enduring success, something that matters to all of us. He calls it the spiraling linking strategy and he says that people he interviewed “… saw achievements, significance, and happiness as part of their lives, right from the beginning.” At the same time, these people did not wait until life’s end to set up their legacy, they worked on their legacy all along. In this way, we see the healthy interrelation of the best aspects of each type of success in a way that follows you throughout your life. Stevenson argues that knowing when you have enough success is key; this is required to be satisfied. Knowing and defining what “enough” is allows you to work towards a goal and when you stop (“put it down” as Stevenson puts it), you are satisfied with the results. Setting goals and reaching goals allows us to move on to something else without trying to have it all.

For more reading, here is a great article by a collaborator of Stevenson: No, You Can’t Have It All by Eric Sinoway in the October 2012 issue of HBR.


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