"Simple" secrets of success

Success gets a lot of attention. A search of the internet leads to hundreds of results for the secrets of success, but I've rarely heard a more concise--yet thought provoking--investigation into success than that delivered by Richard St. John at a TED Conference several years ago.

In three minutes and eight simple words St. John summarized 500 interviews over seven years on the concept of success.

St. John's research summed up the secrets to success as:


The entirety of Richard's presentation and a transcription of the video are below, but in examining these secrets as business owners they divide quite easily into two groups.

The first group of these secrets are absolutely crucial to being successful, but they are also responsibilities that we can share with our employees and partners.

Work - Putting our nose to the grindstone and pushing through our responsibilities is something that all business owners need to do to succeed, but if our employees see our honest willingness to do what needs to be done, we can count on them to share the yoke with us.

Good - Providing an excellent product and being skilled at what we do is another secret to success that we can pass on to our employees through a focus on training and education. This investment in our people pays double dividends in pleasing customers and showing staff that we value them enough to develop their skill sets.

Serve - You won't be in business long if you don't recognize that the only way to succeed is by delivering something of value to others. You also won't be in business for long if you, as the business leader, are the only one involved that gets that.

Ideas - Yes, as the leader in your business the major idea that launched your business hatched in your brain; but that doesn't mean you are the only one capable of generating ways to improve and innovate the business going forward. Employees, customers, vendors and consultants can all be sources of innovation and improvement.

The second group of secrets are at the core of what it means to be a business owner, and while there may be room for assistance in these areas, the buck stops with you.

Passion - No one will have the passion for your business that you do. You can hire the best employees and bring alongside the brightest partners, but none of them will have put the sweat and love into what you have created that you have. It is your responsibility to make every associate and partner feel a big enough piece of that passion to drive the business ahead.

Focus - Focus is the flip side to counting on others for ideas. While there are many around you who can help to paint possible futures, only you know which ideas drive the business forward and which are distraction from what your organization does best. 

Push & Persist - When the going gets tough, remember that you are the heart beat of your business. Push through your doubts. Persist through criticism and tough times. Provide a rallying point for your team and partners to cling to.

Eight "simple" words, but more than enough responsibility to choke a horse. The names that St. John interviewed for his study--Gates, Murdoch, Kraus--are some of the heaviest hitters in their fields. None of those men and women tried to do this all on their own. They knew the role they had to play in their organization and surrounded themselves with people who could help them achieve the success that they have found. 

Our goals should be no different. 


This is really a two hour presentation I give to high school students, cut down to three minutes. It all started one day on a plane on my way to TED, seven years ago. In the seat next to me was a high school student, a teenager, and she came from a really poor family. And she wanted to make something of her life.  She asked me a simple, little question. She said, "What leads to success?"

I felt really badly, because I couldn't give her a good answer. So, I get off the plane and I come to TED. I think, "Geez, I'm in the middle of a room of successful people, so why don't I ask them what helped them succeed and pass it on to kids."

So here we are 7 years, 500 interviews later; and I'm going to tell you what really leads to success and makes Ted-sters tick.

The first thing is passion. Freeman Thomas says, "I'm driven by my passion."

Ted-sters do it for love, they don't do it for money. Carol Coletta says, "I would pay someone to do what I do."

The interesting thing is, if you do it for love the money comes anyway.

Work.  Rupert Murdoch said to me, "It's all hard work. Nothing comes easily. But I have a lot of fun."

Did he say fun? Rupert? Yes! Ted-sters do have fun working, and they work hard. I figured, they're not workaholics they are work-a-frolics. 

Good. Alex Garden says, "To be successful put your nose down in something and get damn good at it."

There's no magic. It's practice, practice, practice. 

And it's Focus. Norma Jewison said to me, "I think it all has to do with focusing yourself on one thing.

Push. David Gallo says, "Push yourself. Physically, mentally, you gotta push, push, plush."

You gotta push through shyness and self-doubt. Goldie Hawn says, "I always had self-doubts. I wasn't good enough, wasn't smart enough. I didn't think I'd make it."

Now, it's not always easy to push yourself, and that's why they invented mothers.

Frank Gehry said to me, "My mother pushed me."

Serve. Sherwin Nuland says, "It was a privilege to serve as a doctor."

Now, a lot of kids tell me they want to be millionaires. The first thing I say to them is, "Okay, now you can't serve yourself. You've got to serve others something of value, because that's the way people really get rich."

Ideas. Ted-ster Bill Gates says, "I had an idea--founding the first micro-computer software company." 

I'd say it was a pretty good idea. There's no magic to creativity and coming up with ideas it's just doing some very simple things, and I give lots of evidence.

Persist. Joe Kraus says, "Persistence is the number one reason for our success." 

You gotta persist through failure. You gotta persist through crap--which of course means criticism, rejection, assholes and pressure.

So, the big end, the answer to this question is simple. Pay four thousand bucks and come to TED. Or, failing that, do the eight things--and trust me these are the big eight things--that lead to success.

Thank you Ted-sters for all your interviews.

Josh Perrysuccess, TED Talk