If you feel you are wildly successful, then you probably don’t need to read this. However, if you are only moderately successful, you probably spend a lot of time wondering what the people who are wildly successful are doing differently than you. There is one huge difference between successful and unsuccessful people. That difference is their ability to finish. Yes, luck, connections, family, training and a number of other factors influence success, but none of those things really matter if you can’t finish.
Things of Value
Success is a matter of producing things of value. That doesn’t mean everything you create and finish will be a huge success, but if you don’t finish it, you’ll never get to the point that it could be a success in the first place. We often see the value of our work based on how much time we’ve put into something. How long you spend doing something is meaningless if you don’t finish. Which is more valuable–A great book that has never been printed or a good book that has been printed and is available for sale? It doesn’t matter if the great book took 10 years worth of effort. If it isn’t finished, its value is insignificant compared to the book that is only good, but is done.
In the job market, which is more valuable–A degree that you haven’t finished from a really great school or a degree that you’ve finished from a good school? Most employers are going to be more interested in an applicant with a completed degree regardless of the prestige of the school where you haven’t graduated.
The reason employers look for people with a degree is because it shows you are capable of finishing something. If you’ve managed to get a degree from any college, you’ve had to finish a number of assignments, classes, projects, etc. Employers see this as valuable. They know they need employees who can actually finish things. Many are less interested in what you studied as long as they can tell you know how to finish things that you start.
One of the biggest barriers to finishing is perfection. Yes, you can always spend more time on a project to make it better. If you are writing a book, you can always spend more time to tweak it and perhaps make it a little bit better. The skill of being able to finish projects is understanding when you reach the point of diminishing returns. If an extra 5 hours invested in a project make it 100% better, it is probably worth continuing to refine. If an extra 100 hours only make it 2% better, you are probably at the point where you need to finish it and move on to something else.
Not everything you try is going to be a huge success. Make sure you understand when something is “good enough” so you can move on to your next project.
I used to manage some graphic designers working for a non-profit. One of the most difficult things to explain to a graphic designer was the fact that producing 50 good pieces for the organization in a year was a whole lot more valuable than producing one piece that was perfect.
The balance between being efficient and perfect is difficult to learn. It is often one of the defining traits of someone who is mature in their field, yet it is something that gets very little attention in training and is often not even talked about.
Sometimes the best way to finish is to break your project up into smaller pieces and finish the pieces. Software is a good example of this. Many projects fail because their scope is to big to successfully finish. Many more projects would succeed if engineers were able to focus on creating software that solves a subset of the problems, get it deployed and then start a new project to bite off more of the issues. This type of iteration can be very valuable in getting things finished.
Don’t focus on writing an entire encyclopedia. Write a single article, get it complete, do something with it and then write the next. You will never finish if you try to write all 10,000 articles at the same time.
Successful authors finish books. Successful composers finish pieces of music.There is no prize or recognition for having an idea that you weren’t able to execute. There is no Nobel prize for the people who almost came up with something brilliant but didn’t ever get around to writing it down or creating a paper about it.
The ability to actually complete things is what puts you in the running for wild success. The better you become at actually completing things on a regular basis, the more likely you are to achieve great things. The ability to finish is simply the price of admission, but it represents a significant barrier for most people.
Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey says
I’m a perfectionist by nature. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to channel the want to make everything I do perfect. I find that when I attempt to make things too perfect, then my overall production level goes down and that interferes with my success. So there has to be some balance when wanting to be perfect and knowing when it’s good enough and move on to the next project.
Mark Shead says
Good point. It is easy to overlook the fact that going from 90% perfect to 95% perfect can take 10 times as much effort as getting to the 90%.
This article hit home for me. Regarding the degree. This is my feeling exactly. Many people say that such and such degree doesn’t mean anything but I am of the opinion that the experience gleaned from such can be very beneficial. I also completely agree with the perfection barrier. I see this time and time again in my own actions. I have to constantly tell myself that not every idea that I can come up with will be executed according to the standards of some fictionalized entity that I have created in my own mind to judge the same. The iteration method was used all the time in my old Army infantry days. Our training for missions was ALWAYS broken down into smaller steps as to alleviate the burden of going whole hog on everything at once. I can attest pesonally to the validity of these tips. Thank you.
Mark Shead says
Obviously if you can get a degree from Yale that is wonderful, but if you have to choose between completing a degree from Oklahoma University and starting a degree from Yale, go for the thing you know you can finish. People want to see that you can start and finish something–that is more important than where you did it.
Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com says
Great post but I AM successful already!!! I agree that going from 90% to 95% takes forever and the last 5% never is complete. That’s where the money and fame is at though!
Mark Shead says
I have to disagree. I think you are better off finishing and moving on to the next project instead of trying to get all the way to 100%. For example, if you want to write a book, you will be better off getting it in good shape and then starting on another book. Otherwise you can spend another five years trying to perfect the first book. In that time you could have written a second and third book. Chances are the third one will be better than the first because you will be more experienced.
I’m not saying to do a shoddy job, but you are more productive finishing a project and then using what you learned to start another than never finishing the first.
Excellent points. By the way, when I copy and pasted a sentence from the article, the article URL gets added to the system clipboard. Very annoying. You may want to reconsider that.
Mark Shead says
Alex – Thanks for letting me know. That is a feature designed to help add a URL reference when people copy clips to pass on via email, etc. I don’t mind people copying parts and passing it around, but I want to do my best to make sure that the second and third generation readers know where to go for the original version. It also gives me a way to see how my content is being used so I can tailor things to my readers.
Perhaps you ran into a use case that I haven’t anticipated. What were you going to do with the clipboard where the link to the original content became an inconvenience?
I was sending the URL of the article to a colleague, because the article was quite applicable to his current situation. So I pasted the URL into an e-mail message, and then copied a single sentence, to whet the appetite of the recipient, and pasted that into the message, and then had to clean out the redundant URL, because I certainly didn’t expect that to be included when I did the paste.
Andrew Artajos says
Finished product. Yeah, you’re right. No one would pay for an unfinished product. This definitely makes sense. In an world where “products” does not end to tangible things, it’s hard to define what a finished product is when it comes to intangible product like software.
How one can be successful?