One theory on why success leads to failure

Thanks to Justin Hendrix, for pointing me to this TED talk by Richard St. John, who says he spent a decade researching success.

For an entirely different approach to that same topic–and its corollary; why failure can lead to success–please read my book when it comes out.

Here goes:

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11 thoughts on “One theory on why success leads to failure

  1. A sort of equivalent of what Richard St John talks about, is the famous (although I haven’t heard it spoken of anywhere in I don’t know how long) Peter Principle, whereby people in organisations move up its promotional ladder, until they reach their level of incompetence.

    Thus is success inevitably squandered.

  2. Hi Andreas – very interesting…. particularly the connection between productive work and happiness (though the video notes the connection between unsatisfying work & depression)

    Freud’s summary – you need only two things to be happy – to love and to work.
    Too much work nowadays is structured to be unsatisfying (and hence less than optimally productive – for either party). And its too often designed to deplete too much your time/energy, leaving little with which to do anything else well (including to love).

  3. “…And it [work] is too often designed to deplete too much your time/energy, leaving little with which to do anything else well (including to love)…”

    If I were allowed to spend all my working time actually working, I might be a happy man. It always amazes me what a huge percentage of my “working” time I spend NOT researching and writing articles but doing pointless and stupid crap, such as filling out forms, being on phone trees to correct wrong forms, arguing about yet other forms, and so forth. This percentage shot up when I moved to America, the land of forms. Admin, they call it here.

    That’s the stuff that depletes my time and energy and leaves little, including loving well. (Whereas the “actual” work, the writing, is quite satisfying and rejuvenating, usually).

  4. Speaking of Admin. We had a playful debate last night on the origin of ‘red tape.’ My guess, something to do with Englishmen in a colonial protectorate wrapping important documents with red tape, was close. One definition says that red tape came from an Indian administrative practice whereby a senior person would tie a file with red tape to be carried somewhere else by a peon. Thus you could say that the administrative process would be slowed by the caste system (the peons literally become the bureaucrats). I’ve been complaining constantly these days about how the bureaucratic B.S. is out of control. Reading your comment AK, I just realized that, thirty years ago, given the same amount of B.S., we might not have been complaining. Whether there was more or less is irrelevant because it would have been done by someone else; secretary, peon – or wife! Of course I don’t have a secretary today. Microsoft and Apple are the closest thing I have to a secretary. (internet-related wife comment deleted). So what do you think? Am I crazy thinking that boys were not raised to cope? For example, when I went to school in the UK, men of my age and education had never learned to type properly because they were raised to be, well, white guys.

    So maybe there’s as much B.S. as ever, but perhaps we are not being properly shielded. In fact, while we’ve been shoving people out of the way to get our hands on the latest electronic gadget we find ourselves on the front lines (bad strategy).

    (I also think that a lot of the civic activities undertaken by white guys in the past have gone the way of the secretary. ‘Volunteer work’ undertaken by the Rotarian 30 years ago really should have been credited to the ‘gals in the office.’)

  5. Italics: I tried to type out the code for you, but (duh!) it italicizes instead of being displayed. So here is a chart for the codes.

    Red tape: I dug deep into the archives, ie Wikipedia, and found:

    “The origins of the term are somewhat obscure, but it is first noted in historical records in the 16th century, when Henry VIII besieged Pope Clement VII with around eighty or so petitions for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. … The pile of documents can be viewed in all their glory, rolled and stacked in original condition, each one sealed and bound with the obligatory red tape, as was the custom.

    The tradition continued through to the 17th and 18th century. Although Charles Dickens is believed to have used the phrase before Thomas Carlyle, the English practice of binding documents and official papers with red tape was popularized in the writings of Carlyle protesting against official inertia with expressions like “Little other than a red tape Talking-machine, and unhappy Bag of Parliamentary Eloquence”. To this day, most barristers’ briefs are tied in a pink-coloured ribbon known as “pink tape” or “legal tape”. … Traditionally, official Vatican documents were also bound in red cloth tape. All American Civil War veterans’ records were bound in red tape, and the difficulty in accessing them led to the current use of the term…”

    I’m with you on the “secretary theory of modernity”, which is to say that I remember visiting my dad in his office when I was young, and yes, he did have a secretary that did everything for him that I seem to do now. But even that secretary was so much less productive than you and I are today (she typed a letter, read it out loud to my dad, retyped, etc).

    So I feel confident that there was red tape in absolute terms. People were capable of less. Also, to take just one tiny bit of modern life, do you recall in, say, the 60s, people saving for retirement by choosing between IRAs, Roth IRAs, Keoughs, 401(k)s, ….
    No, that sort of obscenity is something we cooked up lately, when our computers made us capable of churning out more crap per hour than ever before.

  6. To Mr Crotchety: To close italics when commenting, after the word or phrase you want in italics hit the key with the opening pointed bracket (apex pointing left), then hit the key with the forward slash (same key which has the “?”), then hit i, then hit the closing pointed bracket (apex pointing right). And Bob’s your uncle (or he should be).

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