The Catastrophe of Success, and other fun

“The Catastrophe of Success” is the title of a short, famous essay by Tennessee Williams. I borrowed it as the title of a blog post I wrote for the Harvard Business Review the other day. That post is a teaser for Chapter 8 in Hannibal and Me, titled “The Prison of Success.”

(I might follow up with another post for the HBR. Those of you who’ve read the book: Feel free to suggest topics/themes in the book that could make good teasers in 700 words.)

Meanwhile, the Canadian journo-blogger Kempton did a fun Skype interview with me about the book, and just posted it in four clips on his blog. I’ll give you just the first clip below, so head over there and give him some traffic. In the other clips we talk about Eleanor Roosevelt, Liu Shaoqi, and others.

(It is obvious that I had just rolled out of bed for this one. Kempton, I promise to shave and comb next time. ;))

And, speaking of fun YouTube clips, Alex Norwick at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism did the one below. Thanks, Alex!

19 thoughts on “The Catastrophe of Success, and other fun

  1. A few possible themes:

    1) Questor vs. wanderer; the importance of some wandering on the path to finding lasting success (especially for the quest-prone).

    2) Strategy vs. tactics; beware the instinct to win every little battle; beyond the obvious professional applications, beware our tendency to do this in our personal lives.

    3) Two-step approach to confronting failure: first Fabian and stoic, second Scipionic and reinventive.

  2. Shakespeare on why disaster sometimes follows on the heels of success (from Hamlet):

    So, oft it chances in particular men,
    That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
    As in their birth, wherein they are not guilty
    (Since nature cannot choose his origin),
    By their o’ergrowth of some complexion
    Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
    Or by some habit, that too much o’er-leavens
    The form of plausive manners—that these men,
    Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
    Being nature’s livery, or fortune’s star,
    His virtues else, be they as pure as grace,
    As infinite as man may undergo,
    Shall in the general censure take corruption
    From that particular fault …

    • Thanks, JIm M.

      You are clearly our resident Shakespeare expert.

      BTW, I am struck by two things once again, as always when I read Shakespeare:

      1) His language is beautiful
      2) His language is friggin’ difficult to understand.

  3. My comments (perhaps immoderate) on part I of Kempton’s interview await moderation on his site.

    @Jim M. — With all due respect to the Great Dane, don’t you think that Macbeth is our man on this one? Macbeth, imperfect thinker who confused tactics and strategy?

    Andreas: Good look for the Kempton interview. So totes cazh.

    • If you say so, Sprezzatura, I will go ‘totes cazh’ henceforth.

      Macbeth: My favorite S tragedy. But do spell it out, so we don’t have to do the work: How did he confuse tactics and strategy?

    • oh, sorry…

      misunderstood jenny’s point entirely! quote is from hamlet, but macbeth makes a better example as in “macbeth and me”.

      although i don’t think macbeth is a great example, he had his 15 minutes of self-deluded fame and it was all tragedy after that. correct?

    • Somewhere in Act III, Macbeth says: “It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak.” So beautiful; but he might have thought about that before he killed Duncan and Banquo.

      In other words, Macbeth thought plenty about tactics (How do I become and remain king?), but not at all about strategy (What kind of kingdom do I want to create?). In other words, do I want the bloody kingdom that my bloody tactics will give me?

      Macbeth could have used a Greek tutor to help him sort these things out. Poor guy, all he got was the weird sisters.

      That is my post-H&M reading of Macbeth.

      Possibly that’s what I was thinking. Or, possibly, I just wanted to move the discussion away from Hamlet, because there’s no tangling with Jim M. on that one.

  4. Thanks again Andreas for a great and insightful chat. I hope your readers will find the interview as much fun to watch as I were in chatting with you.

    Thanks Jenny for your kind words. I am going to reply to your comment next.

    • kempton,

      so glad you are still around. haven’t you said that this wasn’t a book you would be interested in reading? i have negative associations with history, for the reasons andreas gives in the interview. so there is hope that this book will make history come alive for me.

      “history and me”, why not add to the running gag!

    • dafna,
      ha ha, you put me on the spot. Let me deflect your first point by saying, I thought I might need to skip many of the “history” pages but I ended up didn’t skip one page. Hannibal and Me definitely made history comes alive for me and I hope it will for you too. More importantly, the book makes history or the stories and lessons embedded in the history come alive and meaningful for me. If you haven’t got a chance to check out the book in a bookstore yet, why not download a free chapter from Amazon and see for yourself?

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