The Temporal Nature of Success

Recently, I was reminded of the temporal nature of success. More specifically, what works at one point in time may not work at another point in time.

This was driven home while watching the pool maintenance person pull into my driveway the other day. Now, this same person has been servicing my pool for almost 8 months. Every week, he pulls in the driveway and from there pulls into a large dirt area on the side of the house (from where the pool is easily accessible). The dirt is almost as hard as concrete.

However, this time, as I watch him pull into the driveway, it has been raining steadily for almost a week. This much water combined with the soil around my house makes the soil the consistency of oatmeal. Fortunately, I see him and wave to him not to go back there. He waves back, but keeps going. I yell. He waves some more. I just about dive in front of his truck. To avoid running me over, he stops, but he is very determined to drive onto the dirt (now mud). I try to reason with him, but the lack of a common language is a small barrier to communication. Finally, I make a spinning motion with my finger and a whizzing sound and then point to his tires and then the dirt area. Communication, at last!

He is luckier than the plumber a couple of years ago, the last time we had this much rain at once. He too decided to drive back there. When we tried to tell him that he would get stuck, he wouldn't hear of it and drove there anyway. Determination can change a lot of things in this world. Whether you get stuck in mud isn't one of them. Finally the plumber was willing to admit he couldn't get out without help. So, we let him use the phone to call a tow truck. Even the driver of the four-wheel drive tow truck wouldn't go where the plumber had tried to go. They pulled him out with a winch. (As if to add insult to injury, the plumber thought I should pay for the tow truck. Go figure.)

The pool guy was luckier than the plumber. Maybe it was because he didn't want to park in the mud badly enough to run me over.

Now, there is usually some factor other than the phase of the moon that affects this temporal nature of success (or failure) - like, the weather. Or, economic conditions. Or, whatever...

Unfortunately, we seem to be conditioned to think that - if something worked once (or a few times), it will work again. Sometimes we are even arrogant enough to think that it was our own skill that made the difference when, in fact, it was entirely factors beyond our control. Remember the plumber?

This kind of hubris was rampant in the Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom. Entrepreneurs who had founded one company and watched it rise, left and founded another. After all, it had been their skillful guidance that had taken their company from nothing to millions or, in many cases, billions. (Granted, there were some who failed even during the good times, but not many.) Then, much to the surprise of everyone, the second company failed.

Ah, the temporal nature of success!

You see, a driver who is really experienced driving in all sorts of conditions looks at the mud and says "I'm not even going to try to go back there." Perhaps we should hold executives to the same standards we hold drivers. After all, that's why they make the big bucks, isn't it? know how to read the market conditions and do the right thing. Maybe they shouldn't let their ego get in the way. If the market conditions aren't right, maybe it's the right time to NOT be the founder of a company that will ultimately fail. But that leaves us with a dilemma... What's an executive to do if he can't found a company when he wants to?

Well, he could always be a plumber.



Previous Articles

Three Kinds of Engineers

Only Half Full

Taking a Sit

Making Decisions with Less Data

Temporal nature of success

Being overqualified

Defining what you're building

The real problem


Origins of the name


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