In a new series, I am going to be writing about success, specifically success within the field of design. In this first installment I want to discuss what success really means? Then over the forthcoming series we will strive to break down what it takes to achieve and maintain success.
I did an exercise a while ago to try and visualise what it takes to be a success within my chosen creative field. I thought it would be fun to feature it in the opening illustration to this post and it will be what I use as the basis to each section of this series. I broke my image down into four distinct areas. 1.Talent/Passion/love 2.Hard work 3. Experience 4. Integrity. Over the years it's changed a little but it was certainly a good place to start. I later came across a TED presentation from informational speaker, Richard St.John and his diagram for success, being the outcome of over 7 years of research and 500 face-to-face interviews. It definitely holds a lot more weight over my little sketch. You can view Richard St.John's incredible TED presentation below, where in just three minutes, he outlines his eight points to success: passion, work, focus, persist, ideas, good, push and serve. We will come back to some of these points and my little sketch throughout this series.
So what is success?
The dictionary states: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
• the attainment of popularity or profit
• a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity
• archaic the outcome of an undertaking, specified as achieving or failing to achieve its aims
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Latin successus, from the verb succedere ‘come close after
In 2008, aged just 24, Mark Zuckerberg made his debut on the Forbes 400 rich list with a Net worth of $1.5 billion. Throughout the 1980's Chris Gardner was homeless and raising his young son alone. Today he's the CEO of his own stock brokerage firm, a philanthropist and a motivational speaker. His memoirs of his struggles were made into the Hollywood blockbuster 'The Pursuit of Happyness' staring actor Will Smith. Surly Both of these individuals can be deemed a success?
So what of being a success specifically within the creative industry. In George Lois fantastically frank book, 'Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent)', he outlines four distinct personality traits: 1.Very bright, Industrious (perfect) 2. Very Bright, Lazy (A Shame), 3. Stupid, Lazy (They will sit on their ass all day so their a wash) and 4. Stupid Industrious (Dangerous). He states that only characters 1 and 2 will get anything out of his book and ultimately be able to succeed within the creative industry.
In Michael Bierut's article 'How to Become Famous' from his brilliant '79 Short Essays on Design', he outline a number of ways to help become known within the design industry including: entering competitions, giving speeches and doing great work. He writes that becoming famous isn't all that difficult but also that you can only do so much with the talent you have. But is fame the same as success?
In my early diagram, I based being a success on myself becoming a creative director, running a design team and working with multinational clients. Since drawing up my diagram, I have managed to work with some of the worlds largest retailers and household name clients and I am indeed a creative director of a business (be it a small one). I have traveled and lived overseas with my career. So did I achieve the success that I had based my diagram on? Definitely not! According to Richard St.John, he believes that success is a continuous journey. He uses the rise and fall of his very own business to highlight that we fail when we stop trying. You should never deem yourself a success and stop to reflect on your achievements but instead you must continue to push. In fact I would be the last person to class myself as s success! There are so many things that I still need to achieve and I continue to live a modest lifestyle and would never class myself wealthy of money. In addition, surely the mark of success can only be handed to us by others.
But should we focus on money to be a success? The dictionary does say that success is linked to profit. Many people believe that success is a measure of your earnings. Earlier we mentioned the Forbes top 400 list that rates success on the amount of money one has. It's certainly entertaining to view the worlds wealthiest and how they have managed to attain such riches, but I don't agree that money instantly makes you a success. I’ve met many wealthy people in business, some are happy for sure, but others really aren't. Surely if your unhappy you cannot class yourself a success. I have really enjoyed pro-bono jobs, working with NGO's and mentoring students in the Adobe design achievement awards. I don't earn a thing for doing any of this but their certainly highlights that I add to my career achievements.
Does notoriety make you a success? Throughout my career, Ive managed to win a couple of design and business awards. The dictionary does mention popularity as a mark of success. Again, I don't think this alone means that you are. Ive met many of my design heroes. Their some of the worlds most celebrated designers. Most have been surprisingly down to earth, friendly, focused, inspirational and they all definitely loved what they did. I had admired them for their work and not for the amount of money they had made and they were all focused on the product and never on their notoriety.
Apple's founder Steve Jobs quest for perfection resulted in some of the world’s most innovative products. Before his death he was worth an estimated $31.6 billion, yet this same desire for perfection led younger Jobs to live in a house with no furniture. For him it was always about the product, never the money or notoriety.
Should we also take our personal achievements into account? I became a father recently, which was without a doubt the most amazing experience to ever happen to me. My baby boy and my wife definitely drive me on to not just me a better designer, but a better person! They inspire me so, so much. My wife who is the greatest support to my design life bought the coaster and the pencil featured in my opening image. I love to run and have achieved many personal goals in long distant events. My achievements in running help to keep me fit. My fitness makes me a better designer, helping with my focus and inspiration.
I recently read an article about a clinically obese man who's one goal was to walk less than one kilometer to buy himself a newspaper and his shopping. After years of battling against his illness, he walked the distance and did his shopping. An amazing personal goal but is he success? To take on board some of our earlier comments, only if he can maintain or continue to improve on his achievement. Does this therefore still apply to Bill Gates though?
In conclusion I would like to go back to a couple of comments from earlier. I strongly believe that others can only impart success on us and we must all remember that it's a continuous journey and not a destination. It's not necessarily about money or popularity. If you get up each morning loving what you do, then maybe your the success! With so many factors making up what we believe to be a success, I would really appreciate comments from my readers. In part 2 we will pick up from the first part of my sketch diagram: Talent, love, passion and hard work!