The Paradox of Success

Inspirational leaders understand and can scale the distinction between doing something and, as capitalists, making money versus doing something in order to make money. 

We philosophers deal in paradoxes.  And probably the most known and ancient paradox is the paradox of happiness.  That if you pursue happiness directly it tends to allude you.  But if you do things that are meaningful, are valuable to others, things that you’re really passionate about because you find inherent value in them, you create the space for happiness to find you.  To understand happiness is to know you can’t pursue it directly.


Well I coined or created this corollary to the paradox of happiness that I call the paradox of success.  In the interdependent, interconnected world if you pursue success directly it will allude you.  Or if you get it, it won’t last, it won’t endure as we’ve seen where we now lurch from crisis to crisis not every ten years but every ten weeks and, in some cases, every ten days.  But if we pursue significance which means being other regarding.  Do something because it is truly designed to be of value to others.  We create the space for success to find us.

The Johnson & Johnson credo has the best formulation of this.  It’s a one page document.  It talks about our first responsibilities to the doctors and patients of the world and the communities that we serve.  And it goes on and on and on to really enumerate its responsibilities.  And then this document talks about money.  But it says if we live according to these principles, our shareholders should – not will – should make a fair return.  In other words, let’s make the world a healthier place and make money as opposed to let’s make the world a healthier place in order to make money.

Inspirational leaders understand and can scale the distinction between doing something and, as capitalists, making money versus doing something in order to make money.  If you do something and make money you create space for people to embrace that thing genuinely because it’s worthy of their dedication and they understand, as capitalists, that we need to make money to have profits and energy to keep going.  But if the reason to do it is money, we disconnect and we disengage. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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