The Wholly Trinity of Success

Feb 8, 2010   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon  //  No Comments

IN SHORT: Stubbornly banging your head against a brick wall isn’t going to knock it down – you’ll just end up with a headache and a wall still standing.

“The bend in the road isn’t the end of the road unless you refuse to make the turn.”


(910 words, approx 5-8 mins to read)

A few weeks back, when the snow and ice in Liverpool was pretty much at its worst, I took to the road on my mountain bike, suitably prepared and wrapped up warm, in order to get to a client meeting.

Odd, you might think, but remember that a significant fraction of the nation seem to have forgotten the ‘can do’ spirit of previous generations and decided not to venture off the couch to seek alternative ways of getting around, particularly to work.

I wasn’t going to let a client down, so made the 15-mile round trip with the occasional sketchy moment but nothing too serious. Other, that is, than the seeming lack of flexible driving skills of a major proportion of the road-users out there!

Many seemed to have totally forgotten the simple fact that you just can’t drive on a snowy, icy road the same way you do when it’s dry. I saw people frantically spinning their wheels, foot hard on the accelerator in vain attempts to get some traction, despite it being obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. I saw people using their brakes too soon or too hard, only to slide gracefully askew across the road, instead of using their gears to slow down properly. I’ll even admit to smiling smuggly to myself as I sailed past an Aston Martin Vanquish while the driver failed to make any headway at all up a hill and the passenger had to get out and push!

This was all a vivid illustration of the 3 factors that affect your outcome in pretty much any situation in life:

  1. The results you’re after – WHAT you define as ‘success’
  2. The behaviour you’re engaging in – HOW you expect to succeed
  3. The context you’re in – WHERE you’re trying to succeed

In order to be wholly successful, this trinity need to be in tune or aligned to one another. You could imagine them as corners of an equilateral triangle (that’s the one with all sides the same length..!), all linked together. This ‘success triangle’ needs to remain balanced, so if one corner moves whether by your choice or not, it pulls the triangle away from it’s lovely equal-sided shape. To get it back to balance, at least one other corner must be moved. Let’s summarise that bit:

If the WHAT, HOW or WHERE changes,
you must change at least one of the other two
if you still want to succeed.

However, you have only a limited time to make that change – if you don’t change one of the others by design, one of them will change of their own accord sooner or later in order to re-balance the triangle, and it might change in ways you may not like!

Let’s use the example of those drivers. Under normal conditions, the WHAT is simply getting from A to B, the HOW is by driving normally, and the WHERE is on a dry(ish) road.

However, with the road covered in snow and ice as it has been recently, the context – the WHERE – has changed. This means you can’t expect the old HOW to work any more – you have to change the way you drive quite a bit in order to still get the same WHAT – getting from A to B. Not changing the HOW means that, since the WHERE isn’t changing, the WHAT will change all by itself, i.e. you won’t get anywhere!

The most common combination in life though seems to be that people want different results, but keep doing the same things in the same places or with the same people, that is they want the WHAT to change without anything else changing … and as we’ve already discovered, that’s just not possible.

Relationships are a fine example of this – there’s something wrong – the WHAT isn’t right, but both partners stubbornly refuse to change how they’re interacting with each other, often expecting the other person to change, i.e. they won’t change the HOW. The usual outcome is that pretty soon the WHERE shifts all by itself, i.e. the relationship doesn’t exist any more! And if you’re not in a relationship but wanting one, the same three factors still apply too…

Another great illustration is one of my friends who has come to the conclusion that because of the all-round lifestyle she really wants – a different WHAT – she’s going to change the WHERE in her life by moving to another country where that lifestyle is easier to create. It’ll be a big change but she believes it’ll be worth it. Several other friends have changed their work WHERE by moving to a different company to get the WHAT they want; in some cases the WHAT was a promotion, whilst for others it was a better working environment or culture, less travel to work, or better pay.

I’m sure you can think of other examples yourself too, from under-performing employees all the way to the recent recession.

Underpinning all of this, of course, is the foundation stone of WHY – WHY do you want what you’re wanting? WHY are you doing what you’re doing? WHY are you doing it in that particular context? But that’s a whole extra layer to ponder, so we’ll leave that for later, even though we’ve been there before…

The truth at the heart of all of this is that when you want something to change in your life – particularly if you’re looking for a better WHAT – you will need to change the HOW or WHERE (or both!) or you’ll get no-where, no-how…

Until next time,

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