Over the past 40 years, I have been fortunate enough to work with many successful people. Creative people. Artists, architects and engineers. Academics, entrepreneurs and politicians. Even a few billionaires.
It’s interesting to reflect on why those few whose accomplishments eclipse the others in their fields get so much done. Here are some of my observations:
They have a goal. You will never get to the moon unless you are trying to get to the moon. Jerry Allen, the late CEO of then Fort Worth-based architectural and engineering firm Carter & Burgess, took the helm there in 1989 when the business had 187 employees. His simple goal was “2000 by 2000.” That was 2,000 people by the year 2000. They blew past that.
They know their priorities and are disciplined. One of the most prolific, critically acclaimed and financially successful realist painters alive today is Dalva Duarte. Twenty-five years ago, before she and her husband, Bill Renner, moved to Provence — when her two children were young — she told me she worked five days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Period. And she turned out a certain number of paintings without fail every single month.
They are organized. Some people like to perpetuate the myth that creative people who get a lot done are messy. While many are messy and disorganized, the most successful ones I‘ve observed are the opposite. Every aspect of their lives, from their offices to their homes, is organized. They don’t waste any time looking for anything and want a clean slate ready for whatever has to be done whenever they have to do it. I remember Dalva’s 5,000-square-foot studio in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and how her work area (used daily) was completely clean. I have been in the offices of more than a thousand CEOs in the pasts 40 years who had perfectly clean desks.
They aren’t destroyed by critics. This is a difficult one for all but necessary to overcome if you want to accomplish anything worth doing. There will be critics who don’t like you or what you do. It doesn’t matter if you are the founder of a business, someone who is working to overcome social injustice, or have the most successful taco joint in town, someone will take potshots at you. I went through that myself as we rebuilt houses here in Fayetteville, with critics who didn’t like the colors or materials we used and criticized us on social media or elsewhere. You can’t let these people discourage you.
They know how to treat people. My close friend, Jack Portman, chairman of Portman Architects and international real estate developer whose firm invented the atrium hotel, built the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, and created the Mart in Atlanta, got his firm into China one week after it was opened to US trade. He knows how to treat people. You can witness it in every dealing he has with restaurant workers or their employees or anyone he interacts with. We were in Atlanta recently waiting in front of our hotel to be picked up by Jack for dinner. One of the bellmen asked me why we were in Atlanta and I mentioned Jack’s name. His response was, “Oh, Mr. Portman? He comes in here often and always talks to us.” That said a lot.
They don’t give up. By most accounts, Thomas Edison made somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 attempts to perfect the lightbulb before he succeeded. He never gave up. Again, this trait is one I’ve observed over and over again in the most successful creative people, inventors, artists, business people, and teachers. They not only don’t give up, but seek continuous improvement even after achieving great successes.
How do you stack up in these six areas?
Mark Zweig is the founder of two Fayetteville-based Inc. 500/5000 companies. He is also an executive in-residence teaching entrepreneurship in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.