Three essential ideas to increase your odds of success

odds of success

Fun fact: Bloomberg keeps a “wealth index” of the 100 richest people in the world. Ten of those individuals had no apparent headstart in life — they were born into poverty and didn’t have a college education. In my book Cumulative Advantage, I describe how all 10 of them took the same path to success. Indeed, it is a prescription for how we should all look at strategy and increasing our odds of success today.

What I discovered is that simply having a good idea is not enough to break through. Let’s explore this today and see what actions can increase your odds of success.

The seam

Let’s begin with an interesting new take on strategy.

In my book, I describe a “seam” as a fracture in the status quo. This could be any shift in demographics, politics, technology, taste, culture, or consumer habits that creates un-served or under-served customer needs.

Strategy today requires that we apply our ideas and talents to an immediate opportunity — a seam. Strategy isn’t about a 250-page report and a five-year plan like it was in the 1990s. It’s about bursting through that seam with full force in a clear moment of opportunity.

This is exactly what those 10 mega-billionaires did. Against all odds, they applied an idea they had to an emerging trend, burst through with speed, and made smart decisions to increase that initial momentum.

Once you become aware of this pattern, you’ll see it everywhere. Clubhouse is a great example.

What shift occurred for Clubhouse? Through the pandemic, millions of people have been in a lengthy period of isolation. People are bored and they miss talking to people. We also have a high unemployment rate so people have a lot of time on their hands!

Would Clubhouse have been a hit in 2019? Nobody can say for sure, but it is undeniable that the seam burst wide open for them at this particular moment in time, and now competitors like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are chasing them for social audio dominance.

Like our billionaire friends, the odds of success for Clubhouse have been significantly influenced by timing. That is the opportunity and enigma of strategy for you and me in the modern age.

Timing is everything

odds of success

Bill Gross

In a famous TED talk, entrepreneur Bill Gross provided an analysis of hundreds of startups and why they succeeded. The primary cause for an idea taking off as a successful business? Timing: 42 percent of the successes were dependent on the right timing compared to 32 percent for execution and 28 percent for the uniqueness of the idea.

If you’re obsessed with an idea, it can be hard to accept that something so mysterious as timing can make or break you. Swing too early or too late and you risk missing the seam.

Economist Clayton Christianson called this The Innovator’s Dilemma. Even successful companies often fail with new ideas because markets that never existed can’t be easily analyzed.

If the timing of an idea is so important to increase odds of success, is there anything we can do to nudge fortune our way, or are we resigned to accept the certainty of uncertainty?

The good news!

Let’s say you had an entrepreneurial idea 30 years ago. How would you test a seam?

You probably had to actually make something. That required space, equipment, technical know-how, and financing. It was almost impossible to judge any sort of product demand without an actual launch. The hurdles were enormous!

Today, it’s easy to test and prototype all kinds of products — even physical goods — and then test-market them through surveys and demonstrations on the web.

A second big idea — we are in an unparalleled period of opening seams. The pandemic has been sad and tragic. But it has also upended people’s lives in millions of ways and created the most business opportunities in human history. We are reinventing how we learn, work, teach, connect, work out, and entertain ourselves. Even our relationship with food, fashion, and fun is being renegotiated. There are seams opening everywhere. The entire world is a fracture in the status quo!

Improving your odds of success

Although we are in this unprecedented tidal wave of opportunity, that doesn’t mean there isn’t risk. We can always count on the certainty of uncertainty.

One of the most fun things I do is help entrepreneurs develop their new business ideas — anybody can sign up for an hour of my time. After hundreds of these sessions, I see distinct patterns.

Here are three things I help people think through that can nudge the odds of success in their favor:

1. Is your idea worthy of a customer?

I’ve done hundreds of personal consulting sessions over the years, and a common issue I encounter is an entrepreneur pursuing an idea that solves no obvious problem. But they love the idea so much they can’t see the plain truth. They don’t even want to hear the truth. Any naysayer is simply an unwelcome “hater.”

Blind belief in an idea can quickly destroy a project.

Recently, I had a conversation with a man who had been pushing his idea for 12 years — with zero progress. The world is telling him “no” but he’s not listening because he’s too in love with his idea. He’s not considering the true needs of the customer.

Every year (in normal times) I attend the gigantic SXSW conference. It’s an annual gathering of global thought leaders and a launchpad for the hottest new ideas.

In 2012, the king of the conference was an app called Highlight. This was app was a little scary … yet intriguing. It tracked users’ whereabouts to show them profiles of people nearby with similar interests or shared connections. For that week in Austin, Texas, everyone wanted to try it. Phones buzzed and buzzed with Highlight notifications. But within a few months the app was deemed too creepy to go mainstream and had flatlined.

odds of success

This app was created by Paul Davison. Is that name familiar? He’s also the founder of Clubhouse.

By listening to the world and giving up on Highlight when the world said “no,” he lived to fight another day. Successful entrepreneurs are not driven by pursuing risk, they’re driven by pursuing opportunity.

2. Is your idea worthy of battle?

odds of success


What do you think Davison’s calendar at Clubhouse looks like these days?

  • Clubhouse is facing a flurry of well-financed new competitors (including Facebook!). Fight them off!
  • They need to develop an Android version as soon as possible.
  • They have to scale rapidly to meet the exploding customer demand. This means investment in new facilities and human resources.
  • Is it time for another round of funding? Are our current investors happy?

This list could go on and on. Davison needs to make a series of momentous decisions right now to keep his momentum going and dominate his seam.

This probably means he has no personal life right now. He is in a time-sensitive battle and if he wins the next year, he could go down in history as a great tech founder. Nobody will remember Highlight! But that only comes with a dedication to the battle.

Every successful founder goes through a period of battle at some point. Is your idea worth the fight?

3. Is it worthy of the truth?

In many cases, you may never know if the seam is ready until you try it. That’s OK. In many cases the risk is low, so go for it!

But there is also no excuse to not collect enough information through research to give increase your odds of success. I know that seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many people try to start businesses when it’s already apparent that a seam is going in the opposite direction!

Entrepreneurs either knowingly or unknowingly can become blind to the obvious truth.

The beauty of our Information Age is that there is data on almost everything. You can bet that Paul Davison has a dashboard he’s using to assess the truth of his market on a daily basis. Probably an hourly basis.

Increasing your odds of success

All the ideas I’ve covered today are expounded upon in Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds, so if this is a relevant topic, I’d encourage you to get the book (cheap!) and do a deeper dive.

Having a great idea does not begin an inevitable march toward success. It is the pursuit of that idea and applying it to a relevant, current human need — your seam — that starts your journey toward momentum and success.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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