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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

Unreasonable success and how to achieve it by Richard Koch~7 minute read

I finished this book in December 2021. I recommend this book 10/10.

Richard Koch is most known for his 1997 book "The 80/20 Principle. That book was great and made Richard famous. Now, "Unreasonable Success and how to achieve it" will possibly propel your success even more.

In Richard's latest book, he creates a new map of success. It shows that it does not require a genius, just following 9 simple landmarks (see my notes below). Get your copy here.

My notes and thoughts:

  • Landmarks

    • Self-belief

    • Olympian Expectations

    • Transforming Experiences

    • One breakthrough Experiences

    • Make your own trail

    • Find and drive your personal vehicle

    • Thrive on setbacks

    • Acquire unique intuition

    • Distort reality

  • Self-belief must ultimately become specific to the field in which you will ultimately triumph. Belief in your destiny will fizzle and fade without a clear idea of the stage on which your success will be played out. Nobody reaches a target without defining it and believing—sometimes naively and to almost universal ridicule—that it is attainable.

  • Expectations—of others for us, of ourselves, and of our associates and followers—become self-fulfilling. This is one of the few magic tricks left in the world, perhaps the most important. Although Olympian expectations are the property of a tiny minority, the funny thing is that the people holding these beliefs are often obscure and unnoticed until their presumptions come to fruition.

  • Henderson's hypotheses that were to change business strategy forever:

    • Cost for any firm are not generally similar across all their products, even if these appear to be similar (e.g., small motors or grinding wheels.)

    • Prices across different products and to different customers may, however, be the same. If this is true, the high-volume products and customers will be more profitable.

    • Market share in a carefully defined business segments (e.g., not grinding wheels, but grinding wheel for car makers) is very valuable because higher volume of the same product means lower unit cost.

    • A company probably has very different cost and profit margins across different products, depending on their volume in the correctly defined product/customer segment. It may make a lot of money on a few products and lose a bundle on most.

    • Typically, companies' product lines are too broad. They should focus only on the ones where they are the market leaders or have the lower unit cost—these are usually the same.

    • A small company facing a bigger rival must segment the market and focus on one area or a few where it can become the largest in the segment, having the highest volumes of the relevant products and customers and therefore the lowest cost.

    • Price is a potent competitive weapon. If lower prices enable a firm to gain market share and become the largest in a segment and therefore have lower costs than any rival at that point, it is worth selling at a loss in the short term to build volume and competitive advantage.

    • Companies should strive to become and remain the lowest cost competitor. Gain market share, then constantly reduce costs and processes to force rivals out of your heartland markets because they can't make money there.

  • There are four cardinal characteristics of a breakthrough achievement:

    • No one has done it before.

    • It encapsulates why each player left a permanent mark on the world.

    • Most of the player's breakthrough achievements were forms of invention.

    • The achievements were highly personal and part of parcel of the individual's character and idiosyncrasies. Perhaps their greatest achievement was to express themselves in a way which could not be ignored.

  • A breakthrough achievement can never be totally unwound. It becomes part of history, part of the environment, part of the flow of life far into the future.

  • Bismarck strategic opportunism—which can be emulated and lead to success—combined 2 elements usually seen as contradictory:

    • Extreme determination and strategy yoked together with

    • Extreme flexibility on the means and timing of action, reacting to random events and grasping any opportunity the presented to advance his strategic objectives.

  • Important general findings:

    • By far, the most common type of breakthrough achievement is invention. For most of the players, all their other achievements and efforts pale into insignificance when set alongside their single decisive invention. What might you invent?

    • Besides invention, strategic achievements seem most likely to arise from an overwhelming sense of destiny, mission, or desire to bridge seemingly irreconcilable gulfs of ideology, attitude or vested interest. Do you have any of these strong feelings? If so, nurture them. Singular achievement comes from singular convictions.

    • Strategic opportunism is one attractive route to breakthrough achievement. You must know precisely what you want to achieve, but wait for the footsteps of opportunity to be audible before you strike.

    • The killer combination is extreme determination coupled with extreme flexibility regarding means and timing. If you are single-minded, yet patient, you will know the perfect time to act. Until then, keep your powder dry.

  • This might be a blinding glimpse of the obvious:

    • Your skills—and improving them—are not the point. Far more important is what you try to do—the originality and reach of your mission, goal, destiny, whatever you call it, and your tenacity, nay, fanaticism, and luck in seeing it through to completion.

    • Your objective must be new, revolutionary, imaginative, and almost laughable ambitious.

    • It must also be incarnated within your personality—it must come from the soul.

    • Ultimately, the What—in Lenin's stirring phrase, "What is to be done?"—is more vital than the How. This landmark is the what. The other eight landmarks are the how.

  • He used the phrase for years on Robben Island when talking to a guard or the head of the prison. "That isn't right." In a very basic way, this intolerance of injustice was what goaded him.

  • Setbacks give feedback, so that we either change course entirely—a change of strategy—or redouble the conviction that we are right but realize we must change tactics in order to triumph.

  • There is a template for turning repeated reverses, eventually, into supreme triumph:

    • Take big risks.

    • Do not be dismayed if they don't work out.

    • After a disaster, keep going, but switch gears.

    • Reframe the disaster—deny that the failure was inevitable or your fault—"It was always high risk so it's not surprising it failed."

    • Unless you keep your original objective, immerse yourself in something different.

    • Setbacks give feedback. You need reverses, and are going to get them anyway. Use them to make you stronger, more robust to future failure, and to gain new experiences. The disasters also make the eventual triumph sweeter.

    • Never give up hope. You can't know the future, but you must trust it. Remain fulfilled and coolly confident; jump when the big break beckons.

    • Feed an intense sense of personal drama. What you will achieve matters, not just personally, but to the world.

    • Expect catastrophes to be followed by great rejoicing, all the greater for what went before. A novel or movie that ends in failure, failure, failure...ultimate failure—is not a very good story. Rejects the script—improve it, transcend it. It can be done. It must be done. The audience expects it.

  • Thrive on setbacks. It is the way of thinking, a philosophy of life, and a self-conceit essential for unreasonable success.

  • We can state some guidelines in respect of intuition:

    • Trust your intuition only in areas you know backwards, or about people you've known very well for a long time.

    • Author and investor Max Gunther says, "Never confuse a hope with a hunch...I'm much more inclined to trust an intuition pointing to some outcome I don't want...Be especially wary of any intuition flash that seems to promise some outcome you want badly."

    • Hone your intuition in your areas of special focus. Your most valuable hunches will be where you have developed unique knowledge already, and are using intuition to extend it.

  • Bain called it "Playing three-dimensional chess." The vital three dimensions were the "three Cs": a firm's costs; its customers and how they segmented; and it's competitors. There were right and wrong strategies, and the right ones could hugely multiply the value of a company.

  • It is worth willing; worth waiting for; and worth committing yourself to utterly. You final landmark is just around the corner. It is a superbly potent compound of all the strategies and attitudes that you have already explored.

  • Reality distortion becomes progressively less impossible—I would not say "easier"—the more you practise it and demonstrate your powers of will and prediction. If we believe:

    • Project extreme optimism and determination to redirect reality to fit your philosophy and objectives. Do what others think is impossible, or which never occurs to them. Defeat the conventional view of what is realistic and unrealistic. Sharpen your willpower and convince yourself it could change reality.

    • Brainwash brilliant followers or collaborators into believing they can attain the impossible—because you say so, and you have a track record of being right.

  • Concentrate on what they were already good at and I gave suggestions for what that might be. To one person I'd say it was analysis, to another insight, to a third succinct encapsulation of an issue, and so forth. I encouraged them to hone a single skill—one which could produce results far greater than the effort required—raising their expectation of what they could become and achieve.

  • Be specific in your expectations of other people, whether they are friends, partners, co-workers or people working for you. And you should be clear with yourself too—what is the utmost you can aspire to and deliver?

  • Self-belief and Olympian expectations are mutually reinforcing. If you believe in yourself, it's easier to have very high expectations of what you will achieve. If your expectations are Olympian, and you see yourself in the big picture, it's easier to elevate your self-belief.

    • Think Big.

    • Take praise seriously. Compound it in your mind.

    • Set the highest possible growth targets. Be explicit with high expectations of other people.

  • The first lesson is that failure can and often should be reframed—seen in a new light. Without diminishing the feedback you've received, which may cause you to change tack, reframing can boost your self-esteem by telling you that failure can be honorable.

  • The second lesson is that after any failure you can choose to interpret it negatively, positively or neutrally; and you can decide either to change your actions and perhaps even part of your personality, or to change the context in which you deploy them.

  • The final lesson is that to attain unreasonable success you must thrive on failure. Although setback will come, with the right mindset you can bounce back bigger and better. If you take intelligent risks, the universe will knock you down, but will also raise you up stronger than ever.

  • We can boil down what we have learned into two points.

    • It's all about positioning yourself for success, not improving your performance.— The players we've met had unreasonable success because they "visited" the nine landmarks, not, in most cases, because their performance was outstanding in other respects—indeed, in many cases, it wasn't outstanding at all. This is very good news. If you can get the positioning right, your chances of high success rocket. You could spend enormous energy trying to become better at what you do—and still fail anyway. It takes much less effort to get your positioning right, and the results will be much more impressive.

    • It's not all about your abilities—it's about having the right attitude and success strategies.— The nine landmarks can be reduced to two mega attributes—attitude and strategies. Attitude is my shorthand for the following qualities: self-belief, Olympian expectations, thriving on setbacks and distorting reality. These are not conventional ways of thinking and acting. Few people see the world through this lens and behave in the way that our players did. What these four attitude-based landmarks have in common, however, is that they greatly increase the chances of success. The success strategies are transforming experiences, making your own trial, finding and driving your personal vehicle, acquiring unique intuition and, above all, making one breakthrough achievement.

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