Review – Success built to last

Success built to last by Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson

In his foreword, Sir Richard Branson describes it as extraordinary, a book that ‘finally reveals a meaningful secret formula for success based on the lives of remarkable people’. Remarkable is not necessarily synonymous with famous, although the names that help give the book appeal and credibility are impressive. Among those whose thoughts are captured here are Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Maya Angelou, the Dalai Lama, and Desmond Tutu. However, although a range of cultures is represented, there’s still a strong American flavour to it all.

Two hundred people – some globally known, others in more ordinary roles – were interviewed by the authors over a 10-year period. What they have in common is that they are deemed to have created ‘a life that matters,’ and their success is not a passing phenomenon but something that has been sustained for 20 years or more. They are not presented as role models, rather ‘to provoke a discussion you need to have with yourself.’

The standard dictionary definition of success has no place here. Those featured in this book did not crave wealth, fame, or power (although many did reap that reward). The definition of success in this context is to make a difference and achieve personal fulfilment.

The secret formula, if there is one, is quite complex. It’s based on the premise that you align ‘Meaning’, ‘ThoughtStyle’ and ‘ActionStyle’. The three sections of the book deal with each of these concepts in turn, demonstrating how successful individuals have achieved that alignment. Basically, the key to getting it right is doing something that matters deeply to you, having a highly developed sense of accountability, audacity, passion, and optimism, and finding effective ways of turning your passions into action. Steve Jobs sums it up neatly when he says: ‘Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice – have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.’

This is not a book you can sit and read for any length of time – much better to dip in and out and allow time for reflection. Anecdotes, quotes, and life stories provide welcome breaks from the rather dense style of writing. There are times when it all feels like a frenzy of name dropping, but what can you expect when the authors have spent all that time talking to a whole bunch of fascinating people? Perhaps a bit more of what those people said, and a bit less of the authors’ voices, would be an improvement.

Irene Krechowiecka is a careers coach and journalist

Success built to last, Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, Mark Thompson, Wharton School Publishing, ISBN 0 273 71043 5