By GREG S. REID (SecretofHappiness.com) – One of the greatest single traits shared by men and women who have been successful in business—and in pursuit of their life goals—is persistence. I like to call that quality stickability, which the great Napoleon Hill, the father of the modern philosophy of success, recognized in these words:
One reason why most men seldom accumulate fortunes until they have passed well beyond the 40-year goal post of life is that they must undergo failures and adversities and overcome sufficient obstacles to develop in them sufficient knowledge to accumulate wealth.
In other words they must—a strong and unmistakable commandment—persist in following their dreams, their most cherished ideas through to the end. Of course, exceptions to every rule abound (think of the twenty-something billionaires of the technology revolution), but it’s fascinating to observe how stickability—the ability of the determined leader to stick like glue to a passionately held goal through any and all adversity—works as a powerful tool for all who choose to employ it.
I learned some tremendous lessons on the subject, which I am proud to share in my book, titled Stickability (no coincidence!), in which I interviewed leaders in the business sector who happen to be some of the greatest success stories of our time—or any time in history.
I spoke to Martin Cooper, a visionary and an excellent example of stickability. Credited as the inventor of the modern-day cellular phone, he took advantage when the opportunity presented itself. He didn’t procrastinate, but took continued action against doubters and unparalleled obstacles.
Cooper began by developing portable products, including the first hand-held police radios made for the Chicago police department, and citywide pagers, which lead to the invention of the first 800 MHz cellular phone, often called the “Brick” in 1973. You remember those big devices seen on Miami Vice that weighed about 2.5 pounds each?
Sure there were car phones at the time, but nobody thought that having a portable phone would be of any value. Martin, however, saw things differently and envisioned that the phone should be so portable that it could go anywhere.
After countless hours of trial-and-error, and in defiance of skeptics, Cooper eventually became the first person in history to make a public call using what he referred to as a “personal telephone.”
By 2006, Martin Cooper and his wife, Arlene Harris (an ingenious innovator in her own right), had founded Great Call, makers of Jitterbug, in cooperation with the Verizon network. They marketed it to the elderly and those specifically looking for simplicity—a true modern example of applying the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” (KISS) formula in a practical and successful manner.
What was the secret behind this success story? The understanding that stickability has to be consistent with flexibility.
Balance between persistence and flexibility is crucial. Sometimes you can take stickability too far. It’s important to know the difference between perseverance and stubbornness.
You must be able to adjust if needed. This means, of course, that you first have to be able to identify when adjustments need to be made. You must be fair and open with yourself. Sometimes this includes listening to others’ feedback, even when you don’t wish to hear it.
According to Cooper, obstacles can do one of two things:
One, they can make you quit.
Or, two, they can reinforce your resolution.
How many creations in our lives would we not have today if the inventors had let obstacles stop them?
What would your life look like if you had quit after the first failed attempt? You would have never learned how to walk, ride a bike or even drive. Do you still have the same level of determination and persistence that you had in your youth to achieve your goals?
When faced with challenges, leaders know that if one process fell short, another one would eventually succeed. This a fact; not something to be hoped for. For every obstacle there is a solution—and the solution is simply never to quit before all options have been exhausted.
Martin Cooper’s thoughts are summarized in this powerful message: The key is to listen to your inner voice, and outside counsel, while being willing to adjust along the journey.
No story illustrates this better than that of the spider monkey. As legend has it, this breed is among the quickest and most nimble creatures in the jungle.
San Juan’s father, grandfather, and many other hunters had tried for decades to catch spider monkeys with spears, nets and arrows, but the primates were simply too small and agile to conquer. He and his father even made special nets and traps in order to capture the noble foe, but to no avail.
One day San Juan came up with a new idea. He designed a heavy container with a very narrow opening at the top and placed the primate’s favorite snack inside. He and his team scattered the containers on the ground and patiently waited to see what would happen.
With eager anticipation, they watched the curious monkeys climb down from the trees to investigate the containers. The monkeys walked around them, touched them, and then smelled the delicious nuts inside.
What would they do next?
Exactly what San Juan had planned!
The spider monkeys squeezed their little hands through the narrow top of the container to reach inside and grab the treat. Once they had wrapped their hands around the nut lying at the bottom of the containers, their fists became too large to remove through the tiny opening. Since the containers were too heavy for them to carry off, the monkeys found themselves stuck. San Juan and the men looked on in wonder.
What would the spider monkeys do?
Would they let go of the nut and free themselves, or hold onto the treasure and succumb to capture?
San Juan and the others approached the bewildered monkeys. They witnessed fear in the eyes of the creatures as they came closer, but surprisingly enough the spider monkeys didn’t let go of the nuts.
They were unable to adapt to this strange, unforeseen circumstance. They were unable to change course and elude their human predators. The hunters simply snatched them up and threw them in a cage. San Juan was a hero. He had done something nobody had ever done before.
The monkeys could not see a solution beyond their challenge. They simply sat there with their hands stuck in the containers until the hunters captured them. They ended up as captives due to their inability to be flexible and adapt to the situation and paid for it with their lives.
Could it be that we are no different than the spider monkey? It’s a matter of scale, of course, as most folks would simply let go of the nut.
Is it possible that we may be holding onto something that should be let go of?
Whether it’s a bad relationship, job, guilt, remorse, anger, house, car, or worse.
Can it be that over time we too have confused stubbornness and stickabilty—and at the end of the day… find ourselves stuck?