Success: What the top 1% won't tell you

Garrison Wynn shares what he's learned about success in his new book “The Real Truth About Success: What the Top 1% Do Differently, Why They Won’t Tell You, and How You Can Do It Anyway!”
Written by Vince Thompson, Contributing Editor

The top 1% have a secret advantage and they know how to exploit it. At least that’s what Garrison Wynn believes. Wynn, who became a Fortune 500 department head at age 27, is a former standup comedian who founded Wynn Solutions. With his firm Wynn provides business strategy and influence techniques based on 10 years of in-depth profiles with over 5,000 top competitors. Now he’s passing his knowledge along in his new book “The Real Truth About Success: What the Top 1% Do Differently, Why They Won’t Tell You, and How You Can Do It Anyway!”

Garrison, welcome to Smart Planet.

Really, there are secrets we’re missing out on? Please share.

Well, there’s not a single “secret” or series of prescribed steps you can take to guarantee success for everyone; that’s not the kind of secret we’re talking about. Anyone who tells you there’s a prepackaged, one-size-fits-all formula for success is full of sh@%, not secrets. The kinds of secrets in the book are more like confessions or revelations from people who are ultrasuccessful – people who were sincere enough to admit (usually after a little prodding) that some personal advantage helped get them where they are. It wasn’t always tremendous hard work that put someone on top. It wasn’t always that they knew more than everyone else or far outshined the competition. Sometimes it was as simple as being viewed as really approachable.

One man we interviewed was hired as an entry-level worker in the mailroom and became CEO within 15 years or so. He certainly struck me as capable of the job, but it wasn’t his capabilities that caught the attention of upper management early on. It was the fact that everyone liked him, respected him, and put stock in what he said. The interesting thing is how he built that perception. He never talked trash about anyone in the company; instead, he made a conscious effort to say good things behind people’s backs. Word gets around, right? This approach built such a wall of goodwill around him that he was able to get the most out of his coworkers. Members of management thought that anyone this well liked must be someone they should promote, so they did, again and again.

This guy’s example drives the point home that, on some level, many aspects of life boil down to a popularity contest. If you’re likable, you’ve got influence, and influence is the foundation of high-impact leadership. Maybe it’s not supposed to work that way, but it does. This guy had learned the power of popularity back in high school, and he knew himself well enough to realize that this could be one of his greatest strengths. That was his personal advantage, his “secret” tactic.

So if there’s a “secret” to success, it really is that we need to take advantage of advantages. We need to be willing to use our personal advantage without thinking we’re somehow fighting unfairly. Because the truth is that life isn’t really fair, and you need an awareness of your advantages to be able to rise to the top in this unfair fight. If you are honest with yourself, you may come to realize that all you ever wanted in life was an unfair advantage!

What surprised you in your learning about success?

Probably most surprising is the fact that, at first, the extraordinarily successful people and the average performers we interviewed all tended to present the same story for their “success.” They gave us the same pat answers that focused on hard work, thorough planning, superior knowledge or products, and so on. No difference in the answers? That didn’t jive with the great difference in success levels! So we said, “No offense,” which is what people say right before they offend you, “but lots of people work really hard and plan well and they don’t have your level of success. So what sets you apart?” Eventually, the top performers began to open up.

We learned that when it comes to interviews, people tend to tell you what they think you want to hear. We found that it took persistence to draw the truth out of them, particularly if the truth seemed somewhat less traditional or respectable than the expected answer. No one wants to tell you that the reason they’re doing so well is because their mom helped them! But that’s exactly what happened in Bill Gates’ case. If his mom had not served on a board with an IBM executive, you would not be using the software you are now.

What can our readers do this week, this month, this coming year to be more successful?

Actually, this question flows really well from the previous answer. First, you’ve got to know your strengths. Take stock of what you’ve got going for you. We all have innate advantages or abilities. Some people have a unique look that makes them memorable. Some are great communicators. Some are born into a pedigree that gives them certain connections or advantages that other people would have to work to establish. It’s not immoral or unethical to put those things to work for you! If those abilities or advantages can get your foot in the door, they’ve earned you the chance to let your other skills and experience carry you forward and upward.

Now, sometimes your innate advantage might look more like a disadvantage, at first. Take a look at what your biggest problem is, because your curse just might be your gift! For example, if you say things that get people riled up all the time, you’re probably very influential; you’re just using it the wrong way. And, returning to my earlier point, if you are a negative person, you could be of tremendous strategic value to your company if you can just learn to apply your negativity in a productive way. Essentially, your dissatisfaction with the way things operate can push you to develop ideas and find creative solutions. That statement comes straight from the findings of a 2007 study conducted by Rice University’s Graduate School of Management. That statement also explains why you’re perceived as one of those cranky people who tends to get under the skin of your coworkers because you actually have good ideas.

If you have a hard time identifying your particular innate advantage, it’s possible to create an advantage. The guy who went from mailroom employee to CEO did it. And the book gives several other examples of created advantages, too.

A second essential piece to becoming more successful is knowing how others perceive you. You might have certain skills and abilities that should make you a contender in your chosen field, but if the people around you don’t perceive you as a good fit in the role you’ve chosen, you’ll struggle to succeed. There’s a great case study in the book about a wholesaler who struggled to establish connections with the grocers he hoped to do business with. They simply could not picture him as an expert. When he finally did realize how they pictured him – Hispanic, with knowledge of a growing population’s cooking and buying habits – he used that as his angle of entry. Had Armando ignored the perception that most people had of him, he could have been the most unsuccessful wholesaler in his market. But because he revised his approach and identity to match what others saw, he’s now wildly successful in a booming niche market.

The most important ideas here – finding your personal edge and knowing how others perceive you – maybe sound trite and simple but they’re powerful. And, unfortunately, they’re really not so simple. You’ve got to be willing to take that close look at yourself and assess yourself with a healthy dose of realism, and you’ve then got to be willing to use what you’ve learned to set yourself apart. That can be some pretty hard work! The good news is there’s no better time: it’s something you can get started on this week, this month, this year.

And for those of you who really don’t care to take that long hard look at yourself, our research offers a little encouragement. We also found some successful people who were lazy, but they apparently wasted their time with the right people! Achieving success might very well come down to who you know. But for the best odds, the best person to know well is you.

Thanks Garrison!

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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