The difference between success and failure

Many years ago, when I was first studying ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, I was pointed in the direction of an essay by Albert E N Gray, from the 1940s called: ‘The common denominator of success’.

In it, he explains how he’s researched why some people are so much more successful than other people – not just shallow reasons, but the deep internal reasons that really drive people one way or another.

Last month, we discussed 7 small steps to make your New year’s Resolutions actually work: I hope they’re helping you.

And this month, I thought it’d add value to share this essay from Mr Gray, which has not only stood the test of time, but also has continually inspired me and helped me take the necessary actions in my roles … to get the important things done!

And, of course, these ideas are built into the ‘Slow Selling’ systems.

I’ve shortened this as much as I can, to make it easy to read, but you can easily find the full wording with an Internet search.

The Common Denominator of Success Adapted from Albert E.N. Gray  

Several years ago, I was brought face to face with the very disturbing realization that I was trying to research and explain what it took to be a success in sales, without knowing myself what the secret of success really was.

And that, naturally, made me realize that regardless of what other knowledge I might have brought to my job and to others, I was definitely lacking in the most important knowledge of all.  

Of course, like most of us, I had been brought up on the belief that the secret of success is hard work

Despite this, I had seen so many people who work hard and don’t succeed and others who succeed without working hard.  Because of this, I had become convinced that hard work was not the real secret, though in most cases it might be one of the requirements.  

So, I began trying to explain success by reviewing all relative research on such topics as motivation, behaviour, performance and job satisfaction. 

Next, I set out on a voyage of discovery, which carried me through thousands of books, magazine and newspaper articles, biographies and autobiographies.  I then conducted numerous empirical research studies in over a 20-year period.  

After a time, theory, research results, and hearsay overwhelmed me.

Then, one day as I was daydreaming, everything I had done came to focus.  My mind focused on the realization that the secret I was trying to discover lay not only in what people did, but also in what made them do it.  

I realized further that the secret for which I was searching must not only apply to every definition of success, but since it must apply to everyone to whom it is offered, it must also apply to everyone who had ever been successful. 

In short, I was looking for the common denominator of success.  

But this common denominator of success is so big, so powerful, and so vitally important to your future and mine that I’m not going to review all of the writings and research, which have brought me to the common denominator of success.  I’m just going to tell you.  

The common denominator of success – the secret of success of every individual who has ever been successful – lies in the fact that the person formed the habit of doing things that others don’t like to do

It’s just as true as it sounds and it’s just as simple as it seems. 

You can hold it up to the light, you can put it to the acid test, and you can kick it around until it’s worn out, but when you are all through with it, it will still be the common denominator of success, whether you like it or not.  

If the secret of success lies in forming the habit of doing things that others don’t like to do, let’s start the boiling-down process by determining what are the things that others don’t like to do. 

The things that others don’t like to do are the very things that you and I and other human beings, including successful people, naturally don’t like to do. 

In other words, we’ve got to realize right from the start that success is something which is achieved by the minority of people and is therefore unnatural and is not achieved by following what we normally like and don’t like, nor by being guided by natural preferences and prejudices.  

Perhaps you have been discouraged by a feeling that you were born subject to certain dislikes peculiar to you, with which successful people do not possess. 

Perhaps you have wondered why it is that our best performers like to do things that you don’t like to do. 

They don’t!  And I think this is the most encouraging statement I have ever offered to a group of people.

But if they don’t like to do these things, then why do they do them? 

Because successful people do things they do not like to do, they are able to achieve their goals.  They are not influenced by how they reach these goals, but rather by the results they can obtain. 

Successful people are influenced by the desire for pleasing results. 

Others are influenced by the desire for pleasing methods and are inclined to be satisfied with such results as can be obtained by doing things they like to do.  


Why are successful people able to do things they don’t like to do while others are not?  Because successful people have a purpose strong enough to make them form the habit of doing things they don’t like to do.  

Habit Is the Key  

Now let’s see why habit belongs so importantly in this common denominator for success.   People are creatures of habit.  Every single qualification for success is acquired through habit. 

People form habits and habits form futures.  If you do not deliberately form good habits, then unconsciously you will form bad ones. 

You are the kind of person you are because you have formed the habit of being that kind of person.  The only way you can change is through habit.  

Any resolution or decision you make is simply a promise to yourself, which isn’t worth a nickel unless you have formed the habit of making and keeping that promise. 

And you won’t form the habit of making it and keeping it unless you link it with a definite purpose that can be accomplished by keeping it right at the beginning. 


Remember: we all know ways we can act more effectively, that’s NOT the problem.

The problem is actually acting in those ways.

And continuing to do so each day and each week!

Success is ‘A series of small effective steps executed consistently every day’

This is a great example of the 3rd principle of Slow Selling – ‘Go the extra inch’ – working on a daily basis to help you survive and succeed, driven by the 1st principle ‘Customer Focused Mission’.

And these rules work, of course, in your business life and your private life: because they are timeless, universal principles.

And Failure?

‘A series of small failures of discipline executed every day’

Success or failure happen in small steps.

Every day.

Slow Selling is a UK based not for profit organisation for leaders and managers in independent businesses.

Our systems deliver peace of mind and confidence to caring leaders and managers of start-ups and small businesses who have limited time and resources and want to grow their business … without sacrificing principles or profits.

To find out more, please click here

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