Wednesday, August 24, 2005

If P Then Q

I have often wondered and debated on this topic - the factors that make people successful. While this blog is more general and not specific to people who are aspiring to do higher studies, it does heavily apply to them also. This is not a counseling blog on how to become successful. Obviously I don't have a recipe for success. However, I wouldn't say "no one has". I think people do have such a recipe. But it just works mostly for themselves. And one that may not be applicable to others. Whenever this topic comes up, I have been involved in conversations where people have said things like "being in the right place at the right time" and something along the lines of "he got a break at the right time" and finally "she was lucky". This may be true and people might have got lucky breaks when they were at the right place at the right time. But I have always felt this reasoning was superficial. Saying things like this comes with an automatic assumption that if 5 people were waiting for a result everybody except one failed, then the only factor that separated him from the rest were lucky breaks/place and time. Is this always true? I don't think so. It is only an over-estimation of personal abilities and qualifications that can lead to such a conclusion. If God had a person doing lucky-break statistics, I think about 1 out of every 100 people would have been truly "lucky". In that they would hardly be qualified to be a recipient of the positive outcome but still might have won. Even this statistic is debatable as jobs and admissions aren't offered on a platter, if you aren't worth it. Gone are the days when you get a job because "the Panchayat Board president said so" or "minister said so". Ask any hiring manager and he will tell you the nightmare he has to undergo if he did a bad hire. Today a Panchayat president and minister might provide networking opportunities to pass your resume. All they can do is set up an interview. Beyond that -- in the software era where accountability is the key a majority of selections has to be merit based.

There was a time in my life when I was in a rut and my academic life wasn't moving forward. I wasn't able to make a decision on further studies/job hunt. I was indecisive. People are very headstrong when they are indecisive. Funny isn't it? You are changing your mind about what you wanna do at the drop of a hat, you are open to everything, but still someone calls you headstrong. It is true. This contradiction is very hard to explain. I have noticed that people are at the peak of their dogmatic mode during 4 stages of their life jobless/frustrated, idle/jobless, trying-but-failing and indecisive. They are headstrong about their fundamental principles. This is where they firmly believe that what they are doing is right and think that the lack of success is because of "luck" and other random factors. They also attribute other's success to freak accidents. It was then when I chanced upon a proverb that completely altered my mental state at that time "Losers don't like doing what winners do as a habit". This is what experts call as a paradigm shift. The common (mis)conception is that you lose because you aren't able to perform as well as the person who wins (or as many people like to believe - you aren't lucky enough). You never think that you lose because you do not like to win.

This realization deeply affected me. I backed off from my mental state and tried to figure out what was going wrong. I then realized that I liked doing things that contributed to failure and disliked doing things that led to success. Here is when self-confidence, strong-mindedness become a disadvantage. People don't veer off from their bad habits because they firmly believe they are right. I think self-confidence and determination are like huge amounts of money that is standing to be invested. If you don't invest them on the right stocks, the very same qualities will take you down. Moving on, upon further inspection, I found that people who succeeded were not actually lucky. There are a lot of factors that go into building a positive internal environment. So people have certain habits that they follow internally within themselves, which contributes to a positive external behavior and thereby success. A class first ranker is not a first ranker when the results come out. He is a first ranker when he studies daily, understands well and prepares hard. Fundamental principles, preferences, ethics, behavior, philosophies and attitudes are actually the attributes that shape a person's internal environment. This is what is technically called as the inside-out habit. Change begins from within you and not from things outside to you. Successful people are not sudden winners. They were not just standing on the road when someone threw a big paycheck or a Harvard Admission on their heads. Nothing in life comes that easily. Free lunch? Remember? They sowed the seeds for success a long time ago. Just that you did not get to see that part of the act.

So when I began questioning my preferences (because that is what the proverb directly attacked) I found that I did not prefer to do the right things. On looking around it is easy to find all the CEO's Managing Directors and Entrepreneurs have one thing in common. They preferred to do the right things at the right age. They got their advanced education, the PhDs the MBAs at the right time. Luck is all about the right preference, the right attitude and the right investment at the right time. Most of the people I met in the previous company I worked for were really capable of higher studies and better jobs. In the age when they should have actually pursued it -- They just didn't want to do them. Maybe they blamed it on the Parents. Think about this Career Path of Person A (8 years after graduation): Anna University -> MIT M.S -> IBM Watson Lab -> Wharton MBA-> McKinsey. Career Path of Person B(8 years after graduation): Anna University(Gold Medalist) -> Infosys Project Manager. The difference between them was not ability but preference. Person B realized that at a later stage and rued the loss of that window of opportunity. He called person A lucky. When that was not really the case. The audience do not see these preference investments that happened much before success was met. The audience only sees the results and based upon some superficial interaction -- they decide the successful person was lucky. Hey! if Bad luck was the only thing preventing your success then the story is believable maybe for one instance. But if a person quotes bad luck all the time, then he is due for a serious introspection. He needs to change his habits.

Changing habits is the toughest thing to do. Because that involves a swallowing a huge lump of ego down your throat. You are actually accepting that your preferences/attitude/thoughts/perceptions were wrong when you change your habits. And believe me its a good thing to do. This is what experts constantly call re-invention. I heard someone mention "you are lucky to have been involved in charity for past 5 years. You got a Harvard admit". I was thinking "wait a minute! That's not luck. That's an investment that paid off". 5 years in charity is no joke. It is the blind and the foolish who attribute everything to luck. You make your own good luck and bad luck. Deep investigation always contradicts the luck factor. Look around you and see all the successful people -- they had the essential attributes that bought them success. Successful people have an environment around them which is filled with the right attributes. They are like the package set of right things. Check if you are winner or a loser by questioning your thoughts on their success. Do you think everybody is lucky? Are you successful. If yes, then do you think you are lucky? Apply the same law to everybody around you.

If P then Q is a basic logic theory. Its useful for GRE preparation. If it is given that -- If P exists then Q will exist -- then what is the corollary? The corollary is If No Q then No P. Not the other way around. i.e you cannot say If No P then No Q. This is false. Q can exist alone. But if P has to be there then Q has to be present. So if P = Success and Q = the attributes that go into making a person successful. Then If P is there then Q will be there. If No Q is there P will not be there (barring a few very very rare exceptions). Q can exist alone as a result of certain abnormal circumstances which is also confused as bad luck. Q will not exist alone for a long time. If you have the right Q then P will certainly be around the corner.


Ram said...


"Luck" has been and will be a relative and loaded term. The context really depends on how the individual meant it.

But I personally believe in the "luck" factor. It is an inspiration if nothing else, if you get an unexpected windfall. It drives you into working hard and focussing on everything you need to.

But the initial break or tip might be because of "being at the right place at the right time in the right company". Take for instance, my having gotten to Chennai in 1990, that was being at the right place since I learnt a lot from my peers and colleagues. They have been in several ways responsible for what I am today. I learnt more from them than from books or teachers. But if I had a different peer group, my career path might have been different.

Yes, it is my life and I am the decision maker, but it would be incorrect to say that I live in a vacumm and am not influenced by what others are doing.

As for those factors that we do not control or do not expect... that is what I call luck or misfortune based on outcome!

I wish I had more time to give a more detailed comment.. but I think you get the picture. I absolutely agree with the term that "No one has and can have a recipe for success". In fact no one who is successful would care to look back already ;-)

Hawkeye said...


but you did something in ur 12th std, your GRE and in purdue. You weren't just standing on the road and people were showering you with gifts.

u mite be where u are now if ur life hadnt changed in 1990. but will you be where you are now without working for it from 1990-1999 (or 2001). So is luck over rated?

i changed from thanjavur to madras in 1993. i did 11th in tanjore and 12 th in chennai. that was a huge change. but i think the highest total in my school in tanjore for 12th was..1041 or somthing. That was like 200th rank in my school in madras.

so do i think i was lucky. i dunno. for me. i had to study to get my marks in 12th thats all i cud control or worry about.

Kapil said...


>> In fact no one who is successful would care to look back already ;-)

I disagree. In fact the opposite is true. Every auto/biography that i read about big people. It appears that they had one eye firmly on the rear view mirror.

Ram said...


We do see autobiographies from the biggies.. but that was more after they were in cruise control mode and had the time to look back and relax ;-)


Yes, luck is overrated. I only believe in luck for a spark, not to carry you through your mission.

Kapil said...


i wasn't talking about the autobiography itself as a rear view mirror. the stuff inside indicated that they were constantly looking at their past and evaluating/re-evaluating their mistakes while getting into the cruise control mode.

Hawkeye said...

guys ram & kapil,

didn't mean to interrupt u 2 :-) but i just wanted to add that i actually wanted to write about the preference vs ability thing.. but in the end the blog came out in a different way. :-(

fieryblaster said...


i agree with u completely. atleast one's career is in one's own hand.

if we believe in luck, and conclude it as an important factor for success,then we have to analyse whether we r showered with luck or not. if we end up concluding that luck was not playing a part in our life, then that may reduce our confidence. hence i see it as a demotivator.

ur analysis was pucca.

anand said...

>>Anna University -> MIT M.S -> IBM Watson Lab -> Wharton MBA-> McKinsey
is a success.

>>Anna University(Gold Medalist) -> Infosys Project Manager
is a failure.

Wtf, why is that so?

It is you screwed up people that take such a rigid stereotyped definition of success and run behind it letting life, its meaning and glory so far behind.

Why does everyone have to define success your way? Why does anyone who does not achieve what you define as success have to be a failure in life?

Atleast try to think beyond your screwed up conformist hypocritical view of life.

Hawkeye said...


since u left a comment like an idiot... i'll treat u like the dog u deserve to be treated as.

the blog said person B thought he was a failure and person A was lucky because he didn't do what person A did.

the blog did not try and define any objective definition for success.

the rest of ur comment was obvious stuff and looks like ur pretty deluded to assume that other people don't know that

Sundar said...

It is surprising how people completely miss the point of a blog. Then they try and nitpick on something irrelevant as a hypothetical example

Sundar said...

I was referring to Anand's comment. His mediocrity really made me angry too.

Muthu Pugal said...

I guess I agree with you a great extent.

I used to score really well in one semester and the next semester I used to score really bad. This wave pattern continued for a while before I realised it. Infact I was really proud about this (just thought i can recover better) but in hindsight I think this shows my inconsistency. I am also reminded about the following phrase:

"Life is a marathon and not a sprint"

- You have to keep looking behind for the next person and keep on looking ahead at the finishing line at every step of the way.

Luck does factor in, since every individual is unique in numerous aspects and the situations that they face are definitely unique. So definitely a person can end up in a better situation than the equivalently talented other person. But a consistent performer comes out of any bad situation to be on the top. Life and Goals are like stocks (temporary failures shouldnt be factored in), it is the long term investments that really matter.

I guess I dont have excuse for the one who whine about the other person's success...

Valli Doll said...

I applied for a job, was supposed to get it, but for the hiring freeze. What do I attribute this to? Unlucky?

I dont want to get a job, do the interview badly, still get the job, what is it?

Sampradayic wise, I have an answer: this was meant to be so, for a reason beyond me. But, for someone who doesnt believe in God or destiny, what would they attribute this to?

Anonymous said...

Superb post!!!