Friday, March 28, 2008

Success vs flowering

“Success” is a powerful word. So many lives revolve around it, chase it & sometimes embrace it only to discover later that it was temporary. I re-discovered the strength of this s-word recently. It was little over a year ago that that I started offering a workshop on technical leadership. Initially I had titled it “Understanding the facets of technology leadership” The response was lukewarm. Participants would say (not in so many words) “This understanding part is ok. But, where do we go from here?” After suggestions from my friends I changed the title to “Becoming a successful technical leader”. And then suddenly the interest level jumped. While the core content may not have changed much, it gave a purpose to the participant: “To be successful”

“Success” clearly belongs to the world of “becoming”. It is no surprise that so many books get written just by analyzing so-called “successful” personalities. “Success” is always a projection in the future. When it becomes “past”, the experience can be quite unsettling. Gary Kasparov narrates one such experience in his interview in Harvard Business Review (April 2005).

The greatest challenge for all successful people is to get past their own successes. It is especially hard when the success is extraordinary. In 1985, after winning game 24 against Anatoly Karpov, I became the youngest world champion in the history of chess. There was a huge celebration. I was feeling on top of the world. Then, in a quiet moment, Rona Petrosian, the widow of Tigran Petrosian, the ninth world champion and one of my great predecessors, came to me and said, “I am sorry for you”. I was incredulous. “I’m sorry for you,” she said, “because the happiest and best day of your life is over.” I was too young at the time to recognize the profundity of her words, but today I understand how wise she was.

“Flowering” on the other hand belongs to the world of “being”. Have you watched a flower? Do you think it is competing with the neighboring flower? Unlike “success”, you don’t ask a question, “How do I flower?” Flowering happens when you just “be”. It is no surprise that this f-word is not so popular. Human mind is so obsessed with “becoming” that it has no time for “just being”.

Where do you see “being” in action? I see it every day when kids are playing in the sandpit in front of our gallery. But then they don’t have to take care of family, they don’t have EMI and they don’t have to worry about looming downturn. And so life goes on… After all, don’t you want to become somebody?


  1. Children are naturally in a state of "being". Practical needs force us to teach them about "becoming". For many, this soon translates into a neverending rat race, playing catch-up with increasingly higher aspirations as defined by others.

    It is then that a reflective pause helps. Focus on "being" is useful after getting a taste of "becoming". The level of becoming can be different for each individual, but achieving something that gives inner satisfaction (even if not fame or fortune in the conventional sense) is an essential aspect of living.

  2. I fail to understand what is wrong in "becoming" or even "becoming successful". Two days back Rahul Dravid scored 10,000 runs in test cricket and said that the image of Gavaskar scoring the same had so much effect on him and that inspired him become great in his craft. To me he has "blossomed" or "flowered" and you may label it as a success and/or becoming. Doesn't matter as long as you are enjoying. I refer readers to a beautiful book by Geet Sethi titled "Success vs Joy".