Taking Success Advice from Successful People Is Not a Good Idea

I was recently watching the last The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, in which he said goodbye to NBC and his fans. His memorable last words were: “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you: amazing things will happen”.

I’m sure Conan O’Brien is a cool guy and I think he has some great achievements, but if working hard and being kind were the only two ingredients for amazing things to happen in one’s life (aka being successful), we would have a lot more successful people, living amazing lives.

I believe that sometimes, successful people can give powerful success advice. I personally know some who do. However, I believe this is rather the exception than the rule, and in most cases, taking success advice from successful people is not such a good idea.

The main reason is the fact there is a huge difference between being successful and being able to understand success and teach it to others. Here are some phenomena which often happen with successful people:

  • They’re naturals. They do things in a certain way out of instinct, and this gives them results. But they don’t really know what exactly they’re doing which gets them success, even if they think they do. So they will often give advice like: “Just be yourself. Act naturally.” Ha?
  • They may consciously try certain things which give them the results they want, but they try multiple things at once and they’re not able understand which one of them exactly works and is the true source of their success.
  • They discover things which help them get results, in their context, and they wrongly believe these things apply to everyone, in every context. They generalize quickly, ignoring the specifics of each human being and each situation.
  • They lack the skills to present and explain their ideas for success in a very clear and meaningful way, which would make the advice truly useful.

I know that successful people are given a lot of credibility in offering advice for success, and sometimes for personal development. People think that someone who has success is the best to teach it. Considering the points above, you can see why this is faulty logic.

Successful people need a lot more than success to also provide solid success advice. They need a high degree of awareness, analytical skills, scientific, critical thinking, communication and people skills. Only then, you can rely on them to give powerful success advice.

Beyond successful people, I believe there is one other category of people which is usually much better at giving success advice. I call them modelers. They’re the people who observe, study and model successful people, extracting the patterns of success.

Why are they better at giving success advice? For one, because they generally have a lot more of the skills presented above, which are required to understand and teach success. And also, because they don’t stop at modeling just one successful person.

It’s great that you’re looking to understand success and use this understanding in your personal development. In this journey, remember that choosing the proper sources for success advice can be just as important.