August Turak

Author Consultant Speaker

Making the World Go Round: What You Must Know About Success and How Business Really Works

Success always results from unpredictable “happy accidents.” The secret to success is becoming happy accident prone, and these 6 steps will teach you how to do just that.

I asked a highly successful entrepreneur one time how he had managed to sell so many of his companies. “I’ve never sold a company in my life,” he said with a broad grin. “I just know how to bump into the right people.”

Despite what business school professors would have you believe, business is not a cold blooded science. Success can’t be turned into a step by step approach like working out a geometry proof. This doesn’t mean there is no method to the madness of business. Being able to tell a receivable from a payable does matter. It just means that “hard” skills are the necessary but insufficient conditions for success. Success in business always results from a series of “happy accidents.” But strange as it sounds, like all forms of luck, there are ways to make happy accidents less accidental and you more accident prone.

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Two weeks ago I told one of my clients that the most important thing a CEO does is make things happen. In order to illustrate this rather ambiguous concept, I told her about the Israeli executive, Yochi Slonim, who rescued our company from the brink of bankruptcy by making a whole lot happen in an incredibly short amount of time.

I later realized that Yochi’s story was so valuable that I turned it into an article The One Great Thing That Every Great Leader Does. Thanks to people like you and Yochi it rapidly became one of my most popular articles generating scads of new Twitter followers for me.

I then emailed the article to Yochi in Israel as a mitzvah (Hebrew for a good deed or blessing) along with my thanks. This morphed into a two hour phone call originally designed to last just a few minutes. In order to spend more time with his young daughters, Yochi is now transitioning from a serial CEO to helping technology companies develop compelling marketing stories: the same thing he did for our own company that turned it into a 150 million dollar acquisition target.

In turn I told Yochi about the client who had triggered the article about him; a technology company looking for just such a marketing story in an exciting but highly competitive market. Yochi offered to help me out by meeting with my client at no charge, remarking with a laugh that “one good mitzvah deserves another.”

We then discussed ways in which we could work together on some future articles here on Forbes: readers would benefit from his insights, he would benefit through the exposure, and Forbes would benefit from more readers.

Then just yesterday I got an email from Yochi. He had read some of my other Forbes articles, and suggested that I come to Israel to speak to the Israeli business and venture capital community.

All of this happened in a matter of days… but wait there’s more. Just today and of course purely by accident, I read that one of my client’s competitors, funded by several Israeli venture capitalists, had just been purchased by IBM for a big price. I immediately sent Yochi the news, and he responded quickly. Yochi knows every venture capitalist in Israel, and my client could use some VC money to grow more quickly. Hell, if I end up in Tel Aviv maybe I’ll accidentally “bump into the right people” for my client on my own.

So maybe this happy and highly accidental convergence of improbable events will turn out to be a much bigger mitzvah than me, Yochi, or my client could possibly have imagined a scant two weeks ago. And it all started with a simple story innocently told over a cup of coffee…how do you plan for that?

In fact I am so amazed by this latest example of how business really works that I think I might have the makings for another article. This one.

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If this story about happy accidents and the way business really works strikes you more like the magic mirror script, within a script, within a script from the movie Get Shorty than it does a Harvard Business School case study, I couldn’t agree more. Yet there are lessons to be learned that make producing a similar movie with you in the starring role far more probable.
  1. Every Mitzvah Deserves Another. My Forbes byline is Service and Selflessness at Work. Service and Selflessness means that it is in our own self-interest to forget our self-interest. Gut check time: Do you like giving or getting presents better? If you like getting more than giving you’ll probably never master the esoteric alchemy of happy accidents.
  2. Put Yourself in Play. My old grade school football coach said it best. “For God’s sake don’t just stand there hit somebody! Hit a teammate, hit the ground, hit the ref, but for God’s sake hit somebody!”  Most happy accidents emerge as ancillary and collateral side benefits. “Bump into” as many people personally (email is a happy accident killer) as you can, and then wrack your brains wondering how you can help them rather than how they can help you.
  3. Leverage, Leverage, Leverage. In the case above I leveraged a conversation into an article; the article into a chance to thank someone and renew an old friendship; the friendship in turn was leveraged into a business opportunity, a speaking opportunity, a collaboration opportunity, and finally another article. Never do with brute force and money what can more easily be done with leverage. And at every step in the chain give without expecting anything in return. Receiving is what happy accidents are for.
  4. See the Board. All great chess masters “see the board.” This means being able to see all the permutations that affect a decision all at once. Most of us lack the peripheral vision we need to be successful. Every time you are considering a course of action ask: “Who could possibly benefit from this decision and how can I bring them into the loop?” Over time you will develop the habitual 360° awareness you need to leverage relationships.
  5. Share the Credit. My articles on one of my heroes always do better than those about myself. My most popular, 8 Steps to Winning Friends Influencing People and Getting Any Damn Thing You Want features the leadership talents of a 19 year-old college girl. The more you give credit away the more it comes back to you; usually with interest.
  6. People Make it Happen. What makes business so difficult and unpredictable is that it depends largely on people skills. Business itself is a relationship business. If you want to understand people better I suggest burning all your business books: Read novels by master psychologists like Tolstoy, Balzac, Twain, and Melville instead.
Back in the late seventies a young lady invited me to her parent’s home in Greenwich CT for the weekend. Her father, the president of a major brokerage firm, spent the entire weekend poring over annual reports. As I was leaving, I stuck my head into his office and asked him for his secret to picking stocks. He smiled and said, “I don’t know how to pick stocks. I just make it my business to know people who know how to pick stocks.”

I asked him for the name of just one stock, and he told me about Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. I was unemployed and didn’t have much money, but I bought some anyway. Even though BRK was then selling for the ridiculous price of $360 a share. With BRK now selling for $120,000 a share I look pretty smart. But it was just a happy accident brought about by accidentally bumping into a guy. A guy who had made it his business to know people who knew how to pick stocks….

Watch this video for more on becoming a leader by managing a culture of service.

Follow me on Twitter @augustturak, Facebook, or check out my Forbes blog for more tips and strategies for becoming a great leader – and to discover how service and selflessness is the secret to success in business and in life.