I have a question: What can we learn from the experiences of others?

Over the years I have frequently gravitated toward books about people who have had highly successful lives. These have included philosophers, teachers, politicians, activists and survivors of a wide array of tribulations. I have wondered how they became that person. And I have wondered what I can learn from them.

Most recently I have been interested in entrepreneurs who rose to business fame from quite humble beginnings. Each biography of these economic geniuses seems to highlight a different path through the quagmire of starting and growing a fledgling company.  They, or their biographers, share their thoughts on what makes their business successful. They point to catching a technology wave, or to imagining a new and disruptive business model, or to having a revolutionary approach to building customer loyalty.  Some authors point to those who are legendary for their particular style of leadership, telling readers how to develop these skills.  They tell me about blue ocean strategies and purple cows, and explain how I can use these techniques in my business too.

Then of course there are our local business heroes – the ones who have achieved successful exits. They are always much sought after as mentors to those of us with similar aspirations. They share their tales of finding investors, hiring and retaining the best people, and gaining international acclaim. And I have tried to learn from their experiences, tried to follow in their footsteps, tried to do what they did.


But does it ever work exactly like that for me? Did it even work exactly like that for them? Or are they rewriting history to tell a better tale?  Try as I might, I am often left with a trail of scattered attempts and a bewildering collection of ideas and techniques – borrowed from an assortment of others – that never quite launch me on my way.

So perhaps the value of their experiences is not to provide me with a recipe for proceeding.

Perhaps what we should take away is that we must forge the path that works for us, for our situation, for our type of business, for our particular customer and for our personality. Maybe the value of their experience is not in telling us how to proceed but in giving us hope that we too can find our own way, our path to building the business and the life we want. And if so, shouldn’t we begin with learning more about what will work for us?

What are your thoughts?

Until tomorrow, GUNG Ho friends!