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July 25, 2012

What is the secret of success?

painting of Admiral Nelson contemplating what to do next.

Lord Nelson in the cabin of the Victory, by Charles Lucy

Eisenhower once said that if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. Yet, biographers of Napoleon seem to quote Cromwell in saying that those men who go farthest, don’t have a plan.

There are so many other secrets put forward. But one seems consistent.

The top soccer scorers aren’t necessarily the most accurate.  Soccer isn’t baseball, and the total points don’t reflect how often someone works.  The top scorers also have tend to have not only the most misses, but also the highest percentage of misses.  As Michael Jordan once said “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Or, was that Wayne Gretzky?

Well, Nixon said something similar. And, when Horatio Nelson faced the French fleet, at Aboukir in Egypt, he took a risk.

Napoleon Bonaparte was with the “Army of Egypt” inland, off fighting against the Mamelukes, and the French ship captains didn’t have much freedom in what to do.

Many of the French crew had gone inland, but a few were still there. The French ships were anchored, or parked, near the shore. The French wouldn’t park right at the shore, because the rocks under the water would damage the hull, and could either beach them or sink them. But, there was just enough space for Nelson to get a few British ships in between the French fleet and the shore (and a few to block off any possible French retreat.)

The move was risky, but it paid off.  The fleet was pretty much destroyed, and with it were Napoleon’s hopes of controlling a valuable port.   When asked if it he was sure it would be successful, Nelson said “No, but by — I’ll try.”

In 1812, a gambling firm holding a lottery capitalized on Nelson’s risk by saying “This leaving something to Chance is wise in civil, as in belligerent matters. It leads to honour; it leads to wealth.”

I’m not sure if playing the lottery is an honorable profession, but Nelson’s statement tells me something.

Too many people quote a star wars puppet saying “Do or do not, there is no try.”  Yoda is a load of old codswallop (that’s bunk, nonsense, hogwash). There is no “do or do not”, it’s try or don’t try.

Too many self help books today are written by people who don’t know history.  Luck, chance, fortune, it exists.  The more chances you take, the more likely you are to have good or bad luck.  It’s not about positive thinking, it’s about positive action.

The optimist often loses when he sits on his backside, acts without thinking, or does something half way.  And the pessimist often wins when he tries his best.

Plan, sure, it’s great to plan.

But sometimes, there are opportunities you just don’t have time to plan for. You can train for them, by keeping fit, learning the basics, or doing whatever it is that will increase your skill set. But when the time comes, you won’t have time to know whether success will be certain. And you don’t have to be certain.  Just play, and if the dice roll you a number, move.

Every worthwhile venture is a risk.  If there is no chance of failure in your actions, then there certainly is no chance of success.