‘The Common Denominator of Success’ Still Going Strong After 70 Years

First delivered by Albert E.N. Gray at a life insurance convention in 1940, “The Common Denominator of Success” holds a very powerful message for any sales professional or anyone seeking success in their professional, personal or spiritual lives. It’s actually as true as it sounds and just as simple as it seems:
“The common denominator of success — the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful — lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.”

This helps explain why men and women come into business with every apparent qualification for success, but turn out be failures, while others achieve success in spite of many obvious and discouraging handicaps.

The “things” that failures don’t like to do are the very same things that we don’t like to do either. Gray says that success is achieved by the minority of people, is therefore unnatural and is not to be achieved by following our natural likes and dislikes. Too many to last — and many very obvious — the things we don’t like to do all come from one basic dislike peculiar to selling: We don’t like to call on people who don’t want to see us and talk to them about something they don’t want to talk about. Any reluctance to follow a definite prospecting program, to use prepared sales talks and to organize time and effort is caused by this basic dislike.

But why do successful people seem to like to do the things that so many of us don’t like to do? They don’t! However, by doing the things they don’t like to do, they can accomplish the things they want to accomplish. Successful men and women are influenced by the desire for pleasing results. Failures are influenced by the desire for pleasing methods and are satisfied with whatever results they obtain by doing the things they like to do.

A Sense of Purpose
Successful people have a purpose strong enough to make them form the habit of doing things they don’t like to do. Why? To accomplish the purpose they want to accomplish. The strength that holds them to their purpose is not their own strength, but the strength of the purpose itself.

First of all, the purpose must be practical, but not logical or visionary. It should be sentimental or emotional; needs are logical, while wants and desires are sentimental and emotional. Needs will push you just so far, but when they are satisfied, they will stop pushing you. However, if your purpose is framed in terms of wants and desires, then your wants and desires will keep pushing you long after your needs are satisfied and until your wants and desires are fulfilled.

Here’s how Gray described the difference:
Recently I was talking with a young man who long ago discovered the common denominator of success without identifying his discovery. He had a definite purpose in life and it was definitely a sentimental or emotional purpose. He wanted his boy to go through college without having to work his way through as he had done. He wanted to avoid for his little girl the hardships which his own sister had had to face in her childhood. And he wanted his wife and the mother of his children to enjoy the luxuries and comforts, and even necessities, which had been denied his own mother. And he was willing to form the habit of doing things he didn’t like to do in order to accomplish this purpose.

Not to discourage him, but rather to have him encourage me, I said to him, “Aren’t you going a little too far with this thing? There’s no logical reason why your son shouldn’t be willing and able to work his way through college just as his father did. Of course he’ll miss many of the things that you missed in your college life and he’ll probably have heartaches and disappointments. But if he’s any good, he’ll come through in the end just as you did. And there’s no logical reason why you should slave in order that your daughter may have things which your own sister wasn’t able to have, or in order that your wife can enjoy comforts and luxuries that she wasn’t used to before she married you.”

He looked at me with rather a pitying look and said, “But Mr. Gray, there’s no inspiration in logic. There’s no courage in logic. There’s not even happiness in logic. There’s only satisfaction. The only place logic has in my life is in the realization that the more I am willing to do for my wife and children, the more I shall be able to do for myself.”

After reading that story, now look to find your purpose, identify it and figure out how to surrender to it:

  • If it’s a big purpose, you will be big in its accomplishment.
  • If it’s an unselfish purpose, you will be unselfish in accomplishing it.
  • If it’s an honest purpose, you will be honest and honorable in the accomplishment of it.

Remember, while you may succeed beyond your fondest hopes and your greatest dreams, you will never succeed beyond the purpose to which you are willing to surrender. Furthermore, your surrender will not be complete until you have formed the habit of doing the things that failures don’t like to do.

Next time, we will look at why habit is so critical as a common denominator of success.