Secrets of Success

Secrets of Success: Three Unexpected Best Practices

by Mark Chussil

Best practices

In May 2013 I was honored and delighted to receive SCIP’s Fellows award. They asked me, and other award recipients, to speak for a few minutes at their annual international conference about best practices and secrets of success.

It’s trickier than it sounds.

The popular press is positively saturated with secrets. Top-ten secrets of wealth. Five best ways to outmaneuver the competition. Thirteen proven steps to avoid bad luck. Google “top ten” and it reports “about 7,650,000,000” results. That means every person on earth has contributed one, with extras from a billion overachievers. With everyone so eager to reveal his or her secrets (see also Facebook), why do we need spies and wiretaps? With so many helpful secrets in circulation, why isn’t everyone a lucky, maneuverable billionaire?

Nonetheless, I obediently compiled my top-three best practices list. Here’s what I said.

  1. Ask “why” one time more than those around you.
  2. Ask “what if” one time more than those around you.
  3. Smile and say “nice start” often, especially to yourself.

I know those points sound abstract or even woo-woo. You were probably expecting checklists, data, or incantations to sweep corporate hurdles from your path. But we don’t get life-changing insight by solving small mysteries. We need to go deeper to find “best.”

Before every effective action comes a sound decision. Before every sound decision comes great thinking. To me, thinking is what these three best practices are about.


If I were to list tools and techniques as best practices, I’d talk about business war games and strategy simulation. I’ve used them for decades; I use them because they work. I’ve used them to help companies around the world make or save billions of dollars and to help thousands of strategists become better strategists.

But they’re not best practices or secrets; they are tools and techniques. The best practice behind them (and other tools and techniques) is asking “why” enough times. You need to understand why things happen. Otherwise you merely extrapolate.

Here’s a taste. When you see someone doing something strange, ask yourself why a smart person would do what they’re doing. Your answer will be more useful and insightful than if you ask what’s the next point along the trend line or if you ask why the person is so irrational. (The person may indeed be irrational. It’s just not great thinking to start by assuming so.)

What If?

“What if?” is the best practice behind imagination and the courage to act.

What-if imagination is at the heart of anticipating how people, such as customers and competitors, may behave or react. But it’s more than that. It’s at the heart of perspective, creativity, and innovation. It’s at the heart of your goals and dreams.

Will Rogers said, “Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” The courage to act comes when your “what if” becomes so vivid and compelling that you can no longer let it smolder in your imagination. Star Trek Captain Jean Luc Picard didn’t say “wish it so” or “wait it so.” He said “make it so.”

If you’re having trouble with “what if,” go back to “why.”

Nice Start

Nice Start” is the title of a book I wrote about personal awareness.  Harvard Business School bought it for alumni at reunions and for alumni career coaches, and the school had me deliver two reunion talks and a webinar based on the book. It’s been endorsed by John Gray (Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), Daniel Quinn (Ishmael), and Jeffrey Zaslow (The Wall Street Journal). Okay, thanks for indulging my pride and joy. I love this book.

You may wonder where the title came from.

A 15-year-old kid listened to my life story in a seminar, smiled at me, and innocently said “nice start.” Outwardly I stayed calm. Inwardly I was not. “Nice start?! Are you crazy? Weren’t you listening to the story of my life? Don’t you see how awesome it is? Nice start???

Then, for once, I did something smart. I asked myself why he said that, and I thought about it, and I learned. Then I asked myself what if I act on what I just learned, and I thought about that, and I took action. It changed my life.

Say “nice start” to yourself often, and always with a smile. It’s a great way to remind yourself you’re still growing, you’re still learning, and you can keep asking “why” and “what if.”


A tool, technique, datum, secret, or incantation may bring you momentary triumph. A momentary triumph isn’t chopped liver but it also isn’t success. Best practices are practices, in the sense of disciplines, expertise, and self-leadership, that you use to create the success you want.

By the way, if you ever doubt the power of one regular person to make a difference, think of that 15-year-old stranger. His two words, the only ones he ever spoke to me, changed my life.

And now maybe he’s changing yours.

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