The internet has an insatiable appetite for advice from successful people, and writers like me spend a lot of time and energy delivering it. From CEO morning (or evening or weekly) routines, to tidbits of wisdom on leadership and intelligence, readers love to know how super achievers live their lives.
But you know who doesn’t spend much time obsessing over advice from the super successful? At least one super successful business icon. In a recent interview ex-Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recounts how Amazon founder Jeff Bezos counseled him against putting too much stock in how others achieved their stratospheric success (hat tip to Insider).
“There are many ways to be successful.”
Costolo referenced the conversation in a recent interview with journalist Kara Swisher on the The New York Times’ podcast “Sway.” He recounts how he met with Bezos in 2009 when he first took on the top job at Twitter to discuss strategy. Another person at the meeting mentioned that former Apple boss Steve Jobs famously insisted leaders need to say no to almost everything in order to focus on what’s truly important, causing Bezos to crack up.
“Bezos looked at the person and said, yeah, well, I like to do everything,” Costolo recalls. “And he had that big Jeff Bezos laugh that he’s so famous for and is so, so great and infectious. And he said, look, my team has to talk me out of doing stuff.”
Presumably after the chuckles had died down, Bezos went on to offer Costolo seven excellent words that are useful to just about every fan of success advice — “there are many ways to be successful.”
“The thing that everyone needs to remember is there are many ways to be successful. And trying to read some management book or biography and then running the company that way is going to just create misery for you and everyone around you,” he reportedly said. “Be yourself, and don’t try to run this company the way the last person or the person before that or the person before that ran it.”
Advice as inspiration (at best).
Tim Cook gets up at the eye-watering hour of 4:00am. Bezos himself prefers to putter around until 10. Shopify co-founder Tobias Lutke says part of becoming so successful was learning to think of building a company as an engineering exercise. Spotify’s Daniel Ek claimed one of his biggest challenges on the way to success was learning charisma. ‘Fortune favors the bold,” but ‘slow and steady wins the race.’
Nobody agrees on anything. Every business is different, and so is every business leader. Which means blindly trying to copy other people’s strategies is almost certainly a path to frustration. The best approach for you is the one that matches your situation and character.
That doesn’t mean reading about how your heroes managed to accomplish incredible things is useless. Their routines and advice might just spark an idea that really does move the needle in your own life.
The key is not looking for simple cut-and-paste answers, but instead taking others’ approaches as inspiration only. Whatever business (or life) advice you hear this year, keep Bezos’ skepticism in mind. You may stumble upon a useful tip or trick, but the most useful advice of all is not to expect anyone else to hand you a road map for you and your business.