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Simon Sinek: Why to Use Momentum to Define and Measure Career Success

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In Chapter 5 of 20 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, author and leadership expert Simon Sinek shares why momentum, not results, is how he measures success. He notes how success is something everyone pursues but few can measure and define. Sinek is less concerned with financial or lifestyle markers as success measurements and more about momentum, and seeing things start and begin to roll by themselves. He compares this to a rolling stone that gathers no moss and layers his purpose to keep that initiative moving.

Simon Sinek is a trained ethnographer who applies his curiosity around why people do what they do to teach leaders and companies how to inspire people. He is the author of “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”. Sinek holds a BA degree in cultural anthropology from Brandeis University.

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Transcript:

Erik Michielsen: Why is momentum fundamental in measuring and understanding success?

Simon Sinek: Success is an elusive thing, right? What is it? And I think it’s very interesting, that if most people can’t define success – “well it means you made x amount of dollars,” or – but if you make x amount of dollars but you spend more, are you successful? Or “well it means you come home happy everyday” Okay, how do you know you’re happy, you know? Uh, so, I think success is a funny thing, which is, we all seem to pursue it but we don’t know how to measure it or actually how to define it.

So how do you pursue something that you can’t measure? Fascinating. So, when people say to me “how do you measure success?’ The a question we all have to ask ourselves, “Am I successful?” I don’t know, I mean, I had a good year last year, uh, and what does that mean? Does that mean I made a lot of money? Does that mean I was really happy? I’ll let you decide, right? Maybe neither, maybe both. I had a good year last year, but am I successful? And the answer is no, I don’t feel I am, because I am trying to build a world that doesn’t exist yet. I’m trying to build a world in which 90 percent of the people go home at the end of the day feeling fulfilled by the work that they do. So I definitely took a step – a big step towards that goal but I’m still so far away. So somebody said to me, “then how do you know if you’re successful?” And the answer is, if it can go by itself.

And so what is more interesting to me as a measurement of success, it’s not the markers per se, it’s not the financial goal, or the size of the house that you want to buy, those are nice things. Go for it, but those, those are not measurements of success, those are just nice things to collect along the way. For me, it’s momentum, I want a measure of momentum, which is – you know – when something is moving and you start to see it lose momentum, you’re like, “uh oh, give it a push,” because if you don’t give it a push it’s gonna stop. And an object in stasis is much harder to get going. It requires a lot more energy to get something started than it does to keep it going, right?

And so, if you don’t let it stop and you can keep it going – you know it still might slow down there but you can get it going again much easier. And for me the opportunity is to get the ball rolling faster and faster and faster and faster and bigger and bigger; it’s like a snowball. And my responsibility is – because it’s not going down hill yet, it’s not on automatic yet – I need to still keep it going, to find that critical mass where it can go ‘Psssshh.’

And at the point it can go by itself without me, I need to find something else to do. And that may not happen in my lifetime. I think we must all stop measuring promotions, salaries, and these things, but rather measure the momentum of my career. “Does my career have momentum? Can I see it moving in the right direction? Can I see it gathering moss?” You know? “Can I see that’s it’s easier, becoming easier for me to keep the momentum? It’s becoming easier for me to grow, the size of this thing, it’s requiring less effort.” That’s the thing that we need to measure. That’s the thing that we need to be cognizant of, which is the momentum of our careers, not just the markers that we think define our success.

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