There’s an interesting adage commonly used by law school professors that you might’ve heard before. It goes: great cases make bad laws. I was reminded of this adage in a book I was reading today, and it caused me to reflect on the degree to which studying the success stories of other individuals, companies, or organizations, and trying to extract principles from them that guarantee similar successes and influence can be a counterproductive, possibly even harmful, practice.
It's easy to look at a great case (i.e. success story of an influential individual) and think that studying and imitating it will make a great law (i.e. formula for success and influence), but I don't know if it will actually achieve that desired result. Because the reason why the great case or story was so great in the first place was because it was a stunningly unique occurrence as a result of singular actions in a particular context.
I guess the one common, and transferable, principle from each of the great success stories we hear and study so intently, then, is the principle that the people who are at the centre of those stories didn't try to imitate other peoples' stories. Instead, they decided to pursue their own story— even if it took them into completely unknown places, unforeseen risks, and novel opportunities.
Success stories produce great conversation pieces.
Success stories produce bad formulas.
Look, I know it's tempting to buy the newest how-to book or buy a biography to learn more about or from your hero more so that you can win (whatever winning means to you), because everyone falls prey to that temptation now and again. I know I do.
But I'm starting to see and hold myself accountable to the idea that if we want to do things that really matter, we aren't going to accomplish that by trying to live someone else's story. Pioneers are called pioneers for a reason. Because they pioneer things, which means they're the first to do something.
Someone has to go to the place without a map to be able to make a new map. Where do you need to go to make a new map?