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The Formula for Success

Success S is a function of a Context C, a Method M that works in this context, and the Application A of the method.

Success happens when a method that works in a context, is applied to this context.*

The problem is that this context is itself situated in a wider context. An IT department is situated next to other departments in a company. A company is amongst other companies in an industry. An industry is part of an economy. And people are watching each other.  

Why is this a problem? Let us explore. 

Those who are paid to have success are called practitioners. 

Which means that practitioners want success. They constantly look out for ways to get more success. Which means they are looking for better methods. 

How do you find better methods? You look out for success, and identify the method behind it. 

The problem is that when you do so, you look into different contexts. 

Whether a method that works in one context, will work in another context, is an open question. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. 

The right thing to do for practitioners is to try to find an answer to this open question. By experimenting, by taking the method as inspiration and, if necessary, discovering ways to customize it. But that means work, risk of failure, and the need for competence.

When a method works in several contexts, it becomes a powerful method, a recipe for success. It becomes famous. 

When a method becomes famous, two things happen. 

First, practitioners tend to reduce the amount of work, risk, and competence put into checking and customizing the method. If the method worked in many places, chances are high that it should also work here. For many practitioners, careers become easier with the famous method, no matter how different their context is from the one at the origin of the method. 

For the second consequence we need to introduce another group of people: helpers. Helpers are consultants, teachers, authors of books. Their business is to support practitioners. For them, a famous method is easier to sell. Which means that if they can fit whatever it is they are selling, under the title of the famous method, it will sell better.

Which means that a famous method develops a wider, more varied meaning. 

Which means that it loses clarity. 

And the probability that is works better than others in various contexts, the thing that made it famous in the first place, diminishes. 

All the while its momentum continues to grow. 

The attraction to practitioners continues to increase, both because more people use it, and helpers push it. 

The attraction to helpers continues to increase, because famous sells.

On and on, the method continues to become more widespread, and thereby, more famous. 

Which means that inevitably, sooner or later, it becomes a false promise. 

But since methods usually take some time until you can evaluate their success, the false promise is not immediately evident. 

At that point, the population starts to split. 

Practitioners who have become disappointed by the lack of success, become critical of the method. So do helpers who want to sell something else. 

Practitioners who have just invested in the method, and are still unable to evaluate its success, become defensive or their choice. So do helpers who still make good business by selling the method. 

Sooner or later the critics win. 

And the world is ready for the next hype. 

* And all those of you who are at home in propositional logic, understand that this statement begs the question – that’s the point after all.

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