The anatomy of success

SIDNEY KATZ July 15 1961

The anatomy of success

SIDNEY KATZ July 15 1961

The anatomy of success






Maclean's Associate Editor

MOST PARENTS sum up all the blessings they want for their children by saying that they want them to be "successful.” But the realization of this goal poses a herculean question: how is "success” to be achieved? Given two people of apparently the same calibre, why does one succeed while the other fails?

In a less sophisticated age. the ingredients for success were easily defined. "All you need to get to the top,” says Sam Slick, a character created by T. C. Haliburton a hundred years ago, “is a stout heart, a strong arm and a stiff upper lip.” Today, when probing the depths of the human psyche is a national preoccupation, such an explanation is too simple and too general. After years of study. Dr. David McLelland of Harvard University believes that he has identified the success-determining factor in the human personality. He calls it N.ACH and defines it as “the individual's drive for success and achievement.” Children and adolescents with a high N.ACH score solve problems faster, get higher school grades than equally bright youngsters with a lower N.ACH. Whether the N.ACH quotient is determined by nature or nurture remains unclear.

Dr. Victor Gocrtzel, a New York psychologist, is convinced that successful people come from homes that are charged with passion, violent opinion and turbulence. The parent—or parents —were often unsuccessful themselves, but rabid partisans of some unpopular cause, he says. “The children become eminent by fulfilling, in action, a parental daydream.” One example: l.ord Randolph Churchill's political career collapsed when his son Winston was twelve; the boy vowed he would some day become Chancellor of the Exchequer, and “the dunce of the family will take revenge on the whole pack of curs and traitors."

Despite current psychological tests and theories, it's evidently still impossible to predict success. The General Electric Company once compiled a list of 143 junior executives who seemed destined for top positions. Ten years later, only one in three had made it.

The real explanation of success in some fields — especially business — can be absurdly simple and non-scientific. A study of men who became corporation presidents while under the age of forty revealed that three out of five were related to the boss or married the boss’s daughter.

Success was probably the conscious goal of at least some of those fast-rising men, but there are others equally successful who never apply that term to their own achievements. One of Canada’s best-known artists told me flatly: "Regardless of what others say, I’m a failure.” Sam

Steinberg, head of a supermarket chain, observed: "No truly successful person thinks of himself as a success. If he did, his usefulness would be ended.” Hugh MacLennan, the novelist, called success a "bitch goddess” and said he was mortally afraid of her. “Nothing fails like success,” he said.

Professional people tend to equate success with a good reputation among members of their own group. "Wide popularity and public opinion are unimportant,” said Dr. E. W. R. Steacic, president of the National Research Council. A case in point is Dr. Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist who won a Nobel Prize. His talents were so highly regarded among fellow scientists that during the war a special commando force was sent to Denmark to smuggle him to the United States for work on the atom bomb. “How many people have heard of Bohr?” asked Dr. Charles Best, the co-discoverer of insulin.

Artistic people are likely to think of success in terms of their own satisfaction with their work. Morley Callaghan, the novelist, spoke of the "successful feeling” he gets when he writes a story that comes off. "I feel like a woman who has had a child — there’s an extraordinary sensation of pleasure, elation and relief.” Glenn Gould, the pianist, says: "The vision of what you might attain always remains a distance off. But if it doesn't grow more distant, then you’re a success.”

Most businessmen and many others equate success today with making money. But with wealth achieved, a man is apt to downgrade money as the most important criterion of success. “Making money may have been the driving


force in my earlier days, but not now.” revealed E. P. Taylor, the multi-millionaire Canadian industrialist. Taylor is now motivated by the challenge of expanding into new business fields.

What part does luck play in success? “The chief ingredient of so-called luck is the quality of not being afraid.” said Mrs. Viola MacMillan, a wealthy Toronto prospector and mine developer. However a chain of “lucky” or at any rate unplanned events led Claude Bissell to the presi-

deney of the University of Toronto. Having flunked as a World War II artillery officer because he lacked versatility and physical resilience, he was relegated to regimental adjutant. “It w'as humiliating at the time," he recalls, "but it taught me to appraise my qualities realistically.” As adjutant he received administrative experience and proved to have unsuspected talents for responsibility. After the war he was lecturing in English at the University of Toronto w'hen he was offered the administrative post of dean of residence.


"A house w'ent with the job so I took it.” said Bissell. "My bride was coming to Toronto and 1 couldn’t find a place to live." When the president of Ottawa’s Carleton University resigned. Bissell succeeded him. When Dr. Sidney Smith entered political life after resisting it all his life. Bissell was called back to Toronto to take his place. "I never planned to be a university president." says Bissell.

A toss of a coin literally decided the course of C\ D. Howe’s life. In 1907 Howe, an American citizen in his twenties, was lecturing in engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The head of his department was asked by Dalhousie University in Halifax to recommend someone for a professorship. He called Howe and another candidate into his office. “Toss a coin.” he suggested, "and I’ll recommend the winner.” Howe won and went on to his distinguished career in Canada.

Chance can even play a [fart in scientific achievement, as in the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming. One day a fragment of mold blew into an open laboratory window and “spoiled” a plate on which Dr. Fleming was growing bacteria cultures.

“That much was luck.” commented Dr. Charles Best, “but fortune favors the prepared mind. Fleming noticed that the mold killed bacteria. Other scientists probably had the same lucky break but didn’t recognize it.”

One prevailing myth is that “behind every successful man stands a helping wife.” That’s not always true, on two counts. Many bachelors have achieved distinction: Mackenzie King and R. B. Bennett arc two notable Canadian examples. Many wives of successful men contributed mainly by not


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"If you're creative and your wife wants social position, you're licked," a Canadian novelist says

interfering in their husbands’ career. The wife of a successful man is often a lonely and neglected woman.

Her role is summed up by Harvard sociologists W Lloyd Warner and James C. Abcgglen:

•’The wife is useful in the husband s success by securing the base of operations for her husband’s career. She relieves him of onerous household chores, handles most of the child rearing. She mustn't demand too much of the husband's time or interest. Because of his single-minded concentration on the job. even his sexual activity is relegated to a secondary place. The wife doesn’t have to be an expert in the husband’s business. She does not even have to be well informed about it. But she does need some sophistication and an understanding of the general world in which he and his associates operate."

Many sucessful men brook no interference from their wives. F. I*. Taylor never talks business with his wife. Once he fired an executive whose wife strongly objected to his posting to another city.

"I’d get rid of a wife who bugged me or loused things up." said Morley Callaghan. "If you’re a creative person and your wife wants wealth or social position, you’re licked. That’s probably why so many writers get divorces. 1 he wife has to be dedicated to the man’s work without wanting to get into the act. Togetherness can be fatal.”

However, far more important than the wife are the basic qualities of the man himself. 1 would list, as a result of my research, the most essential qualities of success as: willingness to work hard, integrity, talent, intelligence, and getting along with people.

On the need for hard work, Yousuf Karsh, the photographer, says: “Inspira-

tion is never enough.” Cardinal Léger of Montreal was sent, as a young priest, to a parish in Japan. He was an unprecedented success because, by stubborn application, he learned Japanese and in a few months was lecturing to students fluently in their own language. Dr. Steacie of the National Research Council meets former students who twenty years after graduation have accomplished little. "They were unable to steer a course and persist in it.” he said. This underlines Charles Darwin’s observation that “Less

than in the sum total of their abilities, men differ in the degree to which they use them.” Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s capacity for work so impressed one reporter that he described him as "a spring wound up tight, which is never allowed to relax.” Lester B. Pearson has been described as “a man who likes action and is constantly mobile, physically and intellectually.”

The ability to w'ork hard presupposes good health. Gratiën Gélinas points out that "even to die successfully on the stage

an actor must be bursting with good health." Lord Beaverbrook lists health, industry and judgment as the three pillars of success. "Two of these will take a man far; three will take him all the way.” says Beaverbrook. "I can think of only one man who lacked health who became great — F. D. Roosevelt." He might have included Edison. who was stone deaf, and Horace Mann the educator and Stephen Crane the writer, both tubercular.

The quality of integrity is best exemplified by the giants of Canadian medicine — Osier, Banting, Best and Penfield. Banting and Best could have made millions from insulin. Instead, they continued to concentrate on research. Penfield’s devotion to brain research has earned for him the accolade of "a medical saint.” As a young physician, Penfield went from study in England to a Detroit hospital where he had been promised facilities for research. It soon became apparent that the promise was an empty one. Although married and pe.miless, he resigned and went looking for a job where he could do as he wanted. He came across it in Montreal.

I found that getting along with people ranks high as a factor in success in most fields. "Even a genius who can’t get along with others is usually more trouble than he’s worth,” said E. P. Taylor. This is particularly true of politics. When the uranium centre of Elliot Lake was facing disaster, a delegation of angry women descended on Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s office. An hour later they went away empty-handed but elated. "That wonderful man will make everything all right,” said their spokesman. A New York Times writer said of Lester Pearson, “He meets people easily and everybody

feels that he’s their friend. His disarming candor creates the illusion that he's told you more than he really has.*’

N.ACH. the “drive for achievement” factor referred to earlier, is often found among children from homes where parents encouraged independence and responsibility at an early age. This observation seems to apply to most of the prominent Canadians 1 studied.

Frederick Gardiner, chairman of Metropolitan Toronto, recalled helping his father shingle a roof one Saturday afternoon. He was fourteen, and the Canadian National Exhibition was in full swing. Gardiner asked his father if he could quit work and go. His father answered: “Business before pleasure; once you start a job you have to finish it.” When Gardiner persisted, his father ordered him off the roof. Inside the house, his mother scolded him. “You should be grateful to your father for what he’s trying to teach you,” she said. He returned and finished the job. "Forty-odd years later, as Metro chairman. I became a director of the Flxhibition,” says Gardiner.

One calls it the “success virus”

Dr. Charles Best’s father was a country doctor in New Brunswick. At six. Best was in charge of his father's three horses. When he was twelve, he'd go out on calls with his father, sometimes acting as the anaesthetist when his father operated in farmhouse kitchens. At the same age, J. L. llsley, the former federal cabinet minister who is now Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, played an important part in running the family farm. He would buy supplies, sell produce, set prices and keep books.

In the lives of most of the people 1 interviewed, the desire for economic security was a spur to achievement. As a teenager, H. R. MacMillan, the wealthy Vancouver lumberman, was a farmhand near Toronto, working fourteen hours a day for a dollar. He tied to the city when he was sixteen, in search of a better life. Gratiën Gélinas says he was stung by the "success virus” because he knew poverty in his youth. The father of Northrop Frye, the distinguished University of Toronto English scholar, was a salesman in the then-depressed area of Moncton. “Going to college was a serious business,” he said. “I had to win scholarships all the way through or quit.” Roger Lemclin, the Quebec novelist and TV playwright, was brought up in a poor workers’ district in Quebec City. “I knew that my only chance of escaping to the more comfortable neighborhood on top of the hill was to work like blazes.”

Some successful people seem always to have known what they wanted to do with their lives; others followed a family tradition; still others were profoundly influenced by another person. Some can point to no reason for choosing the career they did.

Not one of the relatives or family friends of John C. Parkin, one of Canada's leading architects, was an architect. Yet at five Parkin was making crude house designs; at ten. his bedroom bulged with architectural drawings, articles and books. At fourteen, Hugh MacLennan, who came from a medical family, read his first Shakespearean play; it affected him like an “explosion.” There and then he decided to become a writer. At thirteen, Roger Lemelin, the son of a laborer, wandered into the Quebec legislative library one winter day to escape the cold. He soon became a chronic book borrower. As he read, a whole new world opened to him and the idea came to him that he too could write.

I found numerous cases where family

example led to the choice of a career. Glenn Gould’s mother was a pianist, his father played the violin. At three. Gould was already taking piano lessons from his mother. Perhaps inheritance, in some obscure way. played a part in Gould’s life: he’s related to the famous Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who died in 1907. Dr. Charles Best’s father was a country doctor, his uncle an eye specialist. He watched his favorite aunt, a nurse, wither away and die of diabetes; it moved him to learn more about that mysterious disease. Wilder Penfield’s father was also a doctor. At college, young Penfield shifted from a safety to a straight razor to develop a steady hand for surgery. The father of a distinguished barrister, J. J. Robinette of Toronto, was a criminal lawyer. During his boyhood, Robinette glowed with pride at seeing his father’s name and picture in the newspapers and was determined to follow in his footsteps. Lt.-Gen. Guy Simonds never considered any career other than the army: his family had been professional soldiers for a hundred years.

The role of a good education in success has recently received much publicity, and it is not surprising to find that among successful people there was a general pattern of high academic achievement. Most of them consistently stood high in their classes; nearly all completed university. On the other hand, poor academic achievement is no certain barrier to future success. Mackenzie King was an indifferent student while attending grade school in Kitchener. Morley Callaghan failed to shine at the University of Toronto. The McGill University yearbook describes E. P. Taylor as “a mind that’s constantly wandering to wild projects”; he neglected his studies to pore over books on finance.

I found that successful people were no strangers to failure. They had all experienced reversals — perhaps oftener than most people. What did impress me was their cheerful and constructive attitude in the face of disappointment.

John Diefenbaker, for example, lost five elections before he was chosen to sit in Ottawa, but he kept cheerfully plugging away. M. J. Coldwell, who led the CCF for eighteen years without forming a government, was never bitter or disappointed. He recalled J. S. Wordsworth’s prediction that his life would be sacrificed in educating the public about socialist principles.

Repeated failure is an expected occupational hazard of research scientists. In law. even the most brilliant lawyer becomes accustomed to reversals. “Laymen speak of a lawyer who’s never lost a case," says J. J. Robinette. “That's balderdash. As you rise in your profession. your chances of losing in court go up. The reason is that you tend to attract the more difficult cases. You can't win them all—even Frank Mahovlich doesn’t score a goal every time out.” The dynamic businessman’s view of failure is well expressed by H. R. MacMillan, the lumberman: “Get away from the corpse and start something else. Don’t be hampered and depressed by looking back.”

Does the achievement of success demand sacrifices? The answer is an unconditional yes. Like a large number of other successful men. Premier Louis Robichaud of New Brunswick, who had political ambitions from such an early age that schoolfellows called him “the premier," admits that success means he must neglect his family. Some leaders, like Mackenzie King, remained bachelors partly because they felt a family would be an encumbrance. Lester Pearson moved his family fifteen times while he was with the Department of External Affairs.

There’s often little time for recreation. Dr. Best, an ardent golfer, seldom gets a chance to play. As a youth. M. J. Coldwell was keen on swimming, boating, football and bridge — all of which he had to abandon in public life.

“You don’t get the chance to develop many personal friends,” says Frederick Gardiner. “When you read the obituaries, you realize how few personal friends you have left.” Premier Tommy Douglas added: “Normally, if a person invites you to a. party, you accept. Now T have to stop and ask myself if this fellow is likely to be asking for a liquor license or a government contract. If the likelihood exists, then I refuse the invitation. Not only must you avoid evil; you must also avoid the appearance of evil.” But even this creates difficulties, as Lester Pearson has found. “If you cling to a small circle of tested and disinterested friends then you’re criticized for belonging to a clique,” he says.

Considering the sacrifices, is it all worth it? Does success bring happiness?

There seems to be no categorical answer. The rewards of success—the opportunity to do interesting work, attain public recognition and sometimes affluence—make some people completely content. Frederick Gardiner, for instance, says that’ being the first citizen of his native Toronto is happiness enough. As for the sacrifices, “You give up something you like for something you like better.”

On the other hand, people as dissimilar as Lord Beaverbrook and Yousuf Karsh feel that happiness and success can’t he equated. There are numerous examples to support this view. Brigitte Bardot, envied for her beauty, wealth and film success, recently tried to commit suicide. Lord Althorp. the nineteenth - century Whig statesman and leader of the House of Commons, was so urhappy that each morning he prayed that he would be dead before nightfall, yet few men of his day were more highly esteemed.

Perhaps Dr. Charles Best, one of the most successful living Canadians, made this point most graphically. Recalling his boyhood in New Brunswick, he said, “I knew people in the Bay of Fundy region whose aim in life was to live independently. They realized their ambition with a cash income of a few hundred dollars a year. They caught fish in the sea, shot deer in the forest and gathered wood for fuel. They were happy people. You don’t have to be well known or accomplish world-shattering feats to achieve true contentment.” iy