Success Has Many Parents

Insight categories: InsightsPerspectiveTechnology

When we announced Hitachi’s agreement to acquire GlobalLogic for roughly $9.5B, a number of GlobalLogic alumni—former colleagues no longer with our company—contacted me to offer congratulations. I’m happy to accept their good wishes, but I’m even more appreciative of the opportunity to thank them for the role they played in GlobalLogic’s success. It’s certainly true that the people now on-board (and of course our future new colleagues at Hitachi) are the ones who are most directly responsible for this milestone. But it’s also true that our colleagues, both current and former, brought us to the place where this success could happen.

Whenever a business celebrates a milestone, it’s not unusual to see lots of people congratulating each other—or even in some cases, jostling to take credit. When seeing this behavior, people sometimes cynically remark that, “Success has many parents, while failure is an orphan.” Having myself been a part of several successes—as well as some failures—I feel that while that aphorism is correct, the cynicism behind it is wrong. Success really DOES have many parents—and it doesn’t take much to cause a failure.

Case in Point: NeXT Software & Apple

Years ago, when I was working at NeXT Software, one of the product managers and myself teamed up to make a proposal that the whole executive team—including NeXT CEO Steve Jobs—initially opposed. We ended up convincing people, our proposal was implemented, and it turned out to be a success. Afterwards, Steve Jobs told me that if we had not implemented our proposal, NeXT would not have not had enough revenue to stay afloat and would have had to close down. This was in 1995, and because NeXT did stay in business, it was bought by Apple in 1996. Then Steve Jobs and the NeXT team joined Apple and—together with many other great people—were able to turn Apple around.

Hard as it might be to believe today, Apple was in dire trouble before it bought NeXT, and many observers did not expect Apple to survive as an independent business. We can imagine several other ways Apple could have been saved. But it’s certainly true that had NeXT gone out of business in 1995, Apple was very unlikely to have bought it in 1996. And if Apple had not bought NeXT, then-NeXT CEO Steve Jobs would almost certainly never have had the opportunity to take on the Apple CEO role and drive the turnaround at Apple.

So, without me and my product manager colleague, Apple would not exist as the success it is today—correct?

Vain as it might sound, I think that’s true. However, I also think it’s far from the whole truth. Mine was just one piece of a story where MANY things had to go right. Without Steve Jobs, obviously, there would be no Apple. Without the many other talented people who came to Apple from NeXT, there would be no Apple as we know it today. Without Apple’s then-board of directors agreeing to resign when Steve Jobs made that a condition of his becoming interim CEO, there would be no Apple. Without the NeXT founders, early engineers, great HR team, and many, many other people, there would have been no NeXT—which means no NeXTSTEP (parent of OS X and iOS) and therefore no iPhone or Apple as they are today.

Similarly, without the many great people at Apple itself who built Apple into the company it was then and has become since, there would clearly be no Apple. All of these individuals and many others performed countless acts (known and unknown)—each of which was critical to Apple’s becoming the company and shipping the products it does today.

The Formula for Success

Let’s express this concept mathematically by using the below symbols:

  •  “&” means “logical ‘and’ “
  •  “|” means “logical ‘or’ ”
  •  “!” means “logical ‘not’ ”

With these symbols, the formula for success could be written as:

  • “Success = A & B & C & D & E &…”.

Each letter represents a critical success event that either happens or does not happen. In other words, for success, a long series of critical events all need to go right. We know from logic that the negation of this expression is:

  • “!Success = !A | !B | !C | !D | !E |…”.

In other words, to fail, only one of the critical events needs to go wrong.

In non-mathematical terms, to be successful requires that everything critical must happen. To fail, only one critical link needs to go wrong. That’s why failure is an orphan: since only one critical link in a long chain has to break, often no one even knows which specific thing it was. But for a success, it’s clear what went right: everything critical.

Success has so many “parents” because there are so many links, each of which truly was critical. It’s not boasting to be proud of your “link” or “links”—you have every reason to, because it’s absolutely true that without you, the success would not have happened. I’m proud of the role I played in Apple’s success, even though I’m not there anymore and haven’t been for a long time. When you feel this pride, the thing to keep in mind is that you are not alone; each person who made their own critical link happen also rightly “owns” the success, whether they came before you or after, and whether they are currently on-board that company or not. Success really does have many parents.

We Can All Be Critical Links

In the U.S., there’s a classic Christmas movie called “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Through divine intervention, the protagonist George Bailey is given the opportunity to see what the world would have been like had he never been born. His community is a profoundly different place, and he sees that the people around him and those he loves would have been much worse off without him. George Bailey is stunned by the magnitude of the impact his life has had. His protector, Clarence, tells him: “One man’s life touches so many others. When he’s not there, it leaves an awfully big hole.”

I don’t think the point of the movie is that George Bailey was single-handedly responsible for all the good that happened in his community. Rather, it is that George was a “critical link” in many chains, each of which led to a good result. All it took was for one person—one contribution—to be absent, and all those critical chains turned success into failure.

Similarly, we too have the opportunity to participate in the personal and business successes around us. The absence of our positive contribution can be all it takes to fail. As in the movie, we all have the opportunity to live a “wonderful life” that completes the success chain for our companies, families, friends, and communities.

So as we celebrate this milestone for GlobalLogic, we acknowledge that there are many people whose actions—some highly visible and others unknown today—were responsible for achieving it. Some of these people are currently on-board, and some are no longer with us, but all who performed one of the many critical actions that got us to where we are today are contributors to this success. As fellow links in the chain, I would like to congratulate you all, and thank you for being co-parents of GlobalLogic’s success.


Globallogic blog success has many parents2


Dr. Jim Walsh


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