I was never in awe of cyclist Lance Armstrong like many were. Road cycling is just not my thing. But his story – going from battling cancer to winning the Tour de France seven times – was amazing.
A lot has been said and written about his fall from grace. I still don’t fully understand the situation – he has decided not to challenge the allegation that he was a drug cheat. I know I’d fight it (if I was innocent).
Sign up for SmartCompany newsletter.
Free to your inbox every weekday
The thing that has struck me most about the whole sorry episode is the role of heroes. Particularly in the world of start-ups, heroes are common. Those who have gone before and succeeded are held up as the greats to be emulated.
I don’t want to name names but we all know who the start-up stars are both here and overseas. And I am not suggesting that any of them cheated in any way.
I just don’t think it’s healthy to put too much faith in heroes. I think it is instructive to read about others who have been successful. The way they achieved their success is important to understand and learn from.
But I think you need to keep them in perspective.
Those who are successful that go on to write books or who end up being the subjects of books are telling their story.
In today’s world of media spin, those stories are often self-serving and carefully constructed. Either subconsciously or deliberately they are not the full story, only the shiny part of it.
Who knows what secrets successful people have hidden – even from themselves? Who knows what advantages they had at their disposal that may not be immediately obvious? Who knows what practices they used that you may not yourself be prepared to emulate?
Again, I am not saying that successful people are cheats or should be torn down. Not at all. I love success. I see every successful person as being another organism in the eco-system of success that makes my own success more viable.
It’s a bit esoteric, I know, but if no one is successful, it’s very unlikely I will be.
I just think that when we come across the stories of successful entrepreneurs and start-ups, we need to resist the temptation of falling into idol worship.
Learn the lessons. See if there are things you can emulate but don’t build people up into super heroes.
Everyone has flaws. Everyone is affected by random luck that often masquerades as genius. Indeed, many people who are massively successful with one venture are often far less successful with their next one.
And most importantly of all, never use someone else’s apparent success as the basis for tearing yourself down. You never know what was fully behind it.