A successful business with no help? There is no such thing.

By Mike Cook
For The Bellingham Business Journal

One of the things about the business culture in the U.S. that has bothered me for years is what is probably best called “the cult of personality” or the “legend of the self-made whatever.”

Books abound that speak to the philosophy of so-and-so, the habits of the ultra-successful and 10 ways to tell if you are as smart as whoever.

It is inescapable, the focus on the individual, especially the uber successful business individual.

Now, before you go off thinking this is going to be some cleverly disguised diatribe against capitalism or market economies, don’t get ahead of yourself.

This is more of a reality check. I found this story about John Collison and his brother Patrick, founders of Stripe, to be more about guys in touch with how things really work than guys who found a way to spin straw into gold.

To be certain, in a capitalist system there are certain people who are better suited to “play the game” than others. In fact, the success of these people is as much a product of the system as it is any particular genius they may possess.

The Collison boys come to the prevailing system with certain advantages that are randomly distributed throughout a population. They are both very smart, the fact that one of them was at Harvard and the other at MIT before they dropped out is a testament to their intelligence. They also, like a limited number of people in our society, are entrepreneurial by nature. That means simply, 1) that they are driven to create something larger than themselves and profit from that creation and 2) they see ways to create value for others that are worth paying for.

Where their story differs from many I have read over the years, is that along with the natural gifts they have that have contributed to their success that also recognize the contribution others have and are making along with a healthy dose of good fortune (luck).

John says…

“I think the question is less about, you know, how much can be attributed to my skill and intelligence and instead to the skill and intelligence of the hundreds of people who’ve gotten Stripe to where it is. And I guess I would say that skill and intelligence and especially, most importantly, intense application and hard work — I think all those things are necessary.

“I think had they not been there, had there not been so many people who just came up with so many smart ways of doing things and, you know, in many cases toiled at such length, there’s not a chance, not a sliver of a chance that we would be here. But I also think that the luck was required too. There are, again, groups of people who are smarter and harder-working than us who just didn’t get the same good fortune.”

Read the article, then step back for a moment and ask yourself whether you think you might enjoy or be attracted to working with or for someone who thinks like John Collison. I bet the answer is yes.

Personally, I am not, nor have I ever been interested in what business people chose to start or build. What interests me is whether they recognize that they will not get there by themselves, or else they will have a little tiny business.

I recall once meeting with a group of business owners, and one of them grousing about not being able to find people to fill jobs in his company.

His attitude was something to the effect that here he was creating jobs for others and there was no one coming to apply for what he was so generously offering.

“Why would anyone want to work for you?” I asked.

He became visibly angry and several other owners came to his defense.

“We are job creators!” they said.

That’s right, but if no one wants to work for you, you need to check in to see if you understand the way of the world. It is in business as it is in life overall, honoring interdependency is the law of success.

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