(WIZARD) Misdiagnosing Success


If success were the result of a formula, we would achieve it more consistently.

Every business has its little formulas for success.

These formulas, however, are always incomplete because they were reverse engineered by connecting the dots after success had been achieved: The second thing (success) followed the first thing (cable TV ads, or raising your prices, or handing out coupons at the front door), therefore the second thing (success) was caused by the first thing (cable TV ads, or raising your prices, or handing out coupons at the front door.)

Logic then whispers into our ear, “If you connect these dots prior to your next attempt, success will surely follow.” This seductive logic has been frustrating humanity for so many years that it has a fancy Latin name: post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

“Success is not a dog that can be led about on a leash.”

No, that’s not the interpretation of the Latin phrase. It’s something that popped into my head just now, and I decided to share it with you. Actually, post hoc, ergo propter hoc is translated as “after this, therefore resulting from it.”

Analysis and ego and weasels with calculators use post hoc, ergo propter hoc logic to assert that we can map our way directly to success without making any wrong turns along the way. But if you keep your eye on those data-weasels, you’ll see them make as many wrong turns as the rest of us. And most of the weasels never arrive at the destination at all.

In truth, the variables that contribute to the creation of success cannot be fully calculated in advance. This is due to the “three-body problem,” a mathematical conundrum that governs anything that can attract and hold another thing. Are you trying to attract and hold the attention of your customer? Welcome to the “three-body problem.”

This same three-body problem can also be used to your advantage if you have the courage, but we’ll save that discussion for when we have at least three uninterrupted hours together. (If you’d like to try to figure it out for yourself, just Google “Henri Poincare three-body problem.”)

Another common misdiagnosis of success — and one that’s much easier to explain — occurs when we judge results too quickly. We see the early stages of success and call it failure.

This is because when you’re doing exactly the right thing, the results will often get worse before they get better.

I’ve always attributed this to the agricultural window between seedtime and harvest, but my friend John Marklin prefers to call it the “J-curve.”


In the grocery industry, which is the world in which I live, a key component … is the J-curve. For example, I built a ground-up store four years ago and was told I would do “X” in sales.

For two years I did 60 percent of X in sales. As I came out of the J-curve, I gained momentum and hit the budgeted number in year three.

J-curves happen any time there is change, and sometimes they defy logic.

For example, in one of my stores, my meat sales sucked. So I doubled the size of the meat case and added variety. The result was lower meat sales. It took about 30 days for people to accept the change. Once they did, they liked the added variety and selections. Slowly, sales increased, and today they’re at the desired level.

Very few people speak of the J-curve.

Thank you.
John Marklin

The front side of the J-curve is what I privately call “the little death” and publicly call “the chickening-out period.” The backside of the J-curve is what my friend Chip calls “hockey stick growth.”

I’ve seen a lot of companies abandon brilliant ideas that would probably have led them to hockey-stick growth, but they abandoned these ideas during the late stages of seedtime, when they misinterpreted the early dip of the J-curve as failure. I’ll bet you have, too.


But here’s where the J-Curve gets really messy: When you’re doing the wrong thing and sales begin to fall as a result, it looks exactly like the early stages of hockey stick growth.

There’s the only known solution: Take a deep breath, close your eyes and click your heels together as you whisper again and again, “The J-curve is a bitch. The J curve is a bitch. The J-curve is a bitch….”

Be sure to teach this solution to your clients.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here