Last week I gave a talk at the GameHorizon conference in Newcastle, England, and at one point talked about the movie stars and rock stars who achieve incredible success – then they stop doing everything that made them successful, and the success also stops. As an example, I mentioned Michael Jackson. Ironically, two days later he died from heart failure.
On hearing the news, I was shocked and saddened, and I had a flashback to the first time I heard Michael sing. It was back in the ‘80s and I had just started my own company. Driving home at about five in the morning, after working all night, suddenly the radio lit up with Michael singing “Billie Jean.” I was blown away, became an instant fan, and even met him once at the music awards.
Over the years, we all watched Michael reach the stars and then come crashing down in his career and personal life. And one of the big reasons is he stopped following the eight success principles. Just a few examples:
IMPROVE: Reaching the top Michael kept trying to improve, and get better and better at singing and dancing. In his autobiography, Quincy Jones writes that Michael “…would watch tapes of gazelles and cheetahs and panthers to imitate the natural grace of their movements. He wanted to be the best of everything – to take it all in.” Improvement is all about practice and Quincy says Michael was “Completely dedicated. He practiced his dancing for hours.”
PUSH: I’ve found that many successful people are very shy and have to keep pushing themselves through it, and Michael was no exception. Quincy writes, “He was so shy he’d sit down and sing behind the couch with his back to me while I sat there with my hands over my eyes with the lights off.” Now, that’s shy! But Michael kept pushing himself to perform in front of thousands of people.
WORK & FOCUS: Reaching success, Michael worked hard, was focused, and always super-prepared. Quincy says, “He showed up at 5 a.m. for his makeup call and had every detail of what he needed to do memorized and ready for every shooting. He also knew every dance step, every word of dialogue, and all the lyrics of every song by everyone in the entire production.”
PERSIST: My research shows it often takes ten years to succeed at anything significant, and Michael is another good example. He started singing at the age of four, but it wasn’t until ten years later that he had his first major solo hit, “Got To Be There,” and it was another ten years before he released “Thriller,” one of the most commercially successful albums of all time. So, he persisted through a 20-year climb to the top.
Michael Jackson became the “King of Pop” because he followed those fundamental success principles, but once he reached the top, he stopped. He no longer tried to IMPROVE and WORK hard. After all, when the world is telling you you’re great, why bother? He lost his FOCUS and became distracted by the trappings of success, so instead of spending hours singing, he was spending hours shopping. He would no longer PUSH himself through his shyness. Instead, he sunk back into it and became a recluse. And instead of PERSISTING, he seemed to just pack it in and live on past glories. We all watched as he continued to slide downhill both professionally and personally.
It’s interesting that with his upcoming London shows, Michael started to work harder and go back to the eight principles that might have helped him return to success in his career and his life. But sadly, it was too late. So, if you’re the next “King of Pop,” when you reach the top, don’t stop. Keep doing what got you there. Success is a continuous journey.
Reference: Quincy Jones, Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, Doubleday, 2001