• What Makes
    You Tick?

Author Michael Berland—
an expert on how people think
about the things that matter

Read Michael’s Book
What Makes You Tick?
How Successful People Do It—
And What You Can Learn from Them

Michael Berland is a strategic advisor and communications consultant and an expert in how people think and behave as consumers, voters and decision-makers. He is the President of Penn Schoen Berland, a research-based strategic political and corporate communications company.

Michael’s book What Makes You Tick? How Successful People Do it – and What You Can Learn From Them (Harper Collins 2009) offers an unprecedented compilation of introspective interviews, advice and analysis of success with first-person stories from 45 leaders in business, sports, fashion and entertainment from Heidi Klum to Jeff Zucker to Richard Holbrooke.

Recent Articles by Michael Berland

What Does It Take for a Woman to Feel Happy & Fulfilled?
By Michael Berland
Published July 2011

You might guess that money, love or being a good mom brings the greatest satisfaction. But a new Ladies’ Home Journal poll of American women shows something much more surprising.

Read the full story

What’s Your Money Personality?
By Michael J. Berland
Published: August 29, 2010

When it comes to personal finances, most of us belong to one of five types, according to a recent PARADE survey by public-opinion expert Michael Berland.

Where do you fit in?

Do-Rights keep budgets, avoid debt, and save for the future. When they need advice about money, they tend to ask experts.

About 75% of these middle-aged Americans live paycheck to paycheck. They’ve made major cutbacks since the financial crisis and want to start saving, but they find it difficult to stick to the budgets they’ve set for themselves.

Most of these single women earn less than $40,000 a year, and two-thirds say they’d quickly be in serious financial trouble if they lost their current source of income. Many say they feel embarrassed about their personal finances.

These young singles are optimistic about the future. They know they should pay more attention to their finances but say they’re too busy pursuing other goals.

These married homeowners make higher-than-average salaries but say they save less than they should and make too many impulse purchases. Nearly two-thirds of this group would rather let their romantic partners handle the finances.

Read the full article

Outsiders are ‘in’
By Michael Berland
Published May 24, 2010

Q: What’s a politician to do? Voters rejected the incumbents in this week’s primaries in Pennsylvania and Kentucky (and Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln faces a runoff), shirking experience for new faces. What is so attractive about upstarts? In your experience, are you more likely to achieve success as a wise insider or a brash outsider?

The best prospect for making a difference and achieving real success is an outsider.

Outsiders can bring a fresh perspective and new ways to solve problems — they haven’t been “corrupted” by politics as usual and the insiders game. It’s not about anger or narrow ideology; it’s about competence and leadership and a fresh start.

One outsider I have worked for and admire is Mike Bloomberg. He ran for office as a leader, not a politician. He brought in new ideas from outside that cut across party lines and was willing to do what it took to achieve results.

And he was not beholden to special-interest groups. He has helped break through the gridlock and has brought a very different spirit to the political environment in New York.

A golden opportunity
By Michael Berland
Published April 26, 2010

Q: U.S.-made cars are now held in higher regard by American consumers than Asian-made vehicles — a significant turnaround in public opinion. Is this the result of negative publicity about Toyota or have Ford and other U.S. carmakers made the changes needed to change the perception about their vehicles? How hard is it to transform a person or product’s reputation once it’s set in people’s minds?

We live in a fluid culture, where things change and opinion changes. That is a good thing.

Toyota’s troubles could not have come at a better time for the American auto industry.

This is true from both a consumer point of view and a businessperson’s point of view.

(It seems like just yesterday you couldn’t sit down on an airplane or a commuter train without the guy next to you reading the bestselling business books on “the Toyota way” about the company’s successful business philosophy.)

Toyota had a long way to fall in the eyes of the American consumer. But fall they did. And to be sure, American car companies stand to benefit.

But the schadenfreude that GM and Ford must surely feel at Toyota’s misfortunes is not enough to carry them laughing all the way to the bank.

The new study showing that Americans are giving domestic autos a new look means the American car companies have a real opportunity, once Toyota’s troubles fade from the headlines, to re-invent themselves in the court of public opinion and appeal to new car owners.

Lucky for Ford and GM, America is all about comebacks. And we’re a culture that respects them.

Compassion Counts More Than Ever
By Michael J. Berland
Published: March 7, 2010

America is in the midst of a boom–and one that is benefiting and bonding us all. “During past tough economic times, there was a decrease in volunteering,” says Patrick Corvington, CEO of the federal Corporation for National and Community Service. “But today there’s a ‘compassion boom’ of people helping others.” An exclusive new PARADE poll shows how and why so many Americans are working to improve our communities and the world.

“Public service” has become more than a phrase or a school requirement in our country–it’s now a way of life for Americans of all ages. “People who are out of work are volunteering to stay connected to their communities and to hone their job skills,” Corvington explains. “But I think part of what is driving the overall increase is the growing understanding that service is an essential tool to achieve community and national goals.”

The findings of the new PARADE poll confirm Corvington’s observations: Respondents were almost unanimous in the belief that it is “important to be personally involved in supporting a cause we believe in” in our communities (94%) and in the world at large (91%). More than three out of four (78%) think that the actions of one person can improve the world, and 78% also believe they’re more involved in making a difference than their parents were.

The Americans surveyed by PARADE are particularly proud of one very personal way that they’re contributing to the greater good: Ninety percent said that they are working hard to teach their children the importance of activism. They’re imparting these lessons in a variety of ways, including leading by example (64%); talking to their kids about important issues and causes (51%); discussing their own charitable contributions or efforts with their children (35%); taking them to meetings or when they volunteer (32%); urging them to follow role models who are working for positive change (31%); and encouraging them to donate their own money to causes (25%).

Jack Brannelly, 45, an attorney in Draper, Utah, brings his 9-year-old daughter when he volunteers at an elder-care facility. “To put her hand in the hand of a 95-year-old at the end of her life teaches my daughter about the people out of the public view who still need affection,” he says. “This heart-to-heart contact teaches her one of the most important things we can do despite our busy lives. ”

Read the full article

‘Muscle memory’
By Michael Berland
Published February 6, 2010

Being an established winner is an advantage over being a hungry upstart. And the main reason is that you have the ‘muscle memory’ of success. That can be a huge asset.

‘Muscle memory’ typically refers to how we train our brains for successful physical endeavors through repetition of activity — it’s what athletes do day in and day out in training.

On the field, by way of example, when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl against my beloved Chicago Bears three years ago in the exact same arena in Miami, he learned how to handle the pressure of the expectations and what was at stake.

So in this year’s game, Peyton Manning certainly has nothing to prove personally. So he can relax into the game and focus on it.

(But of course muscle memory transcends sports. I think there is a muscle memory of success in any field. When you’ve already succeeded, you already know what to expect. There is less of a fear factor. And you already know how to get the best out of your people. )

Muscle memory aside, an established winner can also mean you have something to live up to: a reputation to protect. That can be an added pressure and not a good thing.

Hungry upstarts, on the other hand, like Saints quarterback Drew Brees, have little to lose. Having little to lose can lead to an openness towards risk, to creativity and flexibility in decision-making. There is also something to be said for the drive and ambition and sometimes the humility of a hungry upstart.

Either way this Super Bowl going to be a great game. Now if the Bears can just start reading On Success!

It’s hard work
By Michael Berland
Published January 26, 2010

Q: How often do achievements like that of the newly elected Republican senator from Massachusetts seem to materialize out of thin air? Do you believe in the concept of overnight success?

The media can seize on something all of a sudden –a candidate, a cause, a consumer product — and then it seems like overnight success, but it’s not.

My fellow “On Success” panelists Misti Burmeister and Seth Kahan are absolutely right to emphasize that Scott Brown’s success only appears to be made “overnight.”

I’ve worked for two decades on political campaigns large and small. I know first hand that a successful campaign is like any business success: It’s about good people, teamwork, a nimble but effective decision-making process and good communication both internally and externally. And that is not something you can do overnight, though you can do it fast, especially if you have some seasoned people at the top.

I also know that “momentum candidates” can seem unstoppable, like Scott Brown last week and like President Obama himself became starting in mid-2008. They catch a wave. Then, it seems like there’s nothing that other candidates can do.

But that momentum usually gets going only after a long time of dong a lot of hard work, thinking and planning — in the dark and unnoticed. Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent bestseller Outliers explores this, turning the old “How to you get to Carnegie Hall?” joke (“Practice, practice practice!) into an in-depth examination of success in a lot of fields outside of politics as well.

In my book, What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It – And What You Can Learn from Them, my co-author Doug Schoen and I examine success by analyzing super-successful people using five archetypes.

I think that Scott Brown’s career fits our success archetype of the Independence Seeker. Independence seekers are all about seeing an opportunity and positioning themselves in the right way to seize on it and make the most of it. When you look at his accomplishments, it’s all about his success and achieving it on his terms; it’s not about having a larger vision and leading a body of people there as with the kind of person we call a Natural Born Leader, like President Obama.

An effective career in politics, especially in the Senate, demands collaboration, vision, teamwork. The Independence Seeker is goal oriented but doesn’t have a lot of patience for process. George W. Bush fit that category too — lots of interest in winning, but little interest in governing. In Scott Brown’s case too, the election was his goal, and whether he can “win” at legislating too remains to be seen.

Brown will have to work hard to morph himself, yet again, to attain a new level of success among his peers at the Capitol. One thing is sure: it’s not something likely to happen overnight.

Leadership on Leno
By Michael Berland
Published January 14, 2010

Q: NBC’s bold decision to move Jay Leno into prime time has been a ratings disaster. How often does a roll of the dice hurt instead of help? Are gamblers more likely to succeed than those who are cautious by nature?

NBC President and CEO Jeff Zucker took a risk in bringing a late-night show to prime time. But just because the experiment seems to be a flop doesn’t mean — as some have said — that people should question Zucker’s value as a leader.

Zucker apparently championed the idea of stripping Leno’s low-cost comedy hour across the prime-time schedule in lieu of expensive-to-produce dramas. NBC has been trying to boost its broadcast business, which has been losing audience to the Internet and to cable channels, including those like Bravo, in which NBC has a stake, and which have thrived under Zucker’s reign.

What’s important is that the prospective new owner of NBC, Comcast Corp., has rightly shown confidence in Zucker, who signed a new three year contract. In fact, my co-author Doug Schoen and I included Zucker as an example of the success archetype we called the “natural born leader” in our book What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It — And What You Can Learn from Them.

What makes Jeff Zucker a natural-born leader is his combination of skills — his unique vision, competitive spirit and, above all, his willingness to take risk, as with trying a new time-slot for this format that in recent decades has only really succeeded on late-night TV.

In our book, Zucker was profiled in good company along with others who aren’t afraid to take risks in their respective fields: the leaders of Sara Lee, Hearst Magazines, National Hockey League, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Major League Baseball.

Jeff Zucker himself said it best in his interview for our book:

.”…I believe you can take risks and try new things and not be afraid and not be beholden to anything that’s come before. There’s a degree of risk taking in everything. If you’re not willing to put yourself out there and take a chance — to go for it, to win the match –you probably won’t have the kind of ultimate success you’d wish for.

“If you’re not willing to try something new on the ‘Today’ show, to try a new kind of programming in prime time, you may never succeed in network television. It’s not for the faint of heart; you have to take risks. I think you have to be willing to fail. But if you’re not afraid of failing, then you probably never will fully succeed.”

Look long-term
By Michael Berland
Published December 30, 2009

Q: Why do most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions so quickly? How much of a role does goal-setting play in achieving success? What are the most effective resolutions you have made?

I have never believed in New Year’s resolutions as a key tool for life success. I believe in life resolutions, or more specifically, in setting life goals and achieving them rather than “resolving” to do things that are good for me … or, more commonly, to refrain from engaging in self-defeating behaviors.

There is something to be said for the feeling of a fresh start and a break from the past that comes with a new calendar year. So I can understand the appeal of New Year’s resolutions. And they can be helpful for matters of personal health and fitness. I am proud to say that I lost 25 pounds in 2009. And sure enough, I started my fitness regimen a year ago.

In What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It — And What You Can Learn from Them, my co-author, Douglas E. Schoen, and I explain motivational traits are a key to understanding an individual’s success archetype (along with both inner personality traits and external traits such as how they interact with people and leverage relationships).

By motivational traits, I mean how do you set goals for yourself and how do you lay the groundwork for reaching them. When you achieve, how does that sense of fulfillment motivate you more, in turn? When you fail to reach your goals, how do you handle that, how do you recalibrate?

If you can be introspective about those issues in setting your New Year’s resolutions, you learn a lot about yourself. And, you can use that information to help you set long-term professional and personal goals that are not about beating the clock.

Happy New Year!

Santa, as spoiler
By Michael Berland
Published December 21, 2009

Q: What accounts for the fat guy’s success as an enduring, worldwide symbol of the holiday? The quirky suit? The fawning elves? The antlered entourage? How often do unlikely figures catch fire and seize the popular imagination?

If Christmas were my client, I’d unequivocally advise keeping Santa on as the face of the operation. Here’s why:

For starters, kids like Santa Claus because he is the “good” bad parent.

Real parents must set boundaries, know when to say yes and when to say no, so our children become moral and well-behaved people. Real parents would be doing the world a disservice if we did not set boundaries and punish kids when necessary.

But Santa, while he watches over kids and knows that kids are capable of being both naughty and nice, has never been known to carry through on the threat of that lump of coal.

Santa’s slogan is pretty much just “yes, yes, yes” in the form of “ho, ho, ho!” He is always benign, and approachable-lap-sitting is his main value-added feature.

For those of us lucky enough to have known our grandparents, we can recognize that Santa fulfills a lot of the grandparent job description, but in a more vibrant, uncomplicated way: He spoils you.

And that’s why parents, consumers, like him too. Because as parents, we can hide behind the myth to spoil our kids in a way that we know isn’t good for them and that we don’t have to take responsibility for: “Nope, I didn’t buy that ridiculously expensive gadget that my child had the tantrum over — Santa did it!”

We can even spoil ourselves — playing both roles, as seen in the popular Santa pub crawls throughout the country where people go bar-hopping dressed in stiff red -and-white, fake-fur costumes.

Santa is a timeless icon, yet there’s no worry about him aging so much that no one will find him attractive, which is a risk with other spokesmodels. In fact, Santa is as old as can be and people love him that way, precisely because he keeps everybody feeling pretty young by comparison — who doesn’t feel like a kid when Santa’s around?

Moreover, Santa has cornered the market on the adjective “jolly” — no one can use that word, even in mid-summer, without conjuring Santa. His red and white colors help the jolly factor, something obviously not lost on another of the world’s most successful brands: Coca-Cola.

Santa is successful as a brand in part because modern-day society needs him; his existence and his persona facilitate the commercialization of Christmas. Without him and the lore of the reindeer, Christmas would be another religious holiday.

Word from the North Pole is he’s becoming a real mentor to the Easter Bunny.

Love of learning
By Michael Berland
Published December 14, 2009

Q: A recent series in The Post painted a bleak picture of the prospects for millions of U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants, who will play an outsized role in the future of the American workforce but are dropping out of high school in greater numbers than other any other U.S.-born racial or ethnic group. What needs to be done to help more of these young people succeed in school and get college degrees?

In this excellent series on the U.S.-born kids of Hispanic immigrants, a recurring theme in several of the articles is that parenthood often forces these teens and young adults into taking their own lives seriously for the first time.

On the one hand, it’s good that parenthood can make young people of any background suddenly want to make a success of themselves. And parents in their teens and twenties are holding onto their dreams of graduating from high-school or even college some day.

On the other hand, it’s tragic the sudden desire for betterment, as reported here, often happens after many mistakes that can have lifelong consequences, including years of poor scholarship and, in the case of several of the young men profiled in the series, criminal activity.

I was most alarmed by the article “Young, Latina and Already a Mom” about teen sisters Angela and Edelmira who deliberately had babies so that their parents would stop trying to separate them from their boyfriends. Their story made me realize the importance of a truly comprehensive and culturally relevant sex education that addresses why it’s self-defeating to use pregnancy and parenthood as strategies to manipulate situations and people.

More generally, the key for all young people is to ignite early on a love for learning; a sense of fulfillment; a curiosity about and an ability to understand and communicate with a world outside the world they know. That’s something that immigrant parents who don’t speak English can teach.

When you love learning, it becomes the carrot you end up following and that leads you to make the choices to lead your best life. When the carrot works, you don’t need a stick.

Bouncing back better
By Michael Berland
Published December 11, 2009

Q: What’s the right response when you come tantalizingly close to success but fail to achieve your goal? How hard is it to recover from heartbreaking setbacks like the ones the Washington Redskins have endured in recent weeks? How often have you experienced reversals that tested your own spirit?

I have advised and consulted for many political candidates, and one of the things that everyone knows is that you typically lose before you win. It’s very rare to win every race — bang, bang, bang.

After serving as a legislator, Barack Obama lost his first run for Congress in 2000. After his first term as the youngest governor in the country, at age 32, Bill Clinton lost his governorship of Arkansas, then came back to serve 10 years before becoming our nation’s president.

One candidate I worked for is New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who learned this lesson before he even jumped from business into politics: He was fired from Solomon Brothers … and then went on to start Bloomberg LLP. Maybe that’s what made him such a formidable candidate.

In our research for What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It – And What You Can Learn from Them, my co-author, Douglas E. Schoen, and I interviewed a lot of people outside politics who overcame enormous challenges to achieve success in their fields — in business, sports, fashion, entertainment and so on.

For a lot of people nowadays, that setback is a layoff or a company closing. One of my favorite stories from our book is that of a guy named Barry Sternlicht who was a star at his companies and a father-to-be in his early 30s. In the downturn of 1991, he was laid off. He was demoralized by the setback:

“I was making money, making deals, and making friends. I was making a life for myself. They were high times, and life was good. … I was let go. I was shocked. Everything I had was lost: the dream job, the huge deals, the great salary, all of it. Of all the great tragedies in the world, this wasn’t the greatest. But when that conversation came, it didn’t feel that way. But it didn’t take me long to realize where I stood …

“I decided to go off on my own. I figured that all the things that made me successful [thus far]… could make me successful on my own. I was creative and had stamina and desire. I saw that my greatest strengths were my passion, memory, and perseverance. And it was around then, after the challenges of crashing down from the highs of the years before, that I realized just how important that last trait is. Perseverance is genius in disguise. If only I could persevere, I could succeed.”

Barry Sternlicht went on to become the founder of Starwood Capital and Starwood Hotels, with more than 850 properties in 80 countries (including W Hotels, which he created, and St. Regis, Sheraton, Westin and Le Meridien properties).

My accomplishments are minor by comparison. But every time I achieve something great, there is always a setback first. If it’s been a while since your last professional setback, you are probably coasting, which is a nice word for stagnating. Setbacks are how you know you are on the road to overcoming a challenge, toward growth, toward somewhere different.

False idols
By Michael Berland
Published December 4, 2009

Q: Is the culture of celebrity and reality TV eroding our understanding of what constitutes success? What should we tell our children about people such as Tareq and Michaele Salahi who apparently crashed a White House state dinner in pursuit of reality TV fame?

The culture of celebrity confuses young people and creates false idols.

There’s nothing wrong with the spate of “reality” talent shows that allow great dancers, singers, chefs and clothing designers to show what they can do and try to make it in those very competitive creative worlds.

But even within Hollywood, media give equal, if not more attention, to poorly behaved stars — especially of the do-nothing trash reality genre– than to the legitimately talented.

In the case of the Salahis, who crashed the state dinner for the prime minister of India in an apparently not too misguided effort to become part of the reality TV fame machine, my fellow “On Success” panelist Patricia McGuire is absolutely right when she says that instead of focusing on the gate crashers, it’s important to talk about “the legitimate guest list and why people of achievement were invited to the White House.”

Among the invited guests were stars in medicine, film, literature, public service, journalism, classical music, diplomacy, business, and so on. For some of those people, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, a reward that recognized a lifetime of hard work, sacrifice and risk-taking of the kind that doesn’t thwart measures to protect the executive brand of our government.

Frankly, I think that we shouldn’t even be talking about the Salahis a week later, even in this “legitimate” forum of The Washington Post column on success. In my opinion, their names shouldn’t be Google-able with the word “success.” Continuing this discourse just gives them and people like them further incentive to engage in acts of this kind — like rewarding a kid with a lot of attention when he behaves poorly.

And that’s a comparison that even a child would understand.

Doing good
By Michael Berland
Published November 30, 2009

Q: Why has Oprah Winfrey been so successful as a TV talk-show host? Does it make sense for her to end her syndicated talk show in 2011 when she’s still dominating the daytime ratings? Can you imagine anyone replicating the following she’s been able to build?

Oprah has been so successful because of her integrity — by which I mean her personal authenticity as well as her ability to take on endeavors that fit with who she is as part of a larger whole.

Oprah embodies very clearly one of the four success archetypes that I and my co-author, Douglas E. Schoen, identified in our research for What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It — And What You Can Learn from Them. She is what we called a “Do-Gooder.”

Do-Gooders get their greatest satisfaction from working for the greater good and helping other people. That’s what motivates them. Everything else that comes with success is collateral. Do-Gooders are all about personal contact and connection. (And luckily for Oprah, personal contact and connection that make Do-Gooders thrive are the very same skills that make a great talk-show host!)

Oprah also has some of the qualities of the “Visionary” success archetype. Visionaries are the people who change our world, who see beyond the accepted models.

The evidence of both archetypes is that she’s used her talk-show success as a foundation from which to envision and build a full-scale, multi-media empire (broadcast TV, film, magazines, book publishing, radio, online and so on, cable) to help people live a well-examined, enriching, mentally healthy, empowered life.

What makes her a successful leader (a real business leader as opposed to just another great entertainment personality) is that she hasn’t been competitive with the talent she’s met along the way. She has brought that talent along with her — Dr. Phil, Suze Orman, Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray, even her best friend, Gayle King. Their success is her success.

But I think what has helped her achieve that success is that she was able to recognize early on who she is and to put herself in situations that value who she is.

There’s a well-known story about her that demonstrates even more what I mean. At the local TV news station in Baltimore where she worked before she moved to Chicago, she would get too emotional to report the news — if the story was sad, she would tear up; if it was funny, she would laugh. Did she quit broadcasting? No. She moved from straight-news to a talk show, where being emotionally connected to the topic is an asset, not a liability. She didn’t change who she was.

And setting her exit date for her syndicated TV show now while she is ahead, so she can give her full attention to new cable venture with Discovery Communications is right in character for her.

That’s authenticity.

At the core
By Michael Berland
Published November 23, 2009

Q: Do financially successful people have an obligation to help those in need? Are Bill and Melinda Gates, who have given away hundreds of millions of dollars through their foundation, encouraging others to step up to the plate? How much should people who have made millions be expected to give?

The ability to make a difference to others can be a much more fulfilling measure of success than a fancy title or having your company championed in a leading business or trade publication. And being able to offer a fraction of your income as financial support to people in need or to causes you believe in can be a big part of that.

Often there’s a moral or religious component to this for people, whether it’s tithing, as in Christian traditions, tzedakah as in Judaism, or zakat or sadaqah as in Islam. That can feel very gratifying for individuals. But, increasingly, many businesses are baking their charitable, community and cause-related commitments into their core mission.

Roger Barnett is the chair and CEO of Shaklee, the top natural nutrition company in the United States. When I interviewed him as one of the super-successful people for What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It — And What You Can Learn from Them, he told me: “I’ve always been fascinated with that approach — trying to leverage private sector techniques for public sector goals. I was sure I’d eventually have to choose, but I kept trying to combine the two.” He’s worked really hard to achieve that at Shaklee.

The nonprofit B Corporation is leading the way in helping other businesses to embed community and charitable commitments into their corporate governing documents so that those commitments can survive new investors, new management and even new ownership. So, doing good becomes not just a choice that financially successful individuals make one by one, or even a happenstance business byproduct — but rather an official commitment by a company’s leaders, employees and stakeholders.

My friend Susan Smith Ellis is CEO of (PRODUCT) RED, the groundbreaking initiative founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver that creates retail commerce opportunities to fund the fight against AIDS in Africa. She put it best: “What [all] we do, as individuals or as companies, is not just business. We’re not just part of an economy. We’re part of a society. And what we do matters beyond the boundaries of our immediate stakeholders.”

Luck and timing
By Michael Berland
Published November 20, 2009

Q: How much does achieving success rely on luck vs. skill? Recently, a Western Maryland lumberjack named Darvin Moon won $5 million in the World Series of Poker. He insists he is no more skilled at cards than any recreational player. What do you think?

Most of the super-successful people interviewed for What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It — And What You Can Learn from Them used the word lucky when describing the arc of their success. Most people understand that chance favors the prepared and they equate luck with timing more than anything else.

While they may have been fortunate in different ways, the fact that so many of rock stars in business, sports, entertainment, fashion etc. use the word “lucky” is a sign that they’re thankful for their success — that they understand the value of humility. In their own words, here what four of the 50 people we interviewed had to say on the subject.

Jake Burton, owner and chairman, Burton Snowboards:
“Some of it is out of your hands; it’s just luck, timing. Of course, to a certain extent timing is luck. If I’d tried to do what I did ten years earlier, it probably wouldn’t have happened. I think snowboarding eventually would have come around one way or another, but I think the timing was just perfect. … Not everyone is lucky enough to stumble on something that will take him to the level I’ve reached. But you can’t go wrong if you’re doing what you love.”

The late Don Hewitt, who created CBS News’ “60 Minutes”:
“Even though ’60 Minutes’ is the most watched, most honored, and most profitable broadcast of its kind in television history, I have to admit that my success in television was the product of a large dose of luck and a small dose of wisdom — just enough to capitalize on the luck.”

Brian France, chairman and CEO, NASCAR:
“I think the desire to be excellent, in whatever industry you choose, is crucial to success. … I’ve had a few moments of luck along the way. I’m not saying you have to have good luck to succeed, that if you don’t, you’re dead. You still have to have all the other things. But a little luck helps.”

Jeff Zucker, president and CEO, NBC Universal:
“I believe in luck, of course. I think there’s a degree of luck in all of this. But you’ve got to prepare for luck. You can’t just count on it. Great preparation puts you in the position to enjoy that luck and succeed even more.”

Finding your right role
By Michael Berland
Published November 6, 2009

Q: Does success breed success? Are people more likely to succeed if they wind up with a successful organization like the New York Yankees or performing beside stars such as Derek Jeter? How often does the expectation and aura of success become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Being and feeling successful is about putting yourself in an environment you’re passionate about and/or a role where you can be successful based on who you are fundamentally, what your strengths are and what feels fulfilling to you.

The best teams in sports, in business and in creative fields all have people who are in the right roles for them.

You aren’t more likely attain your personal definition of success just because you are at a successful organization or work alongside “stars” in your chosen field. To be sure, you get sprinkled with some fairy-dust just from rubbing up against the stars in your field or working for a star organization.

If you mistakenly choose opportunities just based the chance to work for, or alongside, an industry “star” or working for a prestigious organization, you could end up asking yourself “What’s wrong with me that I’m not feeling fulfilled at this job?”

Parents can sometimes push young people toward jobs with an impressive “cocktail conversation” factor. I advise using introspection and self-knowledge, not the prestige of potential opportunity, to gauge your choices.

Success = Fulfillment
By Michael Berland
Published November 2, 2009

Q: How do you define success?

Success is about fulfillment. Success is achieved by using your natural way of being and your own personality as a path to chart your own course. But you can learn to develop your own definition of success from the stories of people who maybe are or were like you — how do they define what feels fulfilling?
A common theme that most successful people share is that they define very early on for themselves passions they wanted to pursue or worlds they wanted to be part of — fashion, sports, broadcasting, Broadway, business. Of the 50 mega-successful people whose stories we collected, most of them felt that once they were in those worlds or engaged in those passions, they began to feel successful and fulfilled.

In our research for our book “What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It — And What You Can Learn from Them,” my co-author and I identify four main success archetypes. Visionaries see what others do not. These are the people who change our world, who see beyond the accepted models.Natural-Born Leaders find their fulfillment in managing complex challenges on a national and global scale. Do-Gooders get their satisfaction comes from working for the greater good and helping other people. They are all about personal contact and connection. Independence Seekers want to live life on their own terms — to do what they want when they want.They are inspired and challenged by a specific project rather than a position.

Personally, the success archetype that I fit best is “Independence Seeker.” I am fulfilled by pursuing varied interests and working with lots of different people, clients and projects over time.

How the Economic Crisis Changed Us
By Michael J. Berland and Douglas E. Schoen
Published: November 1, 2009

The changes in the economy over the past 18 months have had profound effects on the lives of people across the country. Now, for the first time, a new PARADE survey shows just how dramatically Americans’ goals, hopes, spending habits, relationships, and even their attitudes toward trusted institutions have been transformed by the recession.

Nearly four out of five respondents (79%) say that they’ve felt the impact of the financial downturn, with one-third saying that the turmoil has had a big impact on their lives. Most respondents haven’t had to turn on the TV to appreciate the scope of the declining economy—they’ve registered its toll in their own faces or those of friends, family members, and neighbors. Sixty-nine percent have lost a job, suffered a reduction in pay, or know someone who has experienced one of these. Close to half have had difficulty making their mortgage or rent payments or know someone who has.

As a result, many Americans have made significant financial adjustments in their daily lives. Eighty percent say that they’ve been “forced to do more with less,” 73% have had to make unexpected changes, and 19% have sought some form of government assistance. Necessity has led 27% of respondents to pursue extra work.

Most people have also cut back on their families’ spending. Common money-saving measures include delaying or canceling vacations (42%), putting off major appliance purchases (34%), postponing or forgoing home renovations (29%), and choosing not to buy a new car this year (28%).

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Huffington Post: Obama: The Natural Born Leader
By Michael Berland and Doug Schoen
Published July 10, 2009

As the representative of General Motors’ new majority owner — the U.S. government — and the chief officer of the major banks in the US, President Barack Obama has become a de facto chairman of sorts and can now add ‘Captain of Industry’ ‘to his resume. Although Obama was not elected nor even appointed to these roles, his leadership style is perfectly suited for this complex challenge and many of the other similarly tangled problems facing the country today.

Obama is what we in our recent research on the various success archetypes among leaders at the top of their fields, have come to define as “a Natural Born Leader.” That phrase is not new. However, we believe we’ve defined the finer points in a new way and that President Obama exemplifies that definition.

On the campaign trail, even his opponents recognized that Obama had an awesome power to inspire, a telltale trait of a Natural Born Leader. Those who have dismissed Obama as a superficial orator — satisfying on the stump but lacking in true leadership — have missed the point entirely: leadership by inspiration is a major — perhaps the major — aspect of Obama’s success archetype. People who characterized Obama’s Cairo recent speech as “just public relations,” don’t understand that for Natural Born Leaders, inspiration is a valid product in and of itself.

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CNBC: Attention Grads: What Makes You Tick?
Published on Jun 15, 2009

A lot of advice is being offered up to the graduating class of 2009 – especially since the job market seems so bleak.

And nearly everyone who has some words of wisdom for the grads suggests they “follow their dreams.” Sounds good, sounds hopeful, sounds ideal – but, you gotta wonder, do dreams really pay the bills?

Well, yes in fact they do – if you believe what the authors of “What Makes You Tick? How Successful People Do It – And What You Can Learn from Them”.

The authors – two pollsters – interviewed some of the world’s most successful people and found a constant theme. Those who have found success found early on in life what they were good at – and learned how to leverage their strength.

Good advice for graduates looking to show the world (and their parents) they’re more than ready for the challenge.

Below is a guest blog written by one of the authors, Michael Berland:

Dear Recent Graduates and the People Who Love Them,

This commencement season, anxious graduates have gotten advice urging you to hang tough or “buck up” until things recover and you can begin climbing the career ladder of your choice.

What many commencement speakers miss is that no matter what the economic climate, your waiting for your career path to reveal itself is as misguided as your waiting for the Titanic to pop back up to the surface.

Forget false optimism. My business partner in the polling and research firm we run and I did a recent analysis of how extremely successful people found success in their chosen field.

We interviewed and tried to find commonalties and distinctions among 45 of the most successful people in business, sports, fashion and entertainment.

Here are the take-aways:

Your first job will not be your last job. And it shouldn’t be; the people who are at the top of their game in their chosen fields now are living proof.

NBC anchor Brian Williams [GE 15.39 -0.17 (-1.09%) ] told us he started out as a firefighter. Chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay described how very early on he was a clerk on the floor of the American Stock Exchange. Barry Sternlicht, founder of the W Hotels and Starwood Resorts [HOT 47.32 0.37 (+0.79%) ], sold knives door to door and cut onions in a restaurant.

Be ready to take a chance on the unlikely or unfamiliar. Experiment. Be fearless.

It’s been said many times in other ways before, but Ambassador Richard Holbrooke put it to us like this “Failure is a great teacher. People who are trying to learn how to succeed should try failure more often.”

Be inventive. As tempting as it is in tough economic times, don’t automatically take the first “safe” or “stable” thing that comes your way. Go for something that fits with who you are or the kind of person you want to become.

Today, the opportunities are there for people who are smart, have learned lots of different kinds of things, and are still flexible and curious. Even in a seemingly dead-end job or a corporate job, be entrepreneurial – it helps you grow.

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Los Angeles Times: Bring On the Nachos and Beer — It’s the National Huddle
By Michael Berland and Doug Schoen
Published February 01, 2005

This week, Americans will celebrate this country’s 11th national holiday — Super Bowl Sunday. In a nation of highly polarized red states and blue states, what else do we all join together to celebrate? Only the Super Bowl can truly claim to be a uniter, not a divider.

Think about it: The outrage over the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at last year’s halftime show was not so much about the partial nudity as about the desecration of what we all think is appropriate to this national celebration.

According to a random sample survey of 1,735 Americans we conducted this last week, Americans now treat Super Bowl Sunday the same way they treat Christmas or the Fourth of July. They make plans. They do “something special.” They spend it with others. In fact, half of all Americans would rather go to a Super Bowl party than a New Year’s Eve party.

And Super Bowl celebrations are no longer thrown- together beer-and-pizza bashes. In a growing trend, half of Americans plan well ahead for Super Bowl Sunday, usually before the final teams have even been determined. On average, Super Bowl plans are made 41 days in advance, our research shows. (By comparison, New Year’s plans are made 35 days in advance; anniversary plans are made 30 days in advance; birthday plans are made 25 days in advance.)

Why is Super Bowl Sunday so powerful in our culture? Maybe because Christmas and Thanksgiving are family holidays, and we each have our own traditions. Fourth of July fireworks and parades are celebrated city by city across the country. But Super Bowl Sunday is unique — a shared, nationwide social event organized around a single stage at a single time.

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