The Secret to Your Success? Make Others Successful

July 3, 2013 — 91 Comments


Illustration by Beau Bergeron / IDEO

We don’t have many rules at IDEO, but we do have some cultural values that we take seriously because we feel they make our teams more effective. We prototyped these values for a couple decades before we set them in print. One of them is to Make Others Successful. This might not seem like an obvious value for a group of creative types. After all, we often think of creativity as a competitive sport. The person who racks up the most ideas most often is the most valuable player. Unfortunately, not all MVPs are team players.

At IDEO, we’ve found that people who are obsessed with their own ideas aren’t very good at collaborating with others. And if you’re trying to solve complex problems—which we’re often asked to do—you need multiple minds working together to arrive at the best solutions.

Helping others to be successful benefits you, too. Even the most brilliant person occasionally gets “stuck.” In a culture that values the lone genius, where politics and rivalries rule, no one is motivated to help that person get “unstuck.” Projects stall and good ideas languish. In an ecosystem where helping others is the norm, however, everyone benefits. When you need it, help is only an email away.

During job interviews, l listen for a couple things. When people repeatedly say “I,” not “we,” when recounting their accomplishments, I get suspicious. But if they’re generous with giving credit and talk about how someone else was instrumental in their progress, I know that they give help as well as receive it. It’s also a good sign if they’ve spent time teaching. Nothing proves one’s commitment to making others successful like taking a group of students under your wing. To me, teachers are the real MVPs.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Tim Brown


91 responses to The Secret to Your Success? Make Others Successful

  1. Completely agree, Tim. Helping others [i.e. customers and potential customers] to be successful benefits you, too. Collaborative teams focused on customer success is very rewarding for all.

  2. Jill Littlewood July 23, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Patricia Madson wrote a book called “Improv Wisdom” and in chapter 12 she talks about the improv paradigm of shared control. It is the essence of good jazz, sports teams who are top of their game, and any group that has felt the exhilaration and security that comes from feeling others support. “Consummate improvisers are marked by their generosity, courtesy, and ability to watch out for the needs of their teammates.”

  3. Akosua Fowaa Frimpong July 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I believe that making every team members ideas count.And doing a collective work.

  4. Clarissa Silva July 23, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    “And if you’re trying to solve complex problems—which we’re often asked to do—you need multiple minds working together to arrive at the best solutions.”

    That’s everything! Nowadays we need people. When we do design thinking we need people. When we work, we need people. Tim is love! xx

  5. Alvaro Castilla July 23, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Make others succesful means you have an open mind, you like to share other points of view and the most important you get away to receive from others

  6. Nowadays I have the greatest opportunity to work in group. However for me its a huge challenge try to understand the behavior of one colleague, he all time said “I”, in my experience the most of the times he wants to be right. I need some tips, can someone help me?

  7. Making other people successful means that you are open and willing to make the needs of the customer / client / result more important than your own ego. It also means that you are interested in doing what’s best to resolve a problem rather than what you want.

  8. The most rewarding work for me is helping people to brainstorm, make linkages among the various ideas, discovering new things about themselves, etc.

  9. I could not agree more.

  10. Making others successful results in helping them. That says you are interested in them or their work. So they too will be interested in you and there are chances that they could make you successful!

  11. JoAnn McDonnell July 24, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I loved supporting the people who worked for me, even if it meant supporting them towards a goal that meant them leaving the company. My support ended up making them committed and hardworking people for the time I had them. I then had the enjoyment to watch them launch into the next part of their careers.

  12. Melissa Smith July 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    When I first watched the Dateline program on IDEO I fell in love of the how their teams are structured with folks of all different backgrounds. It hit home with me, opening my eye to how collaboration is truly folks with different views and backgrounds working together to morph one another’s ideas into something better than a person by him/herself could create. So I don’t really view any brainstorming session as helping someone out of a slump. They might have the first piece of a puzzle, or generate step 17. Team work is a humbling, evolution of ideas where respect, appreciation, and willingness to look or try something other than what you originally may see as the best idea or thing to do.

  13. Santiago Aviles July 24, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    I completely agree. Everybody have to serve to others, that is our success.

  14. I believe helping others is the most beautiful thing in this modern world, when all we care about (most of all) is ourselves. May we understand the power of helping others and consequently rejoice in their success. Let’s help each other. Lets work as a group. Let’s make every single day worth living.

  15. Helping others is the simple key to finding true happiness. Imagine what the world would be like is everyone did this!

  16. Luiz Eduardo Geara July 25, 2013 at 5:46 am

    Making others successful is growing together and it helps our society to be more human and equal.

  17. I think this touches on one of the most important and difficult skills to teach a my case, a PreK-4th grader..and that is to listen to others. Being able to get students to really listen to another person’s ideas while putting one’s own thoughts on the back burner is very difficult. It seems like students are more apt to do this AFTER they can share their own ideas…then be able to listen and possibly see other angles. A very delicate balance, and important to be able to listen before speaking!

  18. I believe that when we have fresh ideas from our mixed group, its right that good solutions will come. I really belive at diversity.!!!

  19. Bianca Botelho July 25, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    If you make your group achieve success, you will also profit from this action. It is so obvious but unfortunately few people see it!

  20. Interdisciplinary collaboration is key! 1+ 1 + 1= ? There is no limit to the dynamics of putting several great minds to work on the same problem.

  21. Everyone must help one another. It is the secret of happiness and success.

  22. The success model, especially in creative thinking, is NOT like an apple pie (where the size of the pie is predetermined), but like an endless fertile farm (where each person can seed on one direction, and help others to collectively get more production).

  23. Team work relies on cooperation and working together. When people are happy and engaged working with each other, that power comes through in the work. You can’t wait to get back to work with them. Then the process is fun and opens you up.

  24. Helping others opens doors to the unknown,knowledge is not in one man’s mind

  25. Marcelo Bohrer July 26, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Today is common co-working. But to get the real power of collaboration people must avoid to compete for who has the best idea. So, thinking how to make others successful is the better way to sum the ideas and make it bigger.

  26. Almira Cristobal July 26, 2013 at 7:57 am

    “The whole is better than the sum of its part” by Aristotle has always been my guiding principle in working with teams. I agree that people whose mindset is to make others successful are willing to teach and guide other people. They are often open minded and would be happy to see other people grow though their help.

    Just a comment on Karla’s inquiry on a group mate who constantly says “I”. A good approach is to listen very well on what the person is saying and acknowledge his ideas. If there’s anything that contradicts yours then share your point in a nice way. Sometimes, people tend. to be defensive because they don’t feel accepted. Trust should be developed within the team so that they’ll be comfortable to discuss freely their ideas. You’ll be surprise how creative ideas are shared if they feel they really belong and appreciated in the group.

  27. Marina Savelyeva July 26, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Make Others Successful finally breaks the Mathemathics Rule when 1+1= more than just two :) This is an exchange: you make successful others and they help you to be successful by learning new things and being always updated to new information. Great value and great challenge for the humans.

  28. I think that a “rising tide lifts all boats” approach is the right mindset. However, I think that collaboration for the sake of collaboration doesn’t necessarily create synergy.

  29. I´m Executive and Professional Coach so for me is a pleasure working the way I can help people to achieve their objectives, dreams and improve their skills. Many times I felt happiness to see professionals improving their lives.

  30. Workplace 2020 key success criteria, and believe in it – ‘Collaboration’ which means working together, helping others to succeed and leaving our ‘ego’ behind. I am currently engaged in mentoring (for building leadership competency) of two final year students of a Business school. It is very rewarding and knowledge is flowing from both the ends. A great learning platform!

  31. Indeed – worshipping the lone genius leads to nothing good. I checked myself – the interaction with others is the only way to get the thing going and discover more and more new things. It is like a thread to the very best idea.

  32. Alejandro del Bosque July 27, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    I truly believe that all ideas that can bring the team members are valuable because they all add value.

  33. The ability to listen to others and hear their ideas is essential to problem solving. I think a team’s capacity to do this really depends on the climate and culture of the work environment.

    As an educator I have worked with many different administrators. I have seen some that try to leverage the work done in the school but playing teachers against one another. When this happens, individuals are less able to work together and real progress is difficult.

    I have also worked with administrators who remind us that we are not expected to be perfect. Empathic leaders have the ability to see value in mistakes, and encourage individuals to share the learning process, rather than highlight the result.

    The fostering of a collaborative climate is not up to an individual, but the culture in which you work. When this is healthy, teams will feel more uncomfortable building together.

  34. Narciso Armestar July 27, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    Is very difficult now to solve problems in organizations alone, so is very important to learn how to listen people, market, and all stakeholders in orden to find better ways, methods and solutions. And to work in teams is really a must.
    The knowledge for a team is stronger than individual´s knowledge.

  35. Agree. It is the only way to be, and I guess even people with more individualistic approach about work have to realize the benefits of making each other successful. Even competition has to have a nice purpose.

  36. All stand on shoulders. no matter the level of genius however, the lurking danger of ‘group think’ can be equally if not more so, dangerous destroyers of good ideas. and processes. The political pothole of committee is not to be ignored!

  37. I agree, I truly believe that together we can achieve more.
    Like Aristotle said:

    “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

  38. Carolina Afonso July 28, 2013 at 8:36 am

    I agree, I believe that in team we can solve problems in the best way possible, with good ideas, and understand each other better.

  39. There’s nothing worse than hearing a colleague, friend or relative talk about ‘My team” or “My employees” – immediately you know they are ego-connected to that leadership and likely are not as effective as mentors and leaders as they could be.

  40. Collaboration and teamwork can produce amazing results…improving not only the final product, but ownership over the end results. All (most?) of us desire to be included, to feel that our input is valuable. As such, we want to see ourselves in the end design or result. It may be easier to solve a problem alone in your office… and some decisions do need to be made immediately without input… leaders should have enough experience to have a good sense of how others affected by a decision would respond to it, and can make decisions without a consultative process. But for projects and programs and agendas and so on, input is citical if we have any hope for final acceptance.

  41. I agree with the “we” in the job interview. Interestingly, in How-To-Books about job applications you still get the advise to talk about “your successes” not “our successes” in job interviews …

  42. Different people and ideas can enrich teamwork. Differentiation may enable creativeness.

  43. Yes I like this tupe of thinking where we are all world about Boeing better toquetee and not alone.

  44. Christian Dinesen July 28, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    I believe that the often used “cliche” 1+1 = 3 is very important, remembering the power of plus and the strength of knowledge sharing and also challenging eachothers beliefs, attitude and mindset.

    Though I think it is important that We also is Me (We turned upside down). It is important that the uniqueness of the individual doesnt get lost or dissapear in the we.

    Another reminder can be what TEAM stand for: Together Everyone Achieve More

    So personal leadership is important in order to contribute to shared leadership in my opinion and experience. I teach, train and facilitate growing people, though I always remember also to grow myself and take a time out to get energized and stimulated.

  45. Collaboration is key to producing the most innovative ideas because not one individual has all the answers or solutions to everything. When we bring our ideas together, we reveal solutions that not one person could have came up with. Therefore, helping others bring about their creativity will also spark our own.

  46. Danieli de Paula July 28, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    I agree. Alone can not go that far. When we work in teams ideas flow, are added. We can say that it is a process of collaborative creation, where ideas come together and add value to one another.

  47. Jorge Luis Otero July 28, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Right. In our company we change the corporate values ​​to include teamwork because we believe that is the key to superior results. Normally individual geniuses can not against a set of average people motivated and focused on a common goal

  48. When you as a team member have an attitude of being supportive of others during their successes and challenges allows creativity to progress through the life-cycle of problem solving.

  49. Vanessa Rosero July 28, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    When you talk about the goals and the achievements of a project, we need to be interested in collaboration of the team, because, every partner will recognize in you a leader who identified the contribution and work of each one.

  50. Absolutely. Our group uses Yes…and…(not Yes…but..) principle for brainstorming session and the outcomes are awesome so far.

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