Winning Words

Opinion: Achieving success starts with defining success

Column by Michael Norton
Posted 8/21/21

The children laughed at one another as each took a turn playing the game. With each passing turn, the children laughed harder, cheering on their friends.

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Winning Words

Opinion: Achieving success starts with defining success


The children laughed at one another as each took a turn playing the game. With each passing turn, the children laughed harder, cheering on their friends. The game they were playing was “pin the tail on the donkey.” As each attempt found its way somewhere other than the donkey, the farther away the tail landed, the greater the laughter.

A blindfold makes it hard to hit a target that cannot be seen, especially after being spun around a few times before walking dizzily toward our destination. Although this is a game, with the players being blindfolded, there is still an intended target. It’s one thing to try and hit a target we cannot see, but something else altogether to hit a target we don’t have.

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there.” — Lewis Carroll

When pursuing personal growth or professional development goals, I have found that whatever it is that we are trying to achieve can be found in one of these four categories: increase, improve, expand, and/or reduce.

It is also helpful to make a distinction between increase and improve. As an example, a business looking to define success and align key performance goals may identify the need to increase revenue while at the same time improving their margins. Individuals I have worked out with may look to increase strength while improving stamina. And when we separate the two words, increase and improve, we are defining very clear goals and targets for each.

Some of us look to expand our capabilities in an area of our life or business. We may want to expand our knowledge or skill. Some of us may look to expand our thinking to gain a better understanding of the people in our lives and events happening around the world. We can look for opportunities to open more stores or locations, expanding our market share, or expand our offerings and customer base.

When it comes to defining success by reducing something, we look at things like reducing costs, reducing inches from our waistline, reducing timelines to complete a project faster, reduce the turnover of our employees, or reduce the risks associated with our health, our business, or our finances.

One of the primary reasons people and companies never settle on true goals or the definition of success is that we get caught up in the gray areas of what success looks like. We know that we want to get better in some way, but struggle with where to start. And how one person or business defines success can be vastly different from person to person and business to business.

While working on performance development, I started focusing on those four words in my questions to help bring clarity to the conversation and direction around productivity goals. I will ask you the same thing I ask others, “What is it in your life or business that you are hoping to increase, improve, expand, and/or reduce?”

One company that I worked with took this concept and created their sales plan that would lead them to having the best year ever. They used quantifiable metrics to measure themselves against: an increase in customer knowledge and intimacy, improved relationships that deepened trust, expanded their thinking to focus on bundled solutions rather than single offerings, and to reduce the non-selling activities that took them away from customer interactions and communications.

Elizabeth R. sent me a message after adopting this concept: “Thank you for helping me to take off the blindfold as I can clearly see my targets now. My goal is to increase my family time after work, improve my relationships with my husband, expand our family’s commitment to the community, and reduce the stresses of life by not spreading myself so thin.”

Are you still playing the game of “pin the tail on the donkey”? Or have you taken off the blindfold to clearly see your goals and dreams? I would love to hear your story at, and when we take the time to define success, it really will be a better than good year.

Michael Norton is the grateful CEO of, a personal and professional coach, and a consultant, trainer, encourager and motivator to businesses of all sizes.


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