What Does Success Mean to You?

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that all of Silicon Valley is currently devoted to creating a hit app that gets huge overnight, develops a worldwide presence and becomes incredibly valuable. The truth is that it’s probably only 80%.

That’s the subtext of what “success” means in that ecosystem right now for many people and in the zeitgeist of the place.

flappy-bird-650x0And yet, Vietnamese game developer Dong Nguyen doesn’t define success this way. How do I know that? Because he got everything the bright boys and girls of Silicon Valley are wishing for and doesn’t want it. He’s the inventor of the notoriously difficult and addictive game Flappy Bird, and by the time you read this he will probably have removed it from the App Store.

It’s possible this is some kind of ploy to spike interest even further, but I don’t think so. Here’s what Nguyen said, explaining the shut down: “I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down. I cannot take this anymore. It is not anything related to legal issues. I just cannot keep it anymore.”

In other words, “success” doesn’t match success for him. Whatever he’s looking for in his work or life, this isn’t it.

What does this mean for live entertainment and arts organizations? “Success” has to be defined, and it has to be defined for each organization. I talk about selling tickets and thriving financially a lot because resources make a lot of different kinds of success possible, and certainly going broke doesn’t tend to help you, whatever your definition of success. But if you lead an organization or just have a leading voice in one, you should spend some time saying, “Here’s what we’re actually trying to do.”

Money is a means, not usually a good enough end goal. Don’t get me wrong: I feel strongly that it’s better to be well supplied with resources and solid, manageable growth is better than stagnation. But those numbers alone are not usually the foundation of great organizations. Great organizations have a purpose, and those things are the result.

So if you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re trying to do, other than some fluffy, written-by-committee mission statement stuff that isn’t operational, that could be a big problem.

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