Nothing Fails Like Success

Most good marketers and copywriters have heard of Agora. It is an information publishing business that grosses more than $200 million a year, and that number may be dated.

But far fewer people have heard of William Bonner, the founder of Agora. He is also called Bill and Will, depending on where his name appears. Bill Bonner is, in my opinion, one of the sharpest minds in the world today. His writing is par excellence.

When I recently read Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets, his latest book with co-author Lila Rajiva, I underlined dozens of passages and nuggets of wisdom. One was this statement on page 254: “Nothing fails like success.”

This is classic Bonner: putting a unique spin on an old subject.

But what does it mean?

It means that success often leads to failure, especially if the foundations of the initial success have been built on fraud and deception. A dishonest man who succeeds is likely to believe in his own success. Then, in the pursuit of greater success, he is undone; he inevitably stumbles and falls.

It is like a bank robber who pulls off a stunning heist. He will be encouraged, and he will want more. So he sacks another bank, and another, but eventually his luck runs out. The police catch on to his methods and put him in the slammer. Hence, nothing fails like success.

Applying this to business, you might credit a certain strategy with recent growth. But causes and effects are often quite deceptive. They are often only correlations and not directly related at all. Nevertheless, we all want to believe in something. We all want to be told what to do, or at least know what to do. And so it is easy to believe in what we think is the cause for our success, even if that cause is no cause at all.

Another way to interpret Bonner’s quip is this: When you are number one, there is only one direction for you to go… down.

It’s nice to be number two.

If you are number two, you still have room to go up. But being number one is a vulnerable place to be. Everybody is gunning for you. How long before somebody usurps your position? Again, nothing fails like success.

We might also say this: Every success is destined for failure. It reminds me of how cocky people had become in the early 20th Century. They built the Titanic and boasted, “Not even God could sink this ship.” A word of wisdom: Do not test God like that. We all know how the story ends.

Nearly 100% of businesses fail in 10 years or less, no matter how successful they were during those years. Every world empire eventually collapses. Fiat currencies are almost as transient as wealth. And today’s millionaires are tomorrow’s paupers.

Recently I read somewhere that if you get on the first page of Google, it’s best to hover in spots 3-10. If you hit spots one or two, then everybody will begin analyzing your web site to see how they can knock you off and crown themselves “King of the Hill.”

So why do I share all this with you? Because it’s important to have the right priorities in business. Don’t focus on outcomes, like being #1 or grossing so many dollars a year. You don’t have any control over outcomes. If you measure success this way, you’ll be headed for disappointment sooner or later.

Better to focus on behaviors.

Focus on what you can control: what time you wake up in the morning, the daily activities you perform in your business, how you treat your customers, etc. Jim Camp says it this way…

“Chasing a performance goal over which you have no final control is a tragic waste of talent and energy.” (No, p. 49) Many other peak performance experts (like John Eliot, Ph.D.) will tell you the same thing.

Everything moves in cycles. Failure precedes success; success precedes failure. It is the natural rhythm of life. So instead of focusing on some numerical target or quota and calling that success, focus instead on you. Success happens right now, every single day you’re alive. What can you do today to be a success? What behaviors are good and right for you to be doing? Do those; everything else will fall into place.

-Ryan M. Healy

Ryan M. Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like,, and

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