The adage says, “Knowledge is power”. But, it’s dead wrong.

           I’m willing to bet that you know more than a few very knowledgeable people who aren’t nearly as successful as they should be. That’s because knowledge isn’t power. It’s the application of knowledge that’s power; and the successful application of knowledge requires a variety of skills, plus another component that I’ll get to shortly.

           Consider, for example, that even after years of formal training, doctors, lawyers and public accountants must serve rigourous internships before they’re allowed to deal with the public. Then there’s the story that made the rounds a few years ago about the elderly lady in Florida who passed all the exams required by the FAA for the granting of a commercial pilot’s license, but who had never flown a plane? Not even Evel Knievel would have gotten on a plane with her at the controls.

           Real power comes from possessing all three sides of the “triangle of success”. The three sides are knowledge, skills and attitude. Every element of success falls into one of these three categories. Knowledge alone will never assure ultimate success.

           So what about the third side: Attitude? Well I’ll make another bet that you also know people with a wealth of knowledge and an abundance of skills who still aren’t as successful as they should be. The reason in this case is usually a marked deficiency in attitude.

            Let’s examine all three sides of the triangle of success a little more closely.


             There are two ways to acquire knowledge: by study and by being around people who know more about something than you do. Both methods are useful, but the most efficient is study. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Those who don’t read are no better off than those who can’t read. To be a better-informed and more interesting person, at least one quarter of your reading should be outside your field of work.

              Remember, too, that the next best thing to knowing the answer to a question is to know where to find it. What you don’t know, somebody else is getting paid to know. Never put a limit on your search for knowledge. The person who knows how will get the job; but the person who knows why will be the boss.


             Most of what was just said about knowledge applies equally to the skills side of the triangle. You must continually hone the skills you have by using them, while at the same time keep acquiring new skills that you should have. And, as with knowledge, there are two basic ways to acquire and hone skills: try doing new things and try doing old things new ways.

             Which skills need to be acquired is often evident in your surroundings. I’ve mentioned the internships required in various disciplines. You should always ask yourself what skills would help you enhance the application of your knowledge, whatever you’re going to be doing, wherever you’re going to be doing it. The engineer who designed a product and then decides to get into sales to exploit it should take some sales training and probably a public speaking course. It’s usually instructive to ask successful people in your field to recommend areas for improvement.


           Attitude is a two-sided coin. Not only do you need to develop positive attitudes about yourself, but you must also understand the attitudes of people you deal with, particularly what determines their attitudes in particular situations.

           We’re all similar when it comes to how we want to be treated. We want to be liked, we want to feel important, we like variety, and any particular person at any particular time has a dominant thought.

            To have successful relationships with people, you need to treat them as if you like them and find ways to sincerely make them feel important. You cannot be boring and predictable, and you have to understand that the person you’re dealing with has a dominant thought and it’s highly unlikely that it’s the same as yours.

             Every person, simply by being a human being, has earned the right to be treated decently.

             When it comes to making people feel important there are three points to be made. First, it must be done sincerely. Second, if you can’t find some way to make a person feel important it’s probably because you haven’t looked hard enough. Finally, if you can’t find some way to sincerely make a person feel important, at least don’t make them feel unimportant.

             Finally, what I mean by a dominant thought is the thought that most intrudes itself upon you when you’re trying to concentrate on something else, or the thought that you find yourself dealing with most often during the day. Sometimes it qualifies on both counts. For most people most of the time their dominant thought is a concern or a worry. To have the right attitude about dealing with people you have to understand that every person you meet is fighting some kind of a battle.

             Quality is never an accident. Whatever you are, be sure you’re a good one. When you’re average, you’re as close to the bottom as you are to the top. And it’s not just knowledge that will power you beyond the average; you also need the necessary skills and the right attitudes.