How Determination and Drive are Important for Success in Work and Life



“Fate is for those too weak to determine their own destiny.” — Kamran Hamid

How important is determination and drive for success?

Some might says it’s everything.

Drive is a common characteristic among successful people.

The good news is that just like luck and success, drive is a continuum.  There’s examples where people with minimal drive, but they enjoy what they do, experience great success.

On the other end of the spectrum, you find ruthless obsession.

What if you aren’t naturally driven?  Here again, there’s good news.  You can adopt successful strategies.

What you lack in personality, you can make up for in approach.

In Tactics: The Art and Science of Success, Edward de Bono writes about the role of drive and determination in success.

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Drive is the one common characteristic among successful people.  The one thing all successful people share is drive and determination.
  • Drive ranges from enjoyment to ruthless obsession.  Drive can range from simply enjoying the path to what folks would consider “a little mad,” meaning a ruthless obsession for results.
  • A desire for personal power.  One cause of drive is a pursuit of personal power, or an extension of their personality.
  • Enslaved by an idea.  Some people become consumed by an idea.  Their drive is fueled by the passion of bringing an idea to life.
  • Determination to finish the job.   Some people are fueled by a passion for finishing what they started.  They can’t stand the idea of a leaving something half-finished.
  • You don’t have to change your personality.  If you’re not naturally driven, you don’t have to try to change your personality.  Instead, adopt proven success strategies that characterize successful people.
  • Adopt success strategies of successful people.  You can adopt proven strategies such as becoming more single minded and focused, a strong sense of direction, don’t take no for an answer, and become better at saying what you don’t like.

What I’ve learned through experience is that while drive is important, you need to know what you’re trading.

For example, try to find balance between your conviction and your connection, so you don’t burn bridges or leave a trail of dead bodies in your pursuit of results.

Try to invest in your body, your relationships, and fun during the pursuit of your goals, so that you enjoy the process.

Goals are a vehicle.

They are a means to an end, but not the end themselves.  Be careful not to compromise your values along your journey.

Drive is The One Common Characteristic of Successful People

Determination is the one common trait among successful people:

de Bono writes:

“As the reader will discover in this book, successful people are often very single-minded and determined. 

Indeed, it would be possible to pick this out as the one characteristic common to almost all successful people. 

It can take the form of drive: if you want something hard enough, you will get it.  it can take the form of ruthlessness: let nothing stand between you and your goal. 

It can take the form of a strong sense of purpose.  It can take the form of determination and persistence:  accept failure only as a step on the path to success.”

One Single Goal

Some people make big trade-offs in the pursuit of a single goal:

de Bono writes:

“This type of determination comes close to fanaticism and what might be called ‘a little madness’. 

It implies a rather unnatural view of life, because one single goal becomes more important than any others. 

A person may be willing to sacrifice his wife, his children, his friends, his health, and even his life for this goal. 

At times the goal may seem very much like an obsession.  At its extreme, obsession is a form of madness.”

A Sense of Direction Urges Action

Having a direction helps somebody take action and gauge whether they are on track:

de Bono writes:

“There are many advantages to powerful determination and a strong sense of direction. 

The sense of direction urges action. 

The sense of direction shapes the action. 

The sense of direction allows the value of the action to be assessed: has it got me nearer to my goal? 

The sense of direction allows all judgments and decisions to be made more easily: does this help me toward my goal or does this hinder me? 

Most people in their ordinary lives lack such a strong sense of value when taking a decision. 

Most people may have to take into account a soup of different factors such as family, health, enjoyment, career, etc., when making a decision. 

The strongly-success oriented person only takes into account one thing: the path to success.”

Determination Ranges from Enjoyment to Obsession

Drive is a continuum:

de Bono writes:

“As with luck there is, of course, a spectrum.  At one end is the ruthless obsessed tyrant who could properly be called mad. 

At the other end of the spectrum is the person who enjoys what he or she is doing, enjoys his life and friends, and just seems to stumble into success (as with Nolan Bushnell, Norman Lear, or Sir Clive Sinclair). 

Readers may be surprised to find that most of the people in this book seem to fall into this second grouping.”

Determination for Personal Power or Enslaved By an Idea

Some people are fueled by making an idea happen:

de Bono writes:

“Determination and ruthlessness always seem to suggest a person who wants success and power for their own sake and as an extension of his or her personality. 

There is, however, another sort of obsession.  This is when a person is enslaved by an idea.  The person wants to see the idea work, wants to make it happen. 

Power, riches, and fame have virtually nothing to do with it. 

Determination can spring from this sort of obsession.”

Determination to Finish the Job

Some people are compelled to finish what they started:

de Bono writes:

“There is even a further sort of determination.  This is where someone sets out to do something and takes the first few steps. 

There is then a determination to see things through, to finish that job.  Once one block has been place on top of another, there is a compulsion to finish the building. 

This characteristic also becomes clear in some of the people mentioned in this book.”

You Don’t Have to be Driven

de Bono writes that some people that aren’t naturally driven take a passive view on determination:

“From a practical point of view it does matter whether we attribute success to a particular type of personality.  Some people may feel that since their own personality is not ‘driven’ in this way, then there is little they can learn by reading about people who are so driven.  Like the ‘luck’ explanation of success, this is defeatist and passive.”

You Don’t Have to Change Your Personality

You don’t have to worry about changing your personality:

de Bono writes:

“I would not want to get into an argument as to whether people can or cannot change their personalities (through awareness training, counseling, or environmental change). 

It is not easy for someone to become ruthless by just willing himself or herself to be ruthless … A reader can, however, try to become more single minded and more focused. 

Once a reader perceives that a strong sense of direction may be an ingredient for success, it is possible to do something about it (for instance, by dropping other projects).”

Adopt Strategies to Improve Effectiveness

You can adopt strategies of people with determination and drive to improve your success:

de Bono writes:

“A person who will not take ‘no’ for an answer and writes ten letters runs the danger of being a nuisance and a pest but may be more successful than the person who is turned off by first refusal. 

Such things may arise naturally from a personality or they may be adopted as strategy. 

You cannot will yourself to have a foul temper (even if this often seems to be most useful for success), but you can become much better at saying what you do not like. 

It may well be that having success-oriented characteristics by virtue of your personality is much more effective — nevertheless adopting some of them as deliberate strategies can also be valuable.”

You Might Also Like

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What is the Role of Luck When It Comes to Success in Work and Life?
If You Want to Learn Success, Then Be a Student of Success Not Failure
How Timing is Key to Success But It’s Hard to Get Right
The Best Quotes on Luck of All Time


  1. I see determination linked to desire. Having a strong desire will keep you focused and will move you into action.

  2. @ Stacey

    Thanks for stopping by. Indeed! The more I see how motivation plays a role in results, the more I believe the saying, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    Of course, I’m a fan of technique as well — otherwise, it’s easy to churn and burn.

  3. Hi JD

    This is great.

    I am particularly inspired by the fact that “drive is a continuum” and that one can reach success via many paths and personalities.

    So much of the personal development advice these days gives the idea that you have to be at least somewhat obsessed in order to succeed.

    I think there are a nuber of creative ways in which one can succeed if that is not your natural style.

    Thank you for a great summary of the book and main points.


  4. @ Juliet

    Thank you.

    I’m fascinated by the fact that de Bono was able to reverse engineer success characteristics with such precision.

    I really like the fact that he identified drive as a continuum because I know many people that deserve to succeed but they just aren’t gifted with a tremendous drive. Instead, they need to adopt a few simple strategies to be more effective.

  5. @ Dror

    I do.

    It’s not an easy read.

    It’s an insightful read though. It’s basically a survey of different paths to success. It gives you a bird’s-eye view of the principles, patterns, and practices that have worked for some people.

    The book is also full of surprising little nuggets. My favorite part is the lists of tactics that summarize lessons learned from studying success.

  6. Determination goes a little bit further than desire. You’ll be suprised at what happens when you tell yourself that you’ll make it happen no matter what.

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