Woody Allen’s Success Secrets

Woody Allen is often credited with saying that, “80% of success is showing up.” But do we really want to base our plans for success on what a whiny, insecure, comedian supposedly said?

Well, he has won 4 Academy Awards and countless other accolades. He also works hard making movies, simultaneously writing, directing and starring in almost all of them. And every one of his movies turns a profit. So let’s assume this pithy comment has some merit and take a closer look at it.

What does showing up mean? Does it mean being physically present? Of course. But it also means showing up in the right place. You have to call on prospects who are likely to want your products and services, for example. And you have to direct your marketing specifically towards your potential customers. If you want to catch fish, you have to be near the water.

Showing up includes being present in the conversation; actively listening: making a conscious effort to actually hear what the other person is saying, not just want you think they are saying or what you want to hear.

Showing up also means being mentally present: Having your head in the game and focused on the task at hand. And you also have to show up psychologically—you have to want to be there and have a positive, winning attitude.

So, if 80% of success is showing up, what about the other 20%?

It’s not enough to just show up, you also have to be there at the right time. You have to be there when the fish are biting; otherwise you’re just wasting your time. For example, you have to offer your products and services once there’s sufficient demand, yet before that demand is filled by someone else, if you’re to improve your chances for success.

The right time also means being on time. Most people view their time as a valuable resource. When you show up on time for an appointment, your actions will likely be seen as courteous and respectful. Actions that improve your chances for success.

But wait, as they say on late night TV, there’s more!

You not only have to show up at the right place and at the right time, you also need to show up with a plan. You need to know what to do once you get there and have what it takes to make the most of the situation. You need the right rod, the right bait and you need to know where to stand in the river.

Then you actually have to stick around and do something once you show up. You’ve got to get that bait in the water; you have to deliver something of value.

So if you want to greatly improve your chances for success, follow Woody Allen’s Success Principles:

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Work hard
  • Show up on time
  • Have a plan
  • Have the enthusiasm and the commitment to carry out your plan with excellence
  • Stick around
  • Deliver excellent value.

Success starts with showing up. It’s a good first step.


Bonus Material!

There’s no proof that Woody Allen coined the phrase, Eighty percent of success is showing up. And it’s likely that he didn’t. It’s more likely that one or more things Allen actually said were combined or mutated into this often-repeated aphorism attributed to him. One he then later claimed as his own.

In William Safire’s On Language column, published in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, August 30, 1989, on page A10, Safire tried to settle the matter. Safire writes that Allen claimed the quotation as his own, referring to some earlier, un-sourced interview. In that same article, Safire refers to President George H. W. Bush as quoting Allen saying, “Ninety percent of life is just showing up.” Safire also refers to Governor Cuomo saying he has frequently used the line by Allen, “Most of life is just a matter of showing up.” And that the Allen quotation, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up” is from a self-help best seller.

The Governor may have been referring to In Search of Excellence by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman (Harper and Row, 1982, page 119) that quotes Allen, without citation, as saying, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

In Quest (Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, 1979, page 40) Woody Allen is quoted as saying that, “90 percent of life is just…,” which supports President Bush’s citation.

Qualitative Methodology (Sage, 1979, page 264) says, without citation, “If Woody Allen is right in his claim that 90 percent of success lies in getting it done and turned in on time…”

A New York Times story from August 21, 1977 by Susan Braudy quotes Allen writing partner, Marshall Brickman, who says “As Woody says, ‘Showing up is 80 percent of life.'”

Whoever first said it, and whatever the actual percentage, there is some element of truth to this saying.

Bob Roitblat
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Bob Roitblat

Bob Roitblat is a Leadership Capabilities Expert and TEDx speaker. He helps organizations ignite creativity, overcome challenges and capitalize on opportunities. Bob is also the president of Mainsail Consulting Group, a business-advisory firm. Also connect with Bob on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

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Bob Roitblat
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