Find your horse to ride

In life, we all need a horse to ride.  Without the horse, we are a small fraction of what we could be.

When I was 13, my parents took me to a motor museum at a grand country house.  Big yawn.  Happily, there was a donkey derby alongside it, and they agreed to let me ride a donkey.  Being bigger and heavier than the other kids, nobody backed me and the bookmakers pushed my odds out to 66-1 against.  Whereupon my dad surprised them by plonking down a fiver on me – after a moment’s hesitation, the bookie took the bet and rubbed out 66-1 and put 25-1 instead.

When the race started, I was so terrified of falling off that I stuck my heels into my donkey and held on for dear life.  The donkey was terrified too – he moved up three gears and we won drawing away.   Dad was £330 richer – a fortune then.

I tried to get the same donkey in the next race but the ring manager directed me to another one, perhaps feeling that two rides from me would be hard on the beast.  This time I was less scared but I couldn’t galvanize the nag and we finished a distant third, even though the punters had piled their money on me and we had started odds-on.

Guess which donkey won?   The one I’d been on the first race.

It was a sign!

We are all less important than the donkey – or preferably horse – we get to ride.

Life is not just you or me – it is the vehicle (or vehicles) we find to develop our skills and express ourselves that counts.  And even then, perhaps our skills matter little compared to the destiny of the horse.

When I was 30, I was more-or-less fired from one job (with the Boston Consulting Group) but talked my way into another with a smaller rival, Bain & Company.  But the thing was – Bain had a great business formula and was growing much faster, at 40% a year.  Yes, each year the firm got 40% bigger.  You can imagine the opportunities presented by that growth rate.  From being a failure I turned into an overnight success – doing exactly the same job.  It wasn’t me, it was the growth rate.  I was stretched, learned a lot, and became so much more confident.  I even started to enjoy what I did.

The horse, not the jockey.

When I became a writer, I pondered the 80/20 principle.  I had long known its value.  I was not the only one.  The Principle was well known to economists and in business circles and was much discussed on the web.  But no-one had written a book about it.  Now that book has sold over a million copies.

The book, not the writer.

The horse, not the rider.

Have you found your horse yet?

The horse could be a college or firm that transforms you.  It could be an idea.  It could be a new business venture.  It could be a church, a club, or a cause you make your own.  It could be a group of friends banded together to do something great.

If you want to transform your life, Find Your Horse.  But how?

How to Find Your Horse

The horse, you will recall, is something with inherent power to propel you.  It could be a college or organization, a job, a new business venture, a cause, an idea, or a group of friends fixated on one specific aim.

These horses are rare.   There are three secrets to tracking them down.

The easiest give-away is that the horse is young, yet fast and powerful.  It is growing rapidly.  Its time has come, but only just.

If the horse is a business, it will be growing by more than 10% a year, and probably between 30-50% a year, maybe even more.  Such firms are very unusual – somewhere between one and five in a hundred.  Yet if we you keep your eyes open, you will find such a firm.

The firm must be growing under its own steam.  Firms that grow by merger or acquisition do not count.

What does it mean if the business is expanding fast?  It means it has created a product or service that people really want.  It means the firm has a formula or business model or knowledge that other firms don’t have.  It means the business is a winner.

Every very large and profitable firm started life like this – initially it was tiny, and then it went through several years of incredibly quick growth.  If you go to work in such a business, you will benefit enormously because there is more opportunity in the firm than experienced workers.  You will spread your wings and learn to fly like an angel.  You work will be fascinating and you will get promoted rapidly.  If you can get stock options, you may end up with a fortune.  Ask the first 100 people into Microsoft, Google, Amazon, e-Bay, Twitter, Facebook, or any other mega-success.  They are all millionaires, centi-millionaries, or billionaires; not because they are smarter than you or me, but because they were there at the start or shortly after.

It’s the same for a cause, a social movement, or even a qualification.  If it’s not growing very fast, it won’t push you forward.  In the 1960s and 1970s it made sense to get an MBA, because there weren’t many around and business schools were mushrooming.  Now it’s futile to do an MBA – there are far too many already and the currency is devalued.  Instead, look for the next big thing.  Get in early, while the growth is exponential.

The second clue to finding your horse is that it excites you.  The idea, the cause, the organization, whatever it is, must turn you on and have meaning for you.  You must think, “I love the idea of this”, or “I am going to grow to love this.”  Animation, enthusiasm, and genuine fervour are peculiarly human attributes.  They too are rare.  Most people are not excited by life and what they do.  The few who are, have a tremendous edge.  They are tens, hundreds, or thousands of times more likely to succeed – and they will have a ball doing so, not least because every day they will collaborate with people who are as excited and motivated as they are.

The third pointer is that the horse has integrity.  Everything about the horse hangs together.  The horse is beautiful. The horse is admirable and excellent.  The horse is generous. The horse doesn’t have bad breath, a gamy leg, or a hidden disease.  If the horse is an idea, the idea is true and constructive.  If the horse is a firm, it has a mission to improve the world in some well-defined and narrow way, and everything about the firm is designed to fulfil that mission.  And if the horse is a cause, the cause has to benefit society at large, not just its proponents.  With any beautiful horse, there is always some deeply satisfying insight behind the idea, the firm, or the cause – an insight that is unusual or unique, and thoroughly worthwhile.

In large parts of Europe in the 1920s and early 1930s, there were two horses growing faster than any other.  One horse was the Communist Party and the other horse was the Nazis.  Both horses excited their devotees.  Both horses were immensely strong.  But neither of them had integrity.  The ideas they espoused were simply not true.  The horses were speckled with evil.  It is the same with every get-rich-quick scam, every witch-hunt, every mean and nasty movement.  One of the most amazing and hopeful things about the universe is that evil does not last, because it cannot embody the spiritual longing of humans, the thirst for truth and beauty.  Only ideas, firms, causes and people with integrity can build something wonderful and enduring.

So there it is.  To find your horse, recall three words – growth, excitement, and integrity.  Finding your horse will not be easy.  But if you think hard and look hard, if you really are consumed with desire for such a horse, it will come to you.  You will attract it.  You will recognize it immediately, with overflowing joy.  The horse will change your life, and that of many other people.


Richard Koch is a former management consultant, entrepreneur, and writer of several books on how to apply the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) in all walks of life. Richard has also used his concepts to make a fortune from several private equity investments made personally. Richard’s investments have included Filofax, Plymouth Gin, the Great Little Trading Company and Betfair. Previously he had been a manager at Boston Consulting Group and later a partner at Bain and Company, before leaving to start management consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting with Jim Lawrence and Iain Evans.
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