Bill Gibson – Ride The Right Horses To Success

Two weeks ago I spoke at the Good To Great Conference at Emperors Palace here in Johannesburg, South Africa. The title of my speech was “There Is Always Another Way Of Looking At Things.” Part of that speech was on Riding The Right Success Horse which is part of my Turning Entrepreneurial Spirit Into Business Opportunities Manual / Book. Several people requested a more in-depth description that reaches beyond the slides I used. Big thanks to Al Ries and Jack Trout. Note: The content is leaned towards South Africa although it can apply anywhere in the world.

 Riding The Right Success Horse

 Al Ries and Jack Trout are the authors of the books Positioning, Marketing Warfare, Bottom-up Marketing, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and a number of other excellent books. In 1991 they wrote a book called HORSE SENSE – “The keys to Success is Finding a Horse to Ride”. HORSE SENSE hasn’t had the recognition and popularity that some of their other books received even though it is an excellent book for helping an individual pick the right idea for success.

In their book they give the “odds for success” (like the odds in betting on horses, boxers, etc.) on each of 14 success horses. We are going to give you a brief description of each one of them and the “odds” for success that Trout and Ries put on each one of them.

A way to use these success horses is that when you are looking at an idea, business opportunity, or an investment into a business or career you can look at how many of these success horses are present in the opportunity and are they the ones with the better odds.

We will start with the Success Horse with the best odds for winning. These are called the Short Shots. From there we move to the Medium Shots and then to the Long Shots that have the worst odds for winning.

The Short Shots

The Family Horse: 3 – 2 Odds

Trout and Ries say that is hard to divorce a daughter, son, brother or sister. If you are lucky to have been born into the right family your odds for success increases. If your father was the Honourable Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, Harry Openheimer, Ernie Els, George Bush or Mel Gibson your chances of success increases. Doors open easier, more opportunities are put in front of you, the expertise is available to help you and positions in companies are accessible as well as an abundance of capital (money). Even prominent names in local communities and industries increase their “success odds” in those communities and industries.

Many daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters are too proud to utilise the Family Horse. Trout and Ries say it is an asset so leverage it for what it is worth. Remember some peoples’ success assets are “their good physical looks”, others may be “exceptional athletic talent” or “acting abilities”, while others may be their “intelligence and brilliance” and another may be “access to money” … so don’t be afraid to capitalise on the Family Horse if it is one of your assets.

Even though you may not be part of a prominent family you can capitalise on the Family Horse if you are in business with someone who has the credibility, status and power of their family name on their side. It improves your chances of success in most cases.

The Spouse Horse: 2 – 1 Odds

History is full of examples of people who married the right person and that factor became a major contribution to their success. With many people it is not considered ethical. Trout and Ries’ message is simple … “Everybody needs, a success horse to ride”. If you are married to the right person it obviously opens many doors to success, just like the family horse does. Utilise it … it is your second best option in reference to the success horses available. The downside, compared to the Family Horse is the possibility of divorce. There are many cases where this happened but the two people kept the business relationship or partnership in tact. Fred and Gale Hayman created Georgio Fragrance. They divorced but still worked together and later sold to Avon for $165 million.

The Partnership Horse: 5 – 2 Odds

The advantage of a good partnership or strategic alliance is that “two of the right heads together are much better than one”. Also an “equally valuable” partner can be generating revenue and opening doors to opportunities you may not have the time or ability to do. Also true partners trust each other and can be objective which is sometimes tough to be when you are by yourself.

We are often poor evaluators of our own ideas. With enthusiasm, energy and youth on our side we start strong as loners and often quickly experience the success we are looking for. With our hands on the controls and our confidence building we can easily begin to believe we are the “only one” that can do what we do and “that we do it much better than everyone else.”

Very quickly we can hit the “ceiling of our own success potential” because the opportunities get bigger, more complicated and require additional talents and expertise. Remember, the basic talent of one individual can only grow so much. Trusted, equally talented partners open the doors to many new opportunities and helps spread the responsibilities, risks and yes the profits, but the profits may be much bigger. They also help keep our “egos” in check.

Word of Caution: Be sure you are getting involved with a partner, partners or “strategic alliances” that are equally talented in an area you need in your business and their contribution level is equal to what they bring to the business. Partnerships and strategic alliances must be sustainable and they are only sustainable if both parties continue to believe it is fair and equitable. A bad partnership can also destroy a business.

The Other Person Horse: 3 – 1 Odds

If F W de Klerk had stayed in power as the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki would probably not have had a turn at being President of South Africa. Nelson Mandela took a special interest in Thabo Mbeki and saw the potential. The relationship with Mandela (the Other Person) helped Mbeki eventually become President. In large corporations people often attach themselves to a rising star and rise with them. That is riding The Other Person Horse. A boxing promoter may ride the other person horse (a talented boxer) to the top or a boxer may ride the other person horse (Don King) to the top or bottom?

The Other Person Horse could also be an exceptional sales manager, top producing sales person, a marketing genius, a software developer or a financial wizard that you hire to work in your business. The key is be always alert for opportunities to associate, partner, affiliate, promote or hire others that increase your chances for success.

The Idea Horse: 4 – 1 Odds

To win with the Idea Horse you’ve got to be willing to stick your neck out and handle the criticisms and ridicule you may have to take. To succeed with an idea or concept you often have to be the first with it or the first with a “new twist” to the old. That means the experts may challenge you or say it won’t work. The experts said the Beatles would never succeed in the United States and that people would never buy bottled water. They were wrong. Unique advertising concepts, different ways of marketing and selling would be viewed as Idea Horses. When it comes to the Idea Horse there are several questions to ask.

Is it first, is it bold, does it have impact, is it unique, is it something obvious, logical, timeless and makes sense but no one has tried it. Is it simple to launch and produce, and can it upset or rock the market. Remember, it is easier to find a good idea, package it and market it rather than invent and develop it. The Idea Horse can also combine with The Other Person Horse by having Other People around you who are brilliant idea people. You also have to be sure others will buy into or market your idea.

The Product Horse: 5 – 1 Odds

The Product Horse or Business Concept Horse has great value because if done properly, it can make you money while you sleep. Often it is the person that recognises the value of a product or business concept and how to market it that makes the real success out of it rather than the inventor, originator or founders. Ray Kroc got wealthy off of McDonalds. The McDonald brothers did not. The importance here is that it should be a product, concept, process or business that can be replicated and others can market it, operate it, or expand it without you being present.

The Medium Shots

The Publicity Horse: 10 – 1 Odds

A few years ago Rebecca Loos definitely capitalised on the Publicity Horse claiming she had an affair with David Beckham, world famous football star. She received several hundred thousand pounds for her Sky One interview with Kay Burley called Rebecca Loos: My Story. At London’s premier of Uma Thurman’s new film in London, Loos showed up with her female TV presenter friend Emma Basden. Basden was dressed in a similar football outfit to the one David Beckham wore at a showbiz party the previous night … sparking speculation that Rebecca was mocking the Beckhams. General Swarztkoff, just after the first Gulf War in Iraq was booked out solid at $90 000 per speech as a public speaker. He was riding the Publicity Horse. The majority of people are not independent thinkers. They believe what they read in the newspapers, hear on radio or see on television or from “other” people and those “other” people usually get their information from newspapers, TV and Radio as well.

Donald Trump leverages The Publicity Horse, so do politicians, entertainers, professional athletes, corporate executives and even special interest groups. Can you, your idea, your product, your business or your people capitalise on the Publicity Horse. If you can create “publicity” and “celebrity status” with your assets you increase your odds for success.

The Geography Horse: 15 – 1 Odds

If you owned a piece of property where the developers decided to build the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town you would have had the Geography Horse working for you. If you were a security specialist living in South Africa you are in the right Geographical Area. A specialist in Small Business Development in Sweden could not capitalise on his/her small business expertise like he/she would be able to if living in South Africa with the big focus on SME’s. If you own property next to Kruger National Park and you build a Game Lodge, geographically you are in the right spot. The Geographical Horse means increasing your odds of success because of Geography (location of you or your idea is in the right place at the right time).

The Hobby Horse: 20 – 1 Odds

Some people love to eat so they turn their love, passion or hobby into a marketable restaurant, a cook book or TV show on cooking or restaurant guide. Others like to exercise so they become personal fitness coaches or open a health club. When you like to do something, you tend to do it a lot and the more you do it, the better you get at doing it. Your confidence builds and eventually with that increased knowledge you become a specialist. One gentleman who loved opera opened a part time business as an “Opera Tour” operator and promotes and markets opera tours to Europe. He goes along, sees the operas and makes money while doing it. One of the advantages of the Hobby Horse is you are doing what you love to do. The downside is it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you business success. Many people who loved Golf, became Golf Pro’s and now hardly ever play and golf because they are busy trying to run their Golf Pro Shop and Golf Lessons business and do not have time to play golf. Sometimes when your hobby becomes your business you lose the passion and enthusiasm because of the responsibility that goes with it.

The Creativity Horse: 25 – 1 Odds

Even though you may have been born with an exceptional talent … in writing, playing an instrument, painting, acting, singing, speaking, you may need more than that talent to succeed. You need recognition. John Lennon’s aunt told him “you’ll never make a living playing that guitar”, Paul Mc Cartney failed the audition for the Cathedral Choir in Liverpool and neither of them would’ve become famous with their talents if Brian Epstein had not recognised them, created an image and marketed them. The Creative Horse is a tough horse to ride because creative people get their priorities reversed. They believe their expertise, creativity and talent will get them there. More than any other horse the Creativity Horse requires outside recognition!! Whether you write, paint, act, sing, dance, photograph or what-have-you, invest a good portion of your time searching for the outside expert who can certify your creativity. Also look for ways to make yourself stand out … be different, e.g. Bruce Springsteen – The Boss nickname, “Swim with The Sharks” is more powerful than “Getting Ahead in Business” as a book title.

The Long Shots

The Company Horse: 50 – 1 Odds

Out of 100 people in a company according to Trout and Ries, one will make it to the top of the organisation. The competition is heavy for upward mobility in a large company. “A company, especially a big company, might not represent much of a future to you, but it does have one major benefit” according to Trout and Ries, “A big, well-known company is a great place to get your ticket punched (utilise it as credible credentials), provided it is the “right” big company.”

When joining a company it is important to ask what can I do for the company but equally important is to ask what this company can do for me. In South Africa, right now if you are a Historically Disadvantaged Individual and you can rise through the ranks of a well known company you are increasing your odds of success because of the shortage of senior executives of colours. There is a good chance you will be “head hunted” by executive recruitment companies eventually being placed into a phenomenal position with an excellent package even with share options.

Another way to make it is in a smaller company. The key is to get in early with a company with great growth potential and be next to the Founders and ride the Other Person Horse and Company Horse to the top.

The Education Horse: 60 – 1 Odds

Trout and Ries are not saying that education is not important. As a matter of fact, they are saying that the Education Horse is especially good “out of the starting gate.” Just like in a horse race getting quickly out of the Starting Gate is important in your business and career life. They also say, just like working for the right company to get the right credentials the same applies to the schools you attend. The Brand Name of the educational institution can make a difference especially in your early years. The Educational Horse is there to get you in the race. A degree by itself won’t make you successful! It is the application of that information and credentials that gives you your success. Many well educated people spend a business life time being frustrated because they see “less educated people than themselves” doing better than them. How they get caught is they believe their education entitles them to be ahead in the race. That is a myth. It is not true in the real world. Trout and Ries also suggest: “Be careful that you don’t lose that precious commodity called common sense. Many people are born with common sense and go to school and lose it. Remember, there are lots of people who are educated beyond their intelligence.

In a country like South Africa, where millions have been deprived of a good education, it is important to tread cautiously with the Trout and Ries comments, on this subject. Education is vital and there is and continues to be a need for making the education of our people a top priority at the same time we need to continue to re-enforce, “it is our attitude, our outlook, our life skills, ambition and application of the education that guarantees our success, not education alone! “What Trout and Ries are saying is: “If you bet on education alone it is a Long Shot.”

The IQ Horse: 75 – 1 Odds

Intelligence quotient (IQ) is a measurement of the intelligence of a person. The quotient is calculated by dividing a person’s mental age by her/her actual age and multiplying the result by 100. A mathematical genius would usually have a phenomenally high IQ. The world renowned elite organisation called MENSA, which is an elite group of people with extremely high IQ’s, only accepts those with an IQ of 140 or higher. So why would Trout and Ries only give the IQ Horse a 75 – 1 odds of success? The following research may shine a light on this. In Canada a number of years ago there was an article in the “Star Weekly” a weekly publication that came out on Sundays country wide. It talked about IQ levels of people in the various careers in the country. After putting hundreds of people through IQ tests they were able to determine which two careers have the people with the highest IQ’s. Guess which careers they were?

The people with the highest IQ’s were bartenders and taxi cab drivers. According to Trout and Ries “there’s a reason why intelligence doesn’t correlate very well with success. The smarter the people are, the more they depend upon themselves. After all, they know everything! They depend on themselves to get ahead. But it is a long shot to depend only on yourself!

Now in Canada, the researchers discovered something similar. They discovered that these very intelligent bartenders and taxi drivers did the jobs that they did because it gave them continual interaction with people, they could have many different conversations with many different types of people which was stimulating and above all they had independence and felt like they worked alone even though they were around other people. The researchers also found out that most people with high IQ’s had little patience for other people who did not mentally pick things up as fast as them. They preferred to work alone.

As one college President said to the faculty, “Be nice to you’re A students because they will come back and be your colleagues, but be exceptionally nice to your B and C students because they will come back and give us a new auditorium and a new science building.”

Less intelligent people usually know they are less intelligent and they usually look for others to help them up the ladder. In other word they look for additional Horses to Ride in order to succeed.

It is a blessing to be smart and an advantage if you can maintain a perspective on that fact and continually look for additional Success Horses to ride.

By the way, for the last couple of years there has been a lot of talk about the importance of EQ which is Emotional Intelligence. Successful entrepreneurs usually score higher on EQ than IQ. EQ is really “common sense.”

The Hard-Work Horse: 100 – 1 Odds

Hard work and a Winning Horse will get you anything in life. The hard work could be optional but the Winning Horse isn’t optional.  You need it. What is being said here is that the belief that hard work will bring you success is not true. Now, you may say that successful people tend to work hard … and usually harder than most people. Yes, they do. But, that is quite different than saying “people who work hard tend to become successful.”

Lots of entrepreneurs have been on “sinking ships” and they kept working harder and harder and it didn’t solve the problem. W A Fields once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again … and then quit. No use in being a darn fool about it.” There are times you need to change horses. You may be on the wrong horse. Hard work alone is not the answer; it is the adding of the right horses with it.

To put in a good days work and give it the best you’ve got is a necessary attribute in every job in every field. At the end of the day you walk away with the internal gratification that you are living within your own integrity and you are contributing your share to your company, organisation and country. Don’t ever lose your good work ethic. It is valuable. All we are suggesting is that you add some of the other Horses to take yourself as far as possible.

The 14 Success Horses that you’ve just reviewed can also be utilised inside an organisation by an employee to improve their odds of upward mobility. They can also be utilised by those with Professional Practices to help themselves and business be more successful. Marketers, business owners, sales people, entrepreneurs, artists and entertainers as well as those in political careers and working within our parastatals and government organisations can receive great value by utilising these principles.

From an evaluation or testing perspective we’ve taken these 14 Success Horses and created a “Potential for Success Assessment Tool” that you can test your ideas, opportunities, career choices, investment possibilities, business options, success options with. If you have an idea, strategy or opportunity in mind see how many of these Success Horses you can make part of your success strategy. The more you have going for you, especially the Short and Medium Shots, the better your chances of success are.

  “Potential For Success” Quick Assessment Tool


Your idea, Opportunity, Venture, Investment or Success Option “Description”


Tick R the box for each one of the Success Horses that are present or could be part of your idea, opportunity, venture, investment, success option or strategy.

Success Horse





The Family Horse 3-2 Short
The Spouse Horse 2-1 Short
The Partnership Horse 5-2 Short
The Other Person Horse 3-1 Short
The Idea/Concept Horse 4-1 Short
The Product/ Process Horse 5-1 Short
The Publicity Horse 10-1 Medium
The Geography Horse 15-1 Medium
The Hobby Horse 20-1 Medium
The Creativity Horse 25-1 Medium
The Company Horse 50-1 Long
The Education Horse 60-1 Long
The IQ Horse 75-1 Long
The Hard Work Horse 100-1 Long

“If you have found this blog article to be valuable for you, I would be grateful if you “shared” it with your Social Media Networks. Also feel free to circulate it by e-mail or other means internally within your organization or externally to your clients, suppliers and personal and business network. Thank-you!”    – Bill Gibson

Bill Gibson is a Canadian who is living in South Africa. He is an international speaker and author and a developer of sales, service, marketing, collecting, employee morale building, personal development and entrepreneurial training programs and systems. His blog is and his website is He can be reached at or phone +27-11-784-1720 in South Africa. You can follow Bill Gibson on Twitter: @billgibson1, connect on LinkedIn: or Knowledge Brokers International SA Pty Ltd Facebook Page:

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