Consuming the King of Pop.

“Carnivorous success.”

This is one phrase I noted after completing Michael Jackson, Inc. As it’s subtitle indicates, it is about the rise and fall of Michael Jackson, King of Pop. Like many stories we consume about ascents to success and falls from grace, the book is both an inspiration and a cautionary tale.

Another thing I noted is a recipe. Specifically, a three-part recipe for staving off the dangers of success.

1) Small core.
This means having a close circle of friends or partners who care about you, and not just your success. A small core is formed on the foundation of friendship, trust, honesty and loyalty. In his later years, Michael was surrounded by the opposite. A large number of “advisors”, interested in his fame and wealth. Sycophants, dishonest, and willing to help collapse Jackson’s empire if it helped them to line their own pockets.

2) Small downside.
Taleb notes in Antifragile that in times of stress, bigness is a disadvantage. The elephant feels the drought more sharply than the mouse. Increased success often means a larger footprint. Costs spiral. Land, material goods, larger staff, more services, more protective measures. All require upkeep. If your downside, your bottom line swells, so does your vulnerability to uncertainty, upset, failure, volatility and chaos.

3) Periodic detachment.
Detachment means removing yourself from your environment. Jon Goodman has this phrase: “insular communities breed insular thinking.” Only by deliberately extracting yourself from your situation can you gain perspective. It doesn’t require a long holiday, or an isolated cabin in the woods. All it requires is the mental discipline to objectively review your strengths, weaknesses, the risks you are exposed to. You must attempt to untangle the narrative and biases that success inevitably creates in the mind.

These three components constitute an antidote for “carnivorous success.”

You may not achieve the heights of the a Michael Jackson, but you will have some success. And it is not luck that allows you to go on from one success to build another. The ability to consolidate your success and convert it into further gains is based on the people you have close to you, how you are able to handle turmoil and how honestly you can assess your situation.

The trappings of success consumed the King of Pop. If we are wise, we can prevent the same happening to us and those we care about.

Keep a small core. Control your downside. Practice detachment. How not to be prey to success.