Setting Up the Conditions for Success

The Interplay of Ability and Control: Setting Up the Conditions for Success

By George A. Boyd © 2020

Q: In our highly competitive and complex world, how do you achieve success? While I find I am quite effective in the areas I can control, there’s a lot that is out of my hands—so even if I am doing all the right things, success seems to evade me. Other people don’t seem to cooperate with my dreams of success!

A: Let’s break this down and examine the strategies through which you can create success, using internal and eternal efforts. First, we need to look at the interplay between ability and control.

The Four Scenarios of Human Functioning

Success is based on the interplay between your ability and control.

Ability is a measure of whether or not you have the knowledge and skills to perform the tasks required to reach your objective.

Control determines whether this is something you can do for yourself without involving other people, and your relative freedom of action in this interpersonal dynamic between you and the other actors.

We can visualize four scenarios for the interplay of ability and control:









Something you can do without a problem. You get expected and predictable results.

You pick up the newspaper on the lawn each morning.




You can set up the conditions for a successful outcome, but the outcome is based on the decisions of other people.

You have a sales conversation with a prospect, but they make the decision as to whether to buy your product or service.




You have the accountability and responsibility to do a task, but you lack the knowledge or skills to do the task.

You are asked to do an assignment at school to learn a skill you have never practiced, and you must study the lesson, and then take a test on your proficiency with the new skill. Alternately, you have been given an assignment from management in your company to meet an objective, and you don’t have the ability or knowledge—in this scenario, you might delegate the task to someone who has greater expertise than you to complete it.




You lack the ability to solve your problem or change your situation. You may feel your life is not under your control.

You are imprisoned in a jail. Alternately, you are a member of a totalistic group‐a gang, a cult, or a terrorist cell—and they control all aspects of your life, and there are dangerous consequences for trying to leave. Another example is you are seriously ill in a hospital, and you are too sick to leave—you are completely under the care of your attending medical staff.

So let’s tease out these four scenarios:

In scenario A, you can simply do what you want to do. So, when you want to go out to exercise—you just do it.

In scenario B, you have to change the dynamics of the situation, so others will consent to allow you to reach your objective. You commonly encounter this in a situation where you are trying to make a sale or you are negotiating with someone to obtain what you want.

In scenario C, you have to learn how to do the task or you need to delegate it. You run into these situations in school and at work.

In scenario D, you aren’t able to take action and you don’t control of the situation. If you’re in jail or a totalistic environment, you may look for a way to escape. If you’re sick in a hospital, you have to recover from your illness before the hospital will release you.

It is often in scenario B that you must struggle for success—as you must deal with other people’s desires and decisions. This is the scenario we are going to examine in greater depth in this article.

There are two approaches to dealing with scenario B situations:

  1. You change the situation internally through shifting your perspective how you view the situation, you ask for help, or your work on your internal issues that might be sabotaging your success.
  2. You find ways to work with the elements that aren’t in your control, and modify them, so you change the calculus of your success

Let’s look at these one at a time.

Internal Strategies

We can characterize seven major strategies for working on things you don’t control from the inside.

  1. Blame and shame – For many people, when they are in a situation of interpersonal challenge, they fall back upon blaming others, which leads to anger; or blaming themselves, which leads to shame and depression. When other people have controlled you in the past—e.g., parents, employers, teachers, police, or military officers—they may have blamed you or shamed you. You internalized this and it has become part of your own internal dialog. Other than evoking emotions in you, this strategy does not produce any forward progress towards resolving your problem.
  2. Constructive action – Here you use your intelligence to solve the issue and move ahead. You might do something else that you haven’t tried. Alternately, you might find a mentor, coach, or consultant, who has successfully dealt with this problem—and you can learn from them how to succeed in this situation. In this strategy, you believe your own efforts can produce change, and yield the results you want.
  3. Law of Attraction – In this strategy, you believe that the Law of Attraction is waiting to shower you with abundance and success. You only have to change you thinking and beliefs through visualization and affirmation, and you will succeed.
  4. Providence – When you work at this level, you pray to God, whom you believe is All-Powerful and able to intervene in your situation. You believe in faith that the Divine cares for you and wants you to overcome your challenge, and to be prosperous and successful. Those who follow the Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—adopt this approach.
  5. Invocation – In this approach, you pray to a specific god or goddess that specializes in the issue with which you are struggling. If you have money problems, you would invoke the goddess Lakshmi.If you were trying to do well in school, you would call upon the goddess Saraswati. There are mantras and special worship ceremonies (pujas) that you can do, sometimes requiring the assistance of a priest, to persuade the god or goddess to apply his or her miraculous power on your behalf. This is a strategy that Hindus adopt.
  6. Earning merit – In this perspective, good outcomes are synonymous with reaping good karma. To earn merit and produce good karma, you would do good deeds and charity. For example, the Christian prosperity gospel believes, if you tithe one tenth of your income to the Church, God will reward you with financial blessings, wealth, and prosperity. Buddhists also use this strategy to do good deeds, and hope that the Law of Karma will reward them for their actions.
  7. Removing karma from the unconscious mind – In this method, you uproot the issues in your unconscious mind that sabotage your success and might be blocking your path to prosperity.

In scenario (2), you believe your own intelligent activity can create change. In scenarios (3) to (5), you believe an external Power can manifest what you desire. In scenarios (6) and (7), you believe your influence on the deepest levels of your mind can produce the results your want.

In scenario (2), you act within the social world around you to change the outcomes you are experiencing. In scenarios (3) though (7), you are dipping into your subjective world: you attempt to change the results you experience though evoking the powers of the Subconscious and Superconscious mind, or removing the factors in your unconscious mind that limit your success.

External strategies

Internal scenario (2) invites you to segue into external strategies, in which you attempt to solve the problem that is blocking your success through changing you interaction with others. Here are some of the external strategies that sales people and negotiators employ:

  1. The no-brainer deal – You make your offer so compelling that you customer cannot refuse what you are selling. You might have a remarkable low price compared to a customer’s perception of the true value of your product or service. You might add several bonuses to sweeten the deal.
  2. Win through intimidation – Here, you coerce, threaten lawsuits, or intimidate the individuals or companies that block your success to accede to your demands. In criminal enterprises, they may use extortion, threats of violence, or demand bribes to get what they want, or compel you to act in accordance with their wishes. In this external scenario, you attempt to force your competitor or adversary to back down.
  3. Run the script – Those who begin their career in sales are often presented with a script of what to say on their sales calls. This approach tries to identify and skillfully overcome your customer’s objections, so they will buy your product or service.
  4. Become a monopoly – If you are selling within an environment where there are many moving parts—marketers,lawyers, financial brokers, insurance agents, manufacturers, wholesalers, quality assurance inspectors, and shipping providers—to avoid having one of the players in the matrix ruin the deal, you might acquire as many of the aspects of the transaction as you can, so your customers will only have to deal with you. You control the elements of the matrix, so nobody external to your company has any role with your customer.
  5. Make skillful chess moves – In this approach, you analyze the dynamics impacting your situation, and you perturb the system, so it shifts the advantage to you. You might do something unexpected or counter-intuitive that will make the other players in the situation have to react in new ways.
  6. Be the best – You provide such a markedly superior product or service that your customer has no other reasonable choice than to buy your product or service.
  7. Come in the back door – When you utilize this method, you work with your customer’s deepest desires, and you promise to fulfill them through your product or service. This acts like a hypnotic suggestion to directly influence your customers’ subconscious or unconscious mind, so they feel driven to work with you. This approach presumes that people don’t really make rational decisions; they make emotional decisions, and then rationalize them.

Applying Systemic Ju Jitsu

You would utilize external scenario (5), perturbing the system, when:

  • You can’t control all of the parts of the matrix, as in external scenario (4)
  • You have applied whatever sales strategies that you utilize in your company, external strategies (1), (3), (6), or (7) to get your customer interested
  • You have no reason to attempt to force your competitor to back down or there has  been legal malfeasance, as in external scenario (2)

Those who have made major changes in their industry have utilized perturbing the system. We see examples of this in our modern world:

  • Amazon has significantly impacted the sales of brick and mortar stores.
  • Google has eclipsed libraries, when it comes to searching for information.
  • Uber, Lyft, and other ride sharing companies have cut into the business of taxis and shuttles.
  • Wikipedia has replaced the need for buying collections of encyclopedia books.

If you have done your sales and marketing and gotten your customer interested, but you have to deal with players who aren’t in your control—and who can ruin the deal—you may wish to consider how you might perturb the system. To tap this dimension, you could ask:

  • What is the choke point in this system? What can be done to release it?
  • How can you perturb this system, so you will shift the advantage to your team?
  • Who do you need to influence, so the system flows freely?
  • Who has influence over the other players in the system that could get them to fix what they are contributing to the stasis of the system?
  • What incremental changes in your approach might move the other players to come closer to your position?

Through applying the right combination of internal and external strategies, you can up your odds of creating successful outcomes. Reflect on these strategies, and consider what you could tweak to improve your results.