How to Be Successful: 5 Lessons from Sherlock Holmes

Note: This is a guest post from Matt Herron of Tangible Motion

Sherlock Holmes is undeniably talented. But is that what makes him successful?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of Sherlock Holmes, the eccentric but brilliant English detective. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories to the Robert Downey Jr. film, to the most recent three-part mini-series, Sherlock, that aired last summer on BBC, Sherlock Holmes has always had a firm grip on my imagination.

His success, however, does not rest its laurels solely on his innate talents. Of course, he is known for his power of deduction, and a number of quirks that seem to come with the territory, like drug binges and indoor target practice. But it is the congregation of his other qualities with his talent – in spite of his vices – that make him successful.

As any professional knows, you cannot just rely on talent to make your way in the world. By taking a few pages out of Sherlock Holmes’s book, we can learn a few lessons that will help you to be successful in your work.

1. Details matter

Whatever incarnation Sherlock Holmes appears in, his best quality is his exacting eye for detail. Nothing gets past him. He can often tell, the moment a person walks into a room, where they have been, what they have been doing, and at least some partial knowledge about their history or their habits, simply by observing them.

If you pay as much attention to detail in your work as Holmes does, you will find that little will get past you. For example, you may be able to anticipate your bosses’ expectations or your clients’ questions by observing their daily habits, or their history. It takes time to acquire the patience and the eye for this kind of deductive reasoning, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Not only will it be worth the effort, but it will certainly benefit you by making your job easier in the long run.

2. Some mysteries are never solved

In the stories, more than the films or TV shows, the endings to many of Holmes’s cases leave as many questions unanswered as problems solved.

In crime, as in life, there are often more questions than there are answers. But for Holmes, this is not a bad thing. It doesn’t bother him that he can’t find the answer to everything. Instead, he finds it fascinating and files the information away for future use. To Sherlock, the puzzle is the main thing. If every case were so neatly resolved, he would probably lose interest, being prone to boredom as he is without a puzzle at hand. The infinite nature of the puzzle keeps the fun alive in his work.

That’s how it should be in your work, too. It should be a puzzle to solve, a question to answer. It should fire your brain to find new, creative solutions for your problem. If your work doesn’t interest you like that, you’re either in the wrong field or you’re not being challenged enough.

3. Partners are indispensable

As we all know, Watson is Holmes’s partner, his assistant and follower. He is also the audience and narrator of Sherlock Holmes’s most unique adventures.

Whatever you do, it’s good to have a partner in crime (or crime solving), or at least someone to talk to. Whether your partner is actively involved in your case or simply pointing you in the right direction, or even just nodding and listening while you voice your thoughts or vent your frustrations, in the end you will benefit from this collaboration. Even the brilliant Holmes likes to have someone to bounce ideas off of, and Watson’s mere presence is sometimes more useful than any other tool at his disposal.

4. Your reputation precedes you

Holmes gets many cases by actively pursuing them. It is his passion. However, people also come to Holmes with their problems for the sole reason that they heard he was the man for the job.

It is the same way whatever field you are in. Sports teams scout for new players based on reputation and statistics. Letters of recommendation are requested for new hires in many jobs because they are certified reports of a persons character and ability. Whatever you do, your work reverberates into the future. Whether you do good work or bad work, people will hear about it. If you do bad work employers and clients will avoid you. If you do good work, they will come looking for you.

5. There is more than one way to approach a problem

Sherlock Holmes uses many problem solving approaches. Sometimes he goes out in disguise and asks the right questions. Other times, he sits up all night smoking a pipe and thinking about it. At yet other times, he uses clever deception to draw the players into the game.

If one approach fails, Holmes wouldn’t stop there. He would try something else. Take a page out of his book. I’m not suggesting indoor target practice, but if shooting a gun helps you free your mind, more power to you. I hope you use a proper shooting range, however. And if that doesn’t work, try a different approach. There is always more than one.

Final Words

There are many lessons you can learn from Sherlock Holmes that will help you in your work and in your life. These are just a few of them. But whatever other talents Sherlock has, know that it is his passion for his work that drives him to be the best consulting detective there is. If you can muster a similar passion for your work, there is little holding you back from success.

Matt Herron is a hard working American freelance writer living abroad. You can follow him on twitter (twitter.com/tangiblemotion) or read his experimental short fiction blog at Tangible Motion (www.tangiblemotion.com).

Photo by RinzeWind

14 Comments

  1. I’m glad you mentioned passion in the end. Passion mixed with an innate talent form an invincible combination of success.

    I like what you said about the importance of partnership and reputation.

    “In this new wave of technology, you can’t do it all yourself, you have to form alliances.” – Carlos Slim Helu

    “A good reputation is more valuable than money.”
    – Publilius Syrus

  2. It’s much easier to be successful when you don’t have to fight procrastination, when you can keep going even when things get really tough. This only happens when you absolutely love what you do.

    Great article, thanks.

  3. Great insight and interesting twist. The idea of partners is really important. Remarkable leaders are focused on a few things, but do them well. To fill in for the talents we lack, partners are extremely vital.

    I think of radio morning shows. We used to have a very talented and hilarious morning show that consisted of a team of three. Sadly, two of the team left within a few months of each other. Even though the head of the show was still there, the energy and spirit of the show was damaged. You could feel a difference, even though the main guy was still running things. A few months later the entire show was taken off the air.

    The power of partners is a valuable lesson.

  4. Wouldn’t have thought of Sherlock Holmes as a role-model before, but you hit it on the head here! Great post 🙂

  5. I think you make some great points. I especially like the idea of having your own Watson to bounce ideas around with. I think this is especially important since no one really knows everything. Getting feedback on problems or situations is vital since you want as many people’s point of views to make good decisions.

    • To find a Watson these days is pretty tough job as he was a kind blessed soul who ‘never’ interrupts while Holmes is thinking. So rather alternative for it is just writing ur thoughts on a paper and reading it again and again for any glitch.

  6. Great article. I love looking at things like movies or anything else in life to see what I can learn from them. I’ve never before analyzed Sherlock Holmes, but your points here are great. I like the idea that talent alone is not enough. I think talent is obviously something great to have, but one’s greatest asset is their passion for what they do.

  7. Thanks for reading! Glad to hear you enjoyed the article.

  8. Deduction is fundamental in all aspects of life. I also try not to pend a lot of time on questions I can’t answer,but rather, ponder them. My partner in crime is as diligent as I am, which is helpful, to say the least.

  9. […] finally, advice on success: Micheal Jacob on his career in comedy and Sherlock Holmes’ lessons, my literary […]

  10. Excellent article on how to become successful in life. But i think real successful life is when you are fully happy with whatever you have in your life. Even a true successful person doesn’t call himself successful because he or she knows that they are still not successful.

  11. i have always felt that our real/practical lives experience are quite different from what we think or imagine but there is always some part of our thoughts which are needed to be brought into real live to make it great for ourselves

  12. Sherlock Holmes would have been burned at a stake if he had existed during the medieval times, since he’s that much of a scientific genius and thus an abomination.

  13. The way mr.holmes goes in depth of a topic or a case and makes 7-20 probable deductions and speaks the just right one makes me just the right person to be a icon.(even though Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character ) u just can’t forget his creator sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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