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’We’re conditioned to want to win. But we forget to ask ourselves: Is this a race I even want to be in?’
’We’re conditioned to want to win. But we forget to ask ourselves: Is this a race I even want to be in?’ / Darren Robb / Getty Images

To hear author Eric Sinoway tell it, Howard Stevenson should not be alive today. When the Harvard Business School professor had a heart attack in 2007, his heart stopped for more than four minutes. Through a series of extraordinary coincidences, including a colleague who had just been certified in CPR, doctors were able to revive him.

The episode alarmed Sinoway, his former student. “Howard is an ordinary person who became an extraordinary influence,” he says. “His concepts changed the game.” So Sinoway decided to capture his mentor’s wisdom in Howard’s Gift, a book filled with Stevenson’s common-sense insights — on business and life — for future generations.

From Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg, today’s business giants owe a lot to the professor emeritus. Stevenson is credited with single-handedly shaping the study of entrepreneurship — a topic once considered “fluff.”

Despite his success, Stevenson has never lost touch with his roots. “Success is characterized by four features: happiness, achievement, significance and legacy,” the man himself says. “They are often competing characteristics, but when you think of long-term success, it requires an element of all of these things.” You might be a high achiever and make loads of money at your company, he points out, but because it’s all about you and not about how your work is affecting others, you will not leave a legacy.

Part of the trick is focusing on how you define personal success. “It’s human instinct, as soon as the gun sounds, to start to run,” he explains. “We’re conditioned to try and run faster than everyone else — we want to win. But too often, we forget to ask ourselves: ‘Is this a race I even want to be in?’”

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