Watching a news program the other day, I was struck by something a religious leader said about U.S. presidential candidates, and I’m paraphrasing here, “past success is the best indicator of future success.” In my experience, the opposite is more likely to be true.

In Only the Paranoid Survive, former Intel chairman Andy Grove said that, since success often breeds complacency and also inspires competition, it can lead to its own demise if you let it. I concur. Success often leads to hubris, as well. I can give you dozens of examples from business and life.

I’m sure you’re aware that, if you flip a coin 10 times and get 10 heads in a row, the odds of getting another heads on the 11th flip are still 50-50. While business is never just about luck, there are more factors out of your control than meet the eye. Besides, every situation you face is different, some extraordinarily so.

What can we learn from this? Four things.

1. Don’t let a few successes go to your head in a way that skews your judgement. On the contrary, don’t let your guard down just because things are looking up.

2. Maybe some people aren’t as qualified to judge who might make a successful leader as they think they are.

3. When it comes to decision-making, there are no simplistic sound bites to rely upon. Ask a lot of tough questions, assess the situation, and finally, when you’re reasonably well informed, trust your gut.

4. Most important, how you go about making decisions is, hands down, the most important process you actually control in life. The choices you make are the only influence you have on how things turn out for you. Everything else is chance.

Not only did Grove understand that, his novel decision-making process was a big part of how he turned Intel into a lasting high-tech giant.

Choices don’t just matter. They’re all that matter.

Image credit Brandon Perdeck Flickr