The Sherlock Holmes Guide to Success


Sherlock Holmes

Since Sherlock Holmes’ first story in 1887, he’s appeared in hundreds of adaptations. We’re all familiar with him to some extent. In fact, when we think of hard-nosed detectives, his name is usually the first we recall.

I remember seeing parodies of him in cartoons when I was a little kid. Even though I had never read one of his stories, I somehow knew who he was. He’s that ingrained into our culture.

So what makes him so memorable?

Sherlock Holmes is known for his eccentric behavior and dramatic mood swings. He’s constantly performing odd experiments and bickering with the various people that surround him. His personality is unique and stands out from most other characters.

But it’s more than that. When he gets involved in a mystery, he tenaciously holds on until all the clues come together. The way he works through problems and difficult tasks is endearing. We like him because he has admirable qualities that we want to emulate.

There are unique qualities that Holmes brings to each of his cases that makes him more successful than anyone else. And even though he’s only a fictional character, there’s a lot we can learn from him.

Here are some of the things he does that make him so successful:

1. Well-developed base of knowledge

Whether it’s knowledge about chemical reactions or how to analyze different types of soil, Holmes knows a lot about many subjects.

Having a large stockpile of information to work with can be very beneficial. When you’re working on problems, you’re more likely to come up with a solution. Often, the answer can be right in front of you, but you might simply miss it if you don’t have the correct knowledge to work with.

2. Sees things in new and imaginative ways

When Sherlock Holmes gathers clues, he’s not just looking at them individually. He’s also twisting and combining them together to form a picture in his head of what actually happened.

That’s creative thinking. When you can put pieces of data together to form a bigger picture, you’re using your imagination to stitch together a series of events. It’s about mixing and matching details into a coherent image in your head.

Holmes is especially good at recognizing patterns and making connections. He plays images in his head to give him a much bigger story than what’s directly in front of him.

You can see his creative imagination more clearly at the end of his cases once he’s solved everything. As he tells Watson the significance of each clue, he describes clearly how each one fits into the overall actions of the mystery.

3. He seeks new experiences

Sherlock Holmes’ life is never dull, even when he’s not out solving a mystery. In his free time, he’s always trying new things or working on some new bizarre experiment.

He thinks nothing of chasing people down the street or courting danger. His toleration of risk is higher than the average person.

By being able to tolerate risk and ambiguity, you’re more likely to test your boundaries. Seeking new experiences gets you out of your comfort zone and helps you understand just what you’re capable of accomplishing.

4. Driven by his own interest

Sherlock Holmes often turns down cases that don’t appeal to him unless something sparks his interest.  He only seems to like particularly bizarre or difficult mysteries; ones that challenge him and push his skills in order to solve.

Holmes is intrinsically motivated in what he chooses to do.  Rather than working on something for an external reward, he only tackles cases that challenge and excite him. What he likes most, is the work itself.

This is a great way to bring out your best work. We’re often at our best when we’re doing difficult tasks we’re passionate about and that push our abilities and knowledge to a higher level.  Challenging work can be very engaging; being passionate about something can be very satisfying and fulfilling.

5. He keeps good company

The most successful inventors, artists and scientists from the past usually didn’t work alone. They had people who mentored, challenged and pushed them to do even more. Sherlock Holmes is no exception.

Sherlock kept Dr. Watson around so he could knock around ideas and work through problems. Just when Holmes seemed stuck on a mystery, Watson would say something that would make him think about a problem in a brand new way.

Don’t underestimate your creative support. The people around you can be extremely beneficial in idea generation or simply to keep your spirits up when you need them most.

Having someone around that you can confide in can help you come up with solutions to problems or ways to overcome obstacles. The right environment might be just what you need to get your creative thinking into a higher gear.
photo credit: dynamosquito

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  1. All points aside from #4 creates synergy with #2. People, experiences and knowledge mingle in unexpected ways releasing creative energy.
    You never know when something will spark the idea. That’s why it’s always good to build habits for gaining experience, meeting people and learn constantly. Then your creativity is always whirling.

    • You never know what good will come out of a new experience. When I travel somewhere new, I gain a lot of confidence. When I meet new people, I learn from them. There’s a lot out there to do and see.

  2. 3 and 4 are great principles apply to new/existing clients !

    • … and I hit ‘enter’ too soon.

      Turning down clients that don’t appeal feels like a luxury, and it’s way easier to do this when you’re not searching for money first !

      As for new experiences, I couldn’t agree more. Socialising in person, rather than just on the web, for business development feels like a lost art in this new digital world. But one that I’m starting to rediscover.

      • Socializing in person is a lost art all over. We’re too attached to the digital world. But that can work to our advantage though. If we’re the kind of person who can socialize well in the real world, you’ll have a head start over those who don’t do that well.

    • That’s an interesting way to look at it.

  3. Oliver Benson says:

    Awesome post Steve! So what are you focussing on learning now to improve your base of knowledge?

    • I’m always learning something. Just last week, I was looking over the periodic table learning about elements. Lately I’ve been reading about John Steinbeck – his life has fascinated me, plus I’m reading all his books. I’ve also been reading about a few countries I’ve been thinking about traveling to.

      • Oliver Benson says:

        Awesome! Why were you looking up the elements? Seems a bit random, haha. I ddi A-Level Chemistry so I know a bit about them!

        • Every once in a while I like to look at the periodic table and just learn facts about it. It’s interesting what you can find out when you just dive in. My curiosity goes in weird directions sometimes and I just like to learn about a wide variety of things.

      • Oliver Benson says:

        How come you find Steinbeck so fascinating and interesting? I’m guessing he had some interesting characteristics (pun intended).

        • Well, I’m reading all of his books in roughly a chronological order. I figured I might as well learn about him too. I would never have guessed that he went with Burgess Meredith to Nassau to look for sunken treasure or that he went on an expedition with a biologist around the gulf of California.

  4. And just when you think he’s been defeated he somehow comes back, as if from the dead. Never say never.

  5. Oliver Benson says:

    Hey Steve!
    Re-read your post again. Great ideas! You’re a fantastic writer and I love reading your blog!

    One question I do have though is this. How do I earn myself the rewards of buying books to read and learn? How do I get in the position of following my interests!

    Would be really interested in your reply :) Sorry if it’s a pedantic question asking how do I do something.

    • I actually don’t buy many books. I always make sure I’m near a good library and just check out most of them. Most of the books I’m interested in reading are old enough to have been bought by the library at some point. I do buy newer books once in a while though since those usually aren’t in the library.

  6. These are all great points for doing anything in life. These are especially good if you are in a bind or unemployed. Constantly thinking out of the box and looking for new ways to solve the problems at hand. Great Post!

    • Yeah, these points can help in problem solving. When you have a lot of information and knowledge to work with and can creatively think about them, you can come up with a good solution.

  7. Being open to look at things in different ways is a key to success. Sometimes simply doing something that has already been done, but in a new creative way makes it a success itself.

    Having an open mind like that opens up so many possibilities and opportunities to you.


    • I’m with you on having an open mind. When I close myself off to possibilities, I have less movement and freedom to do what I want. I think a big part of that is believing in yourself and knowing that you don’t have as many limits on yourself as you think.

  8. Keeping “good company” is so essential. Those around us can greatly determine our success. It’s about spending time with and being around like minded people who are doing things in life. Great post (as always) Steve!

    • Yeah, it’s good to look at who you spend the most time with. Ideas and attitudes spread. If they have good ideas and a good attitude, you’ll be surrounded and inspired by that.

  9. I like this. I love the Sherlock Holmes movies and I’m about to get into the TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch starring. Now I guess I have added incentive as watching will be an educational experience as well as an entertaining one. I still need to get round to checking out the books though.

    • Yeah, it can be educational, as I always seem to pick something up from the character. I hope you get around to reading the books, they’re classics.

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