Hard Work or Providence: How Does ABBA’s Success Apply to the Business World?


Hard Work or Providence: How Does ABBA’s Success Apply to the Business World?

Success is often a combination of strategy and providence, and there’s always something to learn from considering the success of others.

I watched a documentary last night about ABBA and their incredible rise to fame; with 380 million records sold, nine No. 1 hits, and several generations of music lovers enthralled by their sound. And although it makes for a great story, the focus on several of their ‘lucky breaks’ made me wonder about the real reasons for ABBA’s success. Listening to them during their respective interviews, a few things stood out to me as qualities we can apply in business.


Although they were all friends, each member of the group had their own careers and didn’t immediately think of performing together. It wasn’t until the resort they stayed at, offered free accommodation for daily performances, that they took to the stage together. Are you missing an opportunity to collaborate? Do you have colleagues with complementary skills that would work well together?

Write your own songs.

OK, not literally. But for ABBA (who started out singing other people’s songs), the decision to write their own material was a game changer. What about you? Are you living someone else’s dream? Is it time for you to meet the challenge and write the next chapter of your business journey?

Be unique.

Despite the opinions of many industry experts, ABBA say they had no ‘formula’ for producing their music. It was in fact, their combined talent and unique song-writing style that resulted in hit after hit. In business, it’s often our unique approach that meets client needs and makes us stand out from the crowd.

Be humble.

ABBA’s response to fame was one of profound gratitude for the opportunity to perform. They were humbled by the level of public support and expressed their appreciation for those who enabled them to live the life they did. Humility in business, enables business owners to stay focused on the things that matter. They remain connected to family and friends and deal better with the unexpected changes business can deliver.

Embrace healthy competition.

Anna and Agnetha were great friends and enjoyed performing together, but the healthy competition between them meant they both did their absolute best on stage and the audience were the winners. As in business, a little competition keeps everyone on top of their game.

Be persistent.

After their success at Eurovision began to fizzle, ABBA could have accepted that their 15 minutes of fame was over. Instead, they sent recordings to anyone in the music industry who’d listen, and one song caught the attention of Australia’s Molly Meldrum. Molly’s support of the group, saw them re-emerge onto the Australian charts which in turn, sparked interest around the world. Don’t hang up your hat in the face of a few setbacks. Be persistent.

Be memorable.

ABBA’s music is undoubtedly memorable, but it doesn’t stop there. Their costumes, performances and interactions with each other and their audience were all a part of the ABBA brand. Your core product or service is just one avenue through which you can be memorable to your clients. Look for others.

Be consistent.

Even though they eventually stopped performing, for ten years ABBA worked through personal difficulties while always producing a consistently high quality of music and entertainment. It’s not always easy to keep our personal lives separate, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying. Some clients might be keen to chat about your woes, but I’ll guarantee they don’t want to be affected by them. Be consistent.

Be professional.

In all the footage I’ve seen of ABBA, they were gracious, articulate, polite and sober. Even their occasional frustrations with each other in public were civil. I’ll just leave that there … 

Be a legend.

We don’t necessarily get a say in this, and I don’t think ABBA intentionally did anything they thought would be ‘legendary’. But, they connected with audiences so beautifully through their music, that even a few notes heard now, brings a positive spark of recognition to those who remember all that they were.

Hard work and sacrifice.

ABBA weren’t just a random group of friends who struck it lucky. They each had talent, skills and a presence in the industry that they had worked towards. So, while some might say they had ‘overnight success’, the reality is that they climbed a huge flight of stairs leading up to that world platform. Each member struggled with the exposure of fame and the sacrifice it took on family life and pushed through fears and personal challenge to travel and perform live.

It’s often the case that we dismiss years of hard work, by summing up people as an ‘overnight success’, and we understate the role of personal qualities like integrity, persistence and humility. But when we ignore the backstory, we perpetuate the myth that success is something ethereal and out of our control. And that’s simply not the case.

While something as small as a timely phone call, or an introduction, can certainly change the path of a business, there must be the substance to enable follow-through when an opportunity presents itself. So, don’t be discouraged by businesses who look like they’ve taken a shortcut. Keep working, growing and perfecting your craft. Do your best to create opportunities, and keep knocking on doors until you get your ‘lucky break’.

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