Have you ever read the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell? He is the same author that wrote “Tipping Point” and “Blink” among others. I was recently having dinner with a friend and he mentioned the book “Outliers” that I originally read when it first appeared on the scene in 2008. We had a fun conversation discussing the book.
If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. After our dinner conversation, I decided to reread the book which is often a great idea if you are dealing with a book of substance. Gladwell’s book certainly qualifies in that regard.
Gladwell’s position in “Outliers” can be summed up with this statement: Success and failure are often not the result of what seems obvious at first glance.
I really like this idea. After literally decades in the personal development industry, I can tell you that a lot of what is taught is not only wrong but utter nonsense. There is always more to success (and failure) than meets the eye. I’m not going to spoil “Outliers” in case you haven’t read it, but I will give you a couple of my favorite points as well as something that I think would improve the book. (To get the most out of a book, it’s helpful if you don’t assume that everything an author says is correct. It’s always better to have a healthy skepticism that allows you to debate the points based on your own knowledge and experience.)
One of the people Gladwell discusses in the book is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. He writes about how most people credit his success to his amazing intelligence. And while it’s certainly true that Gates was gifted with the raw material for high level thinking and analysis, he also was the recipient of many other benefits that aren’t usually mentioned. For example, he came from a wealthy family where education was held in high regard. He was born at just the right time for the computer revolution. And perhaps one of the greatest benefits he received was access to state of the art computers at a time when they were quite rare.
Gladwell did an outstanding job of looking into the many factors that influenced the enormous success of Bill Gates. Certainly, Bill Gates gets a lot of the credit for his achievements but he can’t claim all of the credit. In fact, had certain factors not been present, he may still have been successful on some level but certainly not into the billions and billions. That kind of success, which Gladwell labels an “Outlier” or way out of the norm, requires a mix of factors that more often than not requires just plain good fortune or luck.
Many people that study personal development or success, don’t like the idea of luck. They want to control everything. Even one of my early mentors Earl Nightingale would often say: “Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.” In some ways, I think Earl used to think that you could control opportunity by getting prepared but that’s not always the case. You can certainly influence opportunity and/or be ready for when it appears, but you often can’t control it. Great opportunities often resist being forced or controlled. What I like to say is that many of the doors in life that lead to opportunity can only be opened for you by someone else.
Luckily, there is plenty of good fortune around if we will prepare ourselves for recognizing it when it does appear, but trying to control everything isn’t going to be a winning strategy. The people that think they can control everything usually end up old before their time because of the unnecessary stress and anxiety their approach to the world has brought about.
It’s good to remember that there are things outside of our control. It is possible to be a part of what one writer called “The Lucky Sperm Club.” Yet if you live in the United States it might not be a bad idea to conclude that you’ve already won the “Lucky Sperm” lottery. Not that there aren’t other great places to live on planet earth but it’s hard to beat the opportunities that have resulted from the combined brainpower of our Founding Fathers. I sometimes wish they were still around to keep us on track, but that’s not the case. It’s now up to us to keep freedom and opportunity alive.
Getting back to Gladwell’s book, there is one concept that I liked very much that has actually been presented by others. Gladwell calls it “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” It basically states that extraordinary success usually doesn’t happen for someone until he or she puts in at least 10,000 hours of practice. For example, Bill Gates was able to work on programming high-end computers for 10,000 hours before most people knew anything about what these computers were capable of. That put him in an enviable position. It’s the kind of advantage that is hard to compete with if you don’t have it. Those doors were opened for him.
Yet here’s the thing that I believe Gladwell doesn’t recognize clearly enough. Bill Gates had just the right mind and temperament for this kind of work. In other words, Bill Gates had a Unique Talent that he was helped to develop. If he would not have had that talent, the opportunity would not have been as valuable.
It’s no different than someone like Mozart whose first words were “G sharp” at age two. Seriously, age two! Supposedly the little guy heard a pig squealing and exclaimed “G sharp.” When his father ran to the piano to check, he discovered the little guy was right. Now that’s a Unique Talent!
But recognize that Mozart’s dad was a musician and could appreciate this kind of talent and helped the little guy develop it to the fullest. Little Mozart wrote his first piece of music at age 4 but who but a musician parent would even recognize such scribbles or be able to help him develop his gifts to the fullest?
Mozart’s father got him the best education available at the time and got the little prodigy performing throughout Europe. But this is worth remembering. We don’t remember Mozart for his early compositions or performances. What we remember is what happened after Mozart put in his 10,000 hours. That’s when he became a genius unlike the world had ever seen. After his 10,000 hours he began creating music that will surely live on forever. So even Mozart had to put in the time.
It’s not unlike Tiger Wood’s dad recognizing that his son could hit a golf ball wherever he wanted it to go. No doubt Tiger had an incredible Unique Talent but it was his dad that spotted it early and helped him to develop it to the fullest.
So allow me to suggest a new success formula:
SUCCESS = UNIQUE TALENT + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY
It’s up to you to find your Unique Talent and start practicing it. This is especially true if you weren’t lucky enough to have a dad who spotted your Unique Talent at age 2. I certainly wasn’t. I was undoubtedly just drooling on myself at age 2.
But luckily it’s never too late with Unique Talent. The chances are excellent that the right opportunity will come your way if you do your part. It’s not guaranteed, but the odds are in your favor, unlike the Mega Millions State Lottery. Besides, you can’t lose by focusing on your Unique Talent. It’s what you are meant to do, and the best rewards in life always come from doing what you are meant to do.
We all have a song to sing or a book to write or a company to start or a child to raise or a foundation to launch or some other noble thing that only we can do. Your exact genetic make up has never before appeared on planet earth with the exact environment that exists right now. Take advantage of it while you can. It’s a mistake not to. There is no better way to enjoy your ride on this beautiful blue island in space.
Here’s the formula you want to avoid:
FAILURE = INCOMPETENCE + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY
Maybe we shouldn’t label that failure but it certainly can be called “Nose to the Grindstone Living.” There is a better way. You have a Unique Talent that you can use in the service to others and become extraordinary in your own right. Now’s the time to take action.