Reasonable Talent, Remarkable Friends and Gorgeous Luck
Why are some people so successful? It’s a question pondered by millions of people across thousands of years. Indeed, the self-help and business sections of most bookshops are chock-full of attempts to answer this question. Because they start with why. Because they take action after counting down from five. Because they run their brains better. Because they meditate. Because they breathe properly. Because they wake up at 4 am. Because they build consistent habits. While many of these are excellent books that I would happily recommend, there are all sorts of roads suggested if you want to get to destination ‘success’.
When asked about the secret to his success, a billionaire I once worked with said that it largely came down to luck. I remember thinking at the time that he was most likely talking from a place of humility. Now I’m not so sure.
Not because of the individual himself. He’s super smart and extremely business savvy. When you spend time around very successful people, you learn very quickly that they have three superpowers: great judgment, solid focus, and a deep conviction in themselves and the deals that they make. There is certainly a talent involved in how they operate. By talent, however, I don’t mean because they are born with it.
Instead, I see talent as being enthusiastic and motivated to work hard at whatever you are doing. Some people are blessed with a natural desire to do something. That’s talent. It drives you to spend a lot of time in that field, which, in turn, leads to success.
I’m not saying there is no such thing as ‘natural talent.’ Of course, certain things come more naturally to some than others. I have learned that I have natural talent in a tiny amount of skills. Most things I attempt in life involve a steep learning curve for me. What I do is focus on the few things that do seem to come quite naturally to me.
There are two excellent books by David Epstein called ‘The Sports Gene’ and ‘Range’. One of the common themes in both is how top athletes become so good. The punchline is not a million miles away from what we learn in Psychology 101…. traits result from a combination of genetics and environment. In ‘Range’, David focuses explicitly on how useful it is to develop mastery over a collection of different sports rather than focusing on one. He argues that we fall in love with a narrative that suggests that someone is born as a natural master at a specific sport. We like the notion that some people are born with talent, and others are not. The truth is, however, that things aren’t that simple.
In the business world, the smartest people are not always the most successful. Indeed, we all know many people who are incredibly bright but struggle in business. They are also not the happiest. There are plenty of research studies to show that intelligent people aren’t happier than everyone else. There are even studies to show that high intelligence can be inversely related to happiness.
What matters is that you have the talent of being prepared to work hard and of being enthusiastic about getting as good as you possibly can. This reasonable talent is worth so much more than anything else. Great judgment, focus, and conviction don’t come from our genetics. They are built by us practicing them on an ongoing basis. So, let me propose yet another ‘formula for success’.
There are three reasons why I believe people are successful:
1) Reasonable Talent
The most successful people aren’t always the best but are very good. The world doesn’t work like the sporting world. You can’t compete with everyone else and make it so that the best performer succeeds. It is a different kind of game in business. The same is true in the relationship world. It’s not always the most attractive person that ends up in a healthy and happy relationship. You have to learn the rules of the game, and you have to play them to the best of your ability.
2) Relationships and Network
A big part of playing the game well is the relationships you build and the network you establish. You will be more likely to get promoted if you have created a solid personal brand and reputation with others. Your business will more than likely succeed if you connect with the right people and show them how you can make their lives or their businesses better.
3) Gorgeous Luck
Playing the game well and cultivating relationships is an important start, but it is not enough. In her terrific book, ‘Thinking in Bets’, Professor Annie Duke describes life as just like poker. She distinguishes from chess as is not a game that you can win by outthinking the opponent. Instead, you play the best game you can, but you must rely on luck to help you succeed.
The most important takeaway here is probably the importance of luck. Phrases like ‘we make our own luck’ seemingly dismiss luck as irrelevant or suggest that we have control over our fortune. These misguided ways of thinking are problematic because while we can be on the lookout for opportunity, we can’t always determine how the world responds to our efforts. All we can do is increase the probability that things will work out for us.
P.S. Did you enjoy the Changing Minds podcast episode on how you can make better decisions? If so, definitely check out part two – you can find it here.