Factors In Success

outliers_gladwellLast year I read a remarkable book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  I am stunned by the results of Gladwell’s investigation into the hidden causes of success.  It is one of the most fascinating and upsetting books I’ve read in a long time.  Upsetting in a good sense, that is.  It upsets commonly cherished ideas about how people attain success in life.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck argues that one of the characteristics and problems of our age is what he calls simplism.  Simplistic thinking fails to take into account that life is complex.  There are many variables that make up the people we live with and the challenges of our time.  The rub is that the variables are not always apparent.  It takes probing, time, patience and labor, for thinking is work.  Really.

The strength of Gladwell’s work is the way he demonstrates that, for example, 1) Bill Gates was not just a computer genius who came on the scene in the 1970’s and through sheer brilliance became the richest living American, 2) Asians aren’t necessarily “better” at math than Westerners but are more patient and their numbers nomenclature more user-friendly, and 3) that some recent airline disasters have more to do with overarching cultural distinctions vis-à-vis authority and power distance rather than simple “pilot error.”

I’m not writing today’s post as a spoiler for Gladwell’s book.  You owe it to yourself to get your hands on it and read carefully.  When I finished the book, I was struck with the reality that I am far too quick to pass judgment on the issues of the day, on why some fail and some succeed, even on theological issues—the area that I’ve given the most attention to since the early 1980’s.  Rarely are all the facts and evidence on the surface.

We are all composites of the influences and environments in which we were raised and in which we now spend our lives.  We are not simply our genetic makeup, products of our DNA.  More often than not, there are hidden factors that figure into the success of some, the failure of others.  Timing often figures in as much as raw ability.  We can thank Malcolm Gladwell and those like him (Scott Peck, Geoff Colvin, etc.) for digging deeper and giving us the full picture.

Here are a few brainteasers with which to bait yourself:

  • What cultural and economic tides are coming in right now that I can make the most of?  In other words, can I discern the signs  and trends of the times?  My friend Christopher Hopper has written extensively on the emerging wave of self-publishing.  You can read about that here.  It most certainly will be a force in the literary world in the days to come.  But it needed a level playing field, courtesy of the World Wide Web, to function and in which to be established.
  • What current politically hot issue engages me the most and do I have solid, consistent thinking and evidence to support my position?  Democrats routinely chide pro-life evangelicals for being oxymoronic—at once militantly anti-abortion and also vehemently pro-war (or pro-death penalty).  Are the criticisms valid?
  • Am I patient enough to thoroughly research problems and find meaningful solutions? Peck again.  You must be patient and resist the urge for simplistic, easy answers.  Thinking is work.  Are you up to it?

Digest Gladwell’s book.  It is a very important contribution!

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Cheating: Don’t

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Major League Baseball handed down sizeable suspensions to a number of players today who’ve either admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs or have tested positive for such substances.  It is a sorry day for the sport.  You can read about it here.

People cheat to get a leg up on the competition.  People cheat for the thrill of risk of exposure.  People cheat to save money.  They are losers, all.

Recent U.S. history is awash in stories of cheating by high-profile individuals in every conceivable arena where there is competition or some other advantage to gain.  Finance (Bernie Madoff, Michael Milken), sports (list is endless—see the above link), sexual (politicians, preachers, actors and actresses too numerous to mention).  It is a problem.

No, it is a plague.  An epidemic.

Business owners routinely keep two sets of books, paying people under the table or taking elaborate or not-so-subtle steps to avoid paying employee and business taxes owed the government.  Regular folks like you and me are put to the test every tax season:  Will we declare all of our non-gifted income?  Many of us fail the test.  Spouses and couples often cheat one another through outright affairs, flirting, or pornographic indulgences.  Universities are often finding whole groups of students who cheat their way through exams or try to pass off written material as their own.

Cheaters usually get caught.  With technology today, it’s easier than ever both to cheat and to get snared in the act.

Cheaters have an asterisk next to their name in their annals—whether sports records or an otherwise remarkable career.  What do you think of when you hear the names Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and Enron?  Sports?  Governance and politics?  Big business?  No, I don’t either.

Cheaters, ultimately, cheat themselves.  In the end, they only fool the person they see in the bathroom mirror each morning.  I know.  I’ve cheated before.  One makes good and bad choices in half a century of life.  And I lost.  The scorn cheaters earn for coloring outside the lines is just that:  Earned.  Actions have consequences.

Thinking about cheating, then?

Don’t.

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Ambition, Talent, and Plain Hard Work

talent-is-overratedPeople tend to get quite uneasy at the mention of the word ambition in context of discussions about career, calling, vocation.  The classic stereotype is the self-centered man or woman who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder stepping on anybody and everybody who happens to be perched on the rungs below–and in their way.  Ego, indifference to time-honored virtues, and bullying are all.

This is unfortunate.  Frankly, ambition has gotten a bad rap.  In fact, without it you will not hit any of your goals, whether personal and professional.

Last year, some friends and I discussed healthy ambition and its importance.. We focused on moving up in one’s career and becoming the best in one’s chosen field.  There is cost, effort, and sacrifice expended to make this happen.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The pursuit of a highly valued station of influence and achievement takes patience, focus and a lot of hard work.  Those who take shortcuts are cheating themselves and are usually found out.

In his fascinating book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, author Geoff Colvin–Senior Editor-At-Large of Fortune magazine shatters a number of myths about “natural” talent, genius and how pros become such.  These are usually echoed in statements like this: “Well, Tiger Woods was born to play golf.  He’s a natural.”

Here’s something you may not know. Tiger Woods and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both had fathers who started them on the paths of golf and music from infancy.  Earl Woods had a putter in Tiger’s hands before he was a year old.  Leopold Mozart was an established musician and composer before his son was born.  He set Wolfgang on a very focused and intense vocation in musical performance and composition from childhood.  Neither Tiger Woods nor W. A. Mozart were geniuses in common parlance and legend.  They spent many years mastering their crafts.

Peak performers in any discipline acquire that position through untold hours of deliberate practice.  Not just practice, but focused periods of review and goal setting with specific objectives in mind.  When Tiger Woods goes to the driving range, he doesn’t simply pull out a driver and see how far he can hit the ball.  Instead he might take a five iron out and practice hitting the ball not more than sixty-five yards.  There is much more intense energy and concentration that attends deliberate practice.

Here are some steps that are crucial for you to rise to the top of your calling:

  • You must be a lifelong learner.  This means college, vocational school, online seminars, or training at the feet of a master whether a cabinet-maker or a jazz pianist.  It will cost time, discipline, sacrifice, and money.  Make the investment.
  • Saying yes also means saying no.  Getting to the top of the classical guitar world meant that a teenage Christopher Parkening was unable to play baseball with his pals as much as he’d like to have done.  His father, Duke, had him executing deliberate practice from the age of eleven.  Up at 5:00 AM to practice before school.  More practice when school was over.  Choosing mastery in an enterprise means you will not be able to say yes to lots of other pursuits simply because of the time and focus it takes to excel in your chosen field.
  • You must move past the drudgery curve.  A woman once told the great pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, “You are a genius.”  His reply: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  The driving range, the woodshop, the music room are not glamorous environments but it is in such places, over long hours, that one becomes a master.

When asked about his remarkable success as an inventor, Thomas Edison–who only had a third-grade education–remarked, “It’s plain hard work that does it.”

Well.

The world is looking for individuals who are outstanding at what they do.  Mediocrity, for such as these, grates against every instinct inside them.  You are called to such excellence. The sky is the limit.  Focus and move forward.

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Ambition and Its Corollaries

talent-is-overratedAmbition has become suspect in the minds of a lot of people.  The classic stereotype is the self-centered man or woman who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder stepping upon anybody perched on the other rungs.  Ego, indifference to time-honored virtues, and bullying are all.

This is unfortunate.  Frankly, ambition has gotten a bad rap.  In fact, without it you will not hit any of your goals, whether personal and professional.

Some months back, some friends and I discussed healthy ambition and its importance.. We focused on moving up in one’s career and becoming the best in our chosen fields.  There is cost, effort and sacrifice to do this.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The pursuit of a highly valued station of influence and achievement takes patience, focus and a lot of hard work.  Those who take shortcuts are cheating themselves and are usually found out.

In his fascinating book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin shatters a number of myths about “natural” talent, genius and how pros become such.  These are usually echoed in statements like this: “Well, Tiger Woods was born to play golf.  He’s a natural.”

Here’s something you may not know. Tiger Woods and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both had fathers who started them on the paths of golf and music from infancy.  Earl Woods had a putter in Tiger’s hands before he was a year old.  Leopold Mozart was an established musician and composer before his son was born.  He set Wolfgang on a very focused and intense vocation in musical performance and composition from childhood.  Neither Tiger Woods nor W.A. Mozart were geniuses in common parlance and legend.  They spent many years mastering their crafts.

Peak performers in any discipline acquire that position through untold hours of deliberate practice.  Not just practice, but focused periods of review and goal setting with specific objectives in mind.  When Tiger Woods goes to the driving range, he doesn’t simply pull out a driver and see how far he can hit the ball.  Instead he might take a five iron out and practice hitting the ball not more than sixty-five yards.  There is much more intense energy and concentration that attends deliberate practice.

Here are some steps that are crucial for you to rise to the top of your calling:

  • You must be a lifelong learner.  This means college, vocational school, online seminars, or training at the feet of a master whether a cabinet-maker or a jazz pianist.  It will cost time, discipline, sacrifice, and money.  Make the investment.
  • Saying yes also means saying no.  Getting to the top of the classical guitar world meant that a teenage Christopher Parkening was unable to play baseball with his pals as much as he’d like to have done.  His father, Duke, had him executing deliberate practice from the age of eleven.  Up at 5:00 AM to practice before school.  More practice when school was over.  Choosing mastery in an enterprise means you will not be able to say yes to lots of other pursuits simply because of the time and focus it takes to excel in your chosen field.
  • You must move past the drudgery curve.  A woman once told the great pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, “You are a genius.”  His reply: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  The driving range, the woodshop, the music room are not glamorous environments but it is in such places, over long hours, that one becomes a master.

The world is looking for individuals who are outstanding at what they do.  Mediocrity, for such as these, grates against every instinct inside them.  You are called to such excellence. The sky is the limit.  Focus and move forward.

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Ambitious to Produce

Ambition has become suspect in the minds of a lot of people.  The classic stereotype is the self-centered man or woman who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder stepping upon anybody perched on the other rungs.  Ego, indifference to time-honored virtues, and bullying are all.

This is unfortunate.  Frankly, ambition has gotten a bad rap.  In fact, without it you will not hit any of your goals, whether personal and professional.

Some months back, we discussed healthy ambition and its importance in one of our weekly leadership gatherings. We focused on moving up in one’s career and becoming the best in our chosen fields.  There is cost, effort and sacrifice to do this.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The pursuit of a highly valued station of influence and achievement takes patience, focus and a lot of hard work.  Those who take shortcuts are cheating themselves and are usually found out.

In his fascinating book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin shatters a number of myths about “natural” talent, genius and how pros become such.  These are usually echoed in statements like this: “Well, Tiger Woods was born to play golf.  He’s a natural.”

Here’s something you may not know. Tiger Woods and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both had fathers who started them on the paths of golf and music from infancy.  Earl Woods had a putter in Tiger’s hands before he was a year old.  Leopold Mozart was an established musician and composer before his son was born.  He set Wolfgang on a very focused and intense vocation in musical performance and composition from childhood.  Neither Tiger Woods nor W.A. Mozart were geniuses in common parlance and legend.  They spent many years mastering their crafts.

Peak performers in any discipline acquire that position through untold hours of deliberate practice.  Not just practice, but focused periods of review and goal setting with specific objectives in mind.  When Tiger Woods goes to the driving range, he doesn’t simply pull out a driver and see how far he can hit the ball.  Instead he might take a five iron out and practice hitting the ball not more than sixty-five yards.  There is much more intense energy and concentration that attends deliberate practice.

Here are some steps that are crucial for you to rise to the top of your calling:

  • You must be a lifelong learner.  This means college, vocational school, online seminars, or training at the feet of a master whether a cabinet-maker or a jazz pianist.  It will cost time, discipline, sacrifice, and money.  Make the investment.
  • Saying yes also means saying no.  Getting to the top of the classical guitar world meant that a teenage Christopher Parkening was unable to play baseball with his pals as much as he’d like to have done.  His father, Duke, had him executing deliberate practice from the age of eleven.  Up at 5:00 AM to practice before school.  More practice when school was over.  Choosing mastery in an enterprise means you will not be able to say yes to lots of other pursuits simply because of the time and focus it takes to excel in your chosen field.
  • You must move past the drudgery curve.  A woman once told the great pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, “You are a genius.”  His reply: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  The driving range, the woodshop, the music room are not glamorous environments but it is in such places, over long hours, that one becomes a master.

The world is looking for individuals who are outstanding at what they do.  Mediocrity, for such as these, grates against every instinct inside them.  You are called to such excellence. The sky is the limit.  Focus and move forward.

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How Pros Become Pros

Yesterday evening, my wife and I had the happy occasion to drive an hour south to Syracuse in anticipation of the return of our daughter, Anna, from Scotland.  She flew in at 11:00 PM and we were happily reunited after more than six months’ separation.

During that time, Anna has gone to school and participated in various missionary enterprises in Europe and the Far East.  She’s quite tired at the moment but loving the homestead and visiting her friends.  Life is good.

While we awaited her arrival, we went to one of our favorite haunts, Barnes & Noble.  I finally picked up a book I’d peeked at and wanted for over a year:  Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor-at-Large for FORTUNE magazine.

I’ve mentioned Colvin’s work in previous posts, especially as it relates to the discipline of deliberate practice.  The fundamental finding that Colvin relates in his book is that talent and giftedness, as we know it, are largely a myth.  The data simply does not support the idea that people are “born” to do a certain thing—like Mozart born to write music or Jerry Rice to play football.  What makes world-class performers—pros—what they are is an enormous amount of specifically-focused hard work.

Colvin and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell—in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success–both have shared the data that to become really good at something involves about 10,000 hours of labor in a given field.  This incredible output comes through study, practice and performance.

Focusing on just that one metric, ask yourself this: What thing do I love doing that I’d be willing to devote two hours and forty-five minutes to every day for the next ten years?

People at the top of their fields strive to improve their skills and knowledge continually.  But simply working hard alone doesn’t ensure excellence.  Lots of people work hard and they are okay at what they do.   But they are not spectacularly distinct.  They are not masters of their craft.  I’m sure we can all relate.

Rather, world-class performance involves working in a focused way to develop those areas in your chosen field where you are not proficient.  For example, Tiger Woods will practice swinging his way out of sand traps by dropping a golf ball in the sand, burying it with his foot and then practicing the appropriate swing to get it back onto the fairway or the green.  He doesn’t simply do what he’s good at.  He works at areas in which he doesn’t excel in order that he might.  This is deliberate practice.

Okay, what is your chosen field?  How many hours would you estimate you’ve devoted to it thus far?  Are you prepared to raise the bar, even if nobody around will raise it for you?

Why not raise the bar?  Mastery is a rare thing indeed.  The world looks for people who are outstanding at what they do.

Become a pro.  Start today!

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Ambition and Achievement

Ambition has become suspect in the minds of a lot of people.  The classic stereotype is the self-centered man or woman who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder stepping upon anybody perched on the other rungs.  Ego, indifference to time-honored virtues, and bullying are all.

This is unfortunate.  Frankly, ambition has gotten a bad rap.  In fact, without it you will not hit any of your goals, whether personal and professional.

Today, we discussed healthy ambition and its importance in our weekly leadership gathering. We focused on moving up in one’s career and becoming the best in our chosen fields.  There is cost, effort and sacrifice to do this.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The pursuit of a highly valued station of influence and achievement takes patience, focus and a lot of hard work.  Those who take shortcuts are cheating themselves and are usually found out.

In his fascinating book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin shatters a number of myths about “natural” talent, genius and how pros become such.  These are usually echoed in statements like this: “Well, Tiger Woods was born to play golf.  He’s a natural.”

Here’s something you may not know. Tiger Woods and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both had fathers who started them on the paths of golf and music from infancy.  Earl Woods had a putter in Tiger’s hands before he was a year old.  Leopold Mozart was an established musician and composer before his son was born.  He set Wolfgang on a very focused and intense vocation in musical performance and composition from childhood.  Neither Tiger Woods nor W.A. Mozart were geniuses in common parlance and legend.  They spent many years mastering their crafts.

Peak performers in any discipline acquire that position through untold hours of deliberate practice.  Not just practice, but focused periods of review and goal setting with specific objectives in mind.  When Tiger Woods goes to the driving range, he doesn’t simply pull out a driver and see how far he can hit the ball.  Instead he might take a five iron out and practice hitting the ball not more than sixty-five yards.  There is much more intense energy and concentration that attends deliberate practice.

Here are some steps that are crucial for you to rise to the top of your calling:

  • You must be a lifelong learner.  This means college, vocational school, online seminars, or training at the feet of a master whether a cabinet-maker or a jazz pianist.  It will cost time, discipline, sacrifice, and money.  Make the investment.
  • Saying yes also means saying no.  Getting to the top of the classical guitar world meant that a teenage Christopher Parkening was unable to play baseball with his pals as much as he’d like to have done.  His father, Duke, had him executing deliberate practice from the age of eleven.  Up at 5:00 AM to practice before school.  More practice when school was over.  Choosing mastery in an enterprise means you will not be able to say yes to lots of other pursuits simply because of the time and focus it takes to excel in your chosen field.
  • You must move past the drudgery curve.  A woman once told the great pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, “You are a genius.”  His reply: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  The driving range, the woodshop, the music room are not glamorous environments but it is in such places, over long hours, that one becomes a master.

The world is looking for individuals who are outstanding at what they do.  Mediocrity, for such as these, grates against every instinct inside them.  You are called to such excellence. The sky is the limit.  Focus and move forward.

Image Credit