If you want to know how to become like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey you want to be more than just successful, you want to be an outlier. Some people comfort themselves by telling themselves that successful means something different for everyone. But let’s be honest, when we talk about becoming successful what we want is what those people have. The absolute successful people like Bill Gates en Oprah Winfrey are special, they are outliers. In this article we will set out the basics on how to become successful and by the end, you should have a basic understanding of how to become the next outlier.
“Never waste a good crisis” is a famous quote from Andrew Wolstenholme and I have used it during this corona crisis to read up on some useful insight on how to become successful that I will be sharing with you in this article. This article all started with a book written by Malcolm Gladwell called “Outliers”. Gladwell describes the factors that make someone from having success to becoming an outlier. Because it is not you alone who shapes your changes to become successful, it is also your environment. This knowledge is crucial if you want to better those odds and know that the odds of becoming an outlier are incredibly small. Changing those odds is also incredibly difficult because you may have to go against everything that you believe in. Everything that you were taught when you were little. You will need to learn to see the influences that shaped you and your family. More importantly, you need to learn to look at where possible opportunities currently are and where you have the best odds of getting a chance to exploit these opportunities. Let’s start with what you have the most influence over: the amount of hours you need to work.
The 10.000 hour rule
The 10.000 hour rule is immediately also one of the most famous rules of the list. The rule state that in order to become a real expert at any skill, a real outlier, you need to spend 10.000 hours on it. This applies to everything you want to do. If you want to become the developer of the next generation tech, you need to spend 10.000 hours on it. Bill Gates spend 10.000 writing computer programs before he developed what is now Windows OS. If you want to become an artist, you need to spend 10.000 hours on it. The Beatles spend 10.000 hours playing music before their success took off. You get the concept. This may seems like a simple calculation. In order to reach 10.000 hours you need to spend 250 weeks working 40 hours a week on it. That’s 5 years of working weeks (so 8 hours a day and you still have weekends) and 2 weeks of vacation each year. There are a few catches.
The first catch is that you have to practice deliberately for 10.000 hours. That means you actually have to focus completely on your skill, without distractions. The average American is productive for around 6 hours a day, so then it would already take you 6,5 years instead of 5. It also means you need to actually have the means to deliberately practice. An off-tune piano is not going to make you a great pianist and neither is an environment were nobody is giving you feedback on how to improve.
The other catch is that you actually need to have the opportunity to make the 10.000 hours. Bill Gates was one of the first people to make 10.000 hours writing code and programs. Everyone who would make the same 10.000 hours now will certainly gain a bit of success with whatever is being programmed but it will not make you an outlier. That means you not only need to put in the work, you also need to spot the next opportunity. The next outliers are created at this very moment, the men and women are putting in the hours. We just don’t see it yet. Bill Gates was one of the people who had nearly unlimited early access to a computer that used the newest technology so he could learn to program the next generation. In the coming years there will be great advancements in sustainability, health care, technology (Artificial Intelligence, AR/VR) and you need decide what you want to focus on and find the opportunity where you can put in the 10.000 hours.
Some structures in this world were designed for practical or historical reasons. School in the northern half of the world starts at the end of summer (often September 1st) because historically the harvest was completed and children did not have to help their parents in the field anymore. The day you were born was most likely due to chance. Even in what family your were born is due to chance. Yet, those odds can influence all aspects of your life. If you were born in September that means you have 1 year of cognitive growth ahead of those born at the end of the school year. Imagine that affect on your grades. Being compared to someone who is a year ahead or a year behind you in class. The same applies for sports. As a child you grow a lot in one year, you grow taller and often stronger and your motor development (the ability to move and control your body) is further ahead. Imagine the effect on football: longer legs means you run faster and you are more agile. There are much more examples to think of. Just list all the things about yourself you can’t change. From the family you have to the color of your skin and your gender. Learn your best odds and your worst odds and then start selecting or fight for better odds.
The reason why chance plays such a big roll has to do with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who look talented get all the right attention and opportunities. This means more practice and better guidance and makes it easier for to reach the 10.000 hours needed to become an expert.
The nasty thing about chance, however, is that you cannot influence it. You cannot change your date of birth. Instead, you need to carefully assess the structures that are in place and what odds benefit you and what odds don’t. After you know this, there are two things you can do. You can go for opportunities that you have the best odds at or you can fight for better odds. For example, ice sport season are likely to starts in the winter while summer sports start in the summer. So instead of ice hockey play field hockey or instead of ice skating perhaps roller skating works better. If you don’t like that option you will have to fight for better odds. For example, that means that in school you will have to find a way to be a year behind and in sport you will have to negotiate with your coach or the board of your sport association in order to gain better odds. Even then, fighting for better odds you might not be seen as talented anyway. People might think you are cheating by trying to look better instead of creating better odds. So make sure your fight is worth it and make sure people understand your fight.
Your family, your country, your culture and even your language affect your chances to become an outlier. The first computer and the internet were developed in an english speaking country, that means that english speakers have an advantage in the field of computer science. Counting to 10 goes fastest in Asian languages and because you need less syllables and because you need less syllables you need to remember less. Not only can you count to 10 faster in Asian languages, subtracting and fractions are also easier because of the way their numbers are structured. This means that young asians can learn to count and consequently learn math much quicker than western language speakers. As a consequence, Asians tend to excel at Math.
We need to talk about your culture to if we want to understand what increases your odds. If we talk about culture we also need to talk a bit about farming to understand how our cultures shape our lives. In Asia farming is done on rice paddies. Rice is a fickle plant and its yield depends on your understanding of rice farming. You yourself have almost full influence over the outcome but you must keep trying. If you give it too much or too little water, yields will decrease. You need to be studious and you need to have a very high tolerance for failure in order to be more profitable. A family, or a country or even a continent which was largely depended on that small fickle plant for hundreds if not thousands of years breeds people with the mind set necessary to upkeep a rice paddies. It creates people with the motto “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich”. That is a Chinese proverb that shows that the more time you spend on something, the more you will earn from it.
This culture is different from most western countries. The agriculture in the west was much less dependent on the plant, which had a relatively stable yield. That means that in order to increase yield a farmer had to purchase more land or by reduce the costs of labor. This yields a different mindset, one based on “laziness”. You need to become creative with the resources you have and try to increase your yield by for example being more efficient with the land, harvesting more crops in different seasons. Or by introducing machinery to decrease manual labor and harvest quicker. This type of culture is more likely to bread innovative as opposed to hard working people.
In countries with a lot of herders or landowners you may find a culture of honour. People who protected their land and their heard are dependent on their family and tend to be more territorial. This can lead to a more “dutiful” mindset in people which can result in stronger social norms and social ties and more people serving in the military or contributing to local collective projects like building infrastructure. Of course you can find multiple cultures within one continent or culture.
It doesn’t really matter on which side of the world or in which place you were born. What does matter is that you need to be aware of it in order use it. Find your specialty and if you find you lack something, look for it elsewhere. If you lack innovation, its best to submerge yourself for a bit in western societies and see what you may learn of its culture. If you lack diligence and perseverance perhaps consider spending some time in Asia to see if their hard-working mentality can be transferred to you. Don’t just stop there. Every continent, every country, every city and even most families have different cultures. Select carefully which traits you wish to adopt and learn from in order to get where you want to go.
There is no doubt that you need some form of intelligence in order to make it into the world. In order to spot an opportunity, in order to learn and conceptually grasp difficult concepts that you will encounter on your way to success you will need some cognitive ability. Unfortunately, you range of cognitive ability is determined by your genes. Luckily, school and self-study can get you to the better end of that range and for most people that means they can reach an IQ that is high enough to no longer make a difference in becoming successful or not. A study by Liam Hudson found that the threshold after which your chances of getting a nobel prize no longer increase is at an IQ of 130. So the good news is you do not need to have Einsteins IQ in order to become successful.
That does not mean that you don’t need any intelligence. Next to cognitive intelligence there is also emotional intelligence and practical intelligence. Emotional intelligence the capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others, distinguish between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s). In short, how in control you are of your own emotions and how well you can deal with other peoples emotions? This is important in order to be a stable human being that can interact with the world around them. Generally successful people are composed, they are in control of their environment and themselves. There are exceptions. Sometimes not being in control is what has made them popular, for example socialites.
Practical intelligence was explained by Malcolm Gladwell as “‘knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.”. This is basically the translation of your cognitive ability to the world. If you know the right answer to important questions in the world but don’t know how to tell that same world, you are in for some trouble. The good news is that practical intelligence is mostly learned from the world around you. That does come with a small catch, you need people in order to learn. If you are an introvert, that means you will need to learn how to balance your energy levels. If you are an extrovert, you need to practice listening. If you are socially awkward or maybe have some autistic traits, you may need to put in some extra energy in this too. In the end, practice makes perfect. From the list above you have already received some tips on where you can practice and for how long. Use the time you spend not only to improve your skill but also to practice your practical intelligence. Don’t forget that there are also tons of book out there on the topic. Have a look at the Top 9 Personal Development Books for some inspiration. Or check out some of my other articles.