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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Changing the Odds

 "Circumstantial good fortune and serendipitous timing tied to the cultural legacies we inherit all play a perpetual role in our path to success."

 Over the last two years I have become increasingly aware of peoples rise to glory, or some form of it. We always hear the rags to riches success stories. Most commonly, people are convinced that success is self-made; that blood, sweat and tears are the keys to success. This truth has to be challenged.

We are told tales of the hard work and determination that got people to where they are but not very often do we hear about the path they took due to circumstance, the doors that were opened for them and the opportunities that were afforded to them. Bill Gates is one of those people who humbly state, “I got lucky”. In a best-selling book ‘Outliers: A Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell, he explains the highly fortunate circumstances that were afforded to Bill Gates during his youth. The author asks Gates himself how many other teenagers in the world had as much experience as he had by the early 1970s to which Gates replied, “If there were 50 in the WORLD, I’d be stunned. I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events.” Gates’ talent and drive were unquestionable but his opportunities may have been even more privileged

If there were a million other high school students who had the same access to the resources that Bill Gates had., how many Microsofts would we have then?

Through anecdotal evidence, the author reveals the underlying workings of a number of similar success stories including The Beatles infamous rise to fame and the timely circumstances that got them there.
 Bear in mind this book is not based on scientific evidence, rather, joining the dotted lines to find an alternate, more encompassed approach to success that is not as publicized and glamorous. Although, it is not entirely without merit.

When I look at all the business opportunities that were afforded to South Africans after the apartheid era before the turn of the millennium, the up and comers of that time have done exceptionally well. With the fall of apartheid and international sanctions terminated the South African economy opened up to international trade. This coupled with the new age of the Internet, which was in full swing, and a rapid expansion of the technology bubble, allowed a most pristine boom in the economic climate. Our GDP tripled between 1985 and 1995. If you were fortunate enough to be of the right age, with access to capital and an entrepreneurial spirit, it was a time to make your move.

It has become evident (less now than previously, but still distinctly) that some cultures were better adapted to cope with corporate culture, its lifestyle and the related cognition it required, than others were. In some cultures children are brought up to be liberal, to question authority and to voice their opinions and know that their opinions held merit. In others, children are taught rigid subservience where you wouldn’t dare question authority and you kept your opinions to yourself. As adults, these mindsets are taken into the real world with a far-reaching personal impact. It profoundly affects the way we interact with each other. I’m no social scientist but it’s not hard to see how the former might benefit from their more liberal worldview, a fact that’s not easy to disagree with. Circumstantial good fortune and serendipitous timing tied to the cultural legacies we inherit all play a perpetual role in our path to success.

Case in point. While I was in Qatar I noticed that every Filipino and Sri Lankan employee called all their superiors “Boss”, mainly spoke about work related stuff and rarely joked with them. “Good morning Boss”, “Yes boss”, “No boss”. It seemed archaic at first but then you realize that they stem from cultural roots that lie deep in traditional respect, values and meek conventions. Then the South Africans arrive, Indian, Black and White, almost the whole rainbow nation shows up. We kick it off calling our superiors by their first names, much to the bewilderment of the staff that have been there for years. This is the culture that we were raised in, especially in the fitness industry. Liberal, autonomous and assertive. We related to them on a different level that allowed friendships to cultivate and there was often a healthy jesting between the “Bosses” and ourselves. Whether it was advantageous or not could be disputed but our cultural roots certainly didn’t hinder our circumstances.

You may think you’re not smart enough to achieve exceptional amounts of success but intellectual genius does not determine a person's success. Christopher Langan, a man with an IQ of 195 (way above any estimates of Einstein’s IQ), being well read in philosophy, applied mathematics and physics, who had a series of misfortunes during his critical college years and ended up working as a bouncer in a night club and eventually went on to run a horse farm in rural America. Langan never reached monumental success because of the environment in which he grew up. Langan never had well connected friends and family, his background was a melancholic mix of misfortune. Nothing to help him nurture his intellectual gift, he had to find success by himself. "No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone," writes Gladwell.

A study, conducted in 1921, by a professor of psychology named Lewis Terman that tracked a group of intellectually gifted children from 1921 until 1955, a period of 34 years and found varying results. Although over fifty of the subjects became college and university faculty members. Surprisingly, most of these intellectually gifted children with astounding IQ’s lead more mundane lives. Terman had noted that as adults, his subjects pursued common occupations "as humble as those of policeman, seaman, typist and filing clerk" and concluded:

“At any rate, we have seen that intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated”

Many studies have constructed the absolute amount of time it takes to master a skill, that number has been projected at 10,000 hours. Even the smartest of people need 10,000 hours before they can master a skill. Mozart’s childhood symphonies were a mix of borrowed works but by the time he was 21, he was head and shoulders above his peers and would be termed a musical genius. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and even The Beatles were fortunate to have unique opportunities, fueled with resolute passion and a stupendous number of hours of practice in their specialities, which allowed them to become successful.

As much as I agree that success is a product of being born in the right era, growing up with the correct culture, to the amount of hours you put into your work and to gratuitous circumstance, I would unequivocally state, that hard work and sheer grit is the key that opens the door of opportunity.

Without putting their skills into practice, without seizing their windows of opportunity, successful people would not be where they are now.

Every single thing we do, from working incessantly, studying rigorously and expanding our knowledge doesn’t guarantee success, as we’re led to believe. All these factors merely increase our ‘odds’ at succeeding. They say, the harder you work the luckier you get. This couldn’t be more true. In order for opportunities to present themselves, there needs to be considerable input from the individual - an increasing of the odds.

Keep adding to your skills, sharpening your intellect and refining your character to increase your odds at achieving success.

When life breaks down, you need to tell yourself that, it doesn’t always matter how hard you labour, what you sacrifice, the steps you take to improve or your level of commitment to a task. It’s all a matter of timing. Through perseverance and determination, either it will happen to you or you will happen to it. The key is to be relentless, adaptive and unwavering in your pursuit, taking time to shift thoughts, plans, strategies and outcomes.

Taken from the text: “Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

If I had to give you a formula for success I’d say: Success = 99% hard work + lots of prayer.
I’ll let you know how that goes.

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