Outliers: The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers shares multiple factors behind success, and that success isn’t just a combination of talent and hard work.  Here are the key takeaways:

  • The self-made man is a myth.  We have a bias to attribute success to ability and hard work.  Yet, other factors are at play.  Read on!
  • For most professions, there’s a base threshold for success.  Once you move beyond that threshold, having a better ability doesn’t increase success.  For example, if you’re a Mike Tyson, you reached 71 inches.  The average boxer has a reach of 76.” It’s related skills and abilities that matter.  For an attorney, those additional items could be the ability to connect with others.
  • While this point is debated, to be world-class in anything, you must spend about 10K hours developing your craft.
  • On this one, you don’t have much control.  The month you’re born impacts what you can achieve.  For example, my kiddos play hockey.  Teams are based on birth year.  So, someone born in January of a year could compete with someone of December of the same year… a year difference.  Please do it for those of you considering holding your kid back from school.  Research shows it gives them a head start in life.  Holding back would not be valid if all families practiced this approach.
  • Use practical intelligence.  Know who, when, and how to connect with people up and down the food chain.  The reality is kids of more affluent parents have entitlement, making them practice practical intelligence.  On the flip side, sadly, poorer parents are less likely to teach valuable intelligence.
  • Like the month you were born, when you are born matters.  Consider Bill Gates; he was born to be a young adult when the PC was almost of age and had enough technology to make it a reality.  For tech, it was best to be born around 1955.
  • Being born in different parts of the world matters.
  • Where you rank shouldn’t matter regarding important decisions or stating your objections.  Yet, this isn’t always so.  The book cites Korean Air, which had a crash rate 17X higher than the industry average.  Why?  Younger pilots did not express their concerns difference from older pilots.  Korean Air hired a firm to help correct this behavior.

As leaders or influencers, we should look for ways to level the playing field for all. 

Peak Mind

In Peak Mind by Amishi Jha, Dr. Jha shares three systems of attention for our brains:
Flashlight:  With the flashlight, we focus on the now.  If we are too focused, we can miss the bigger picture.

Floodlight:  With floodlight, our attention is on high alert.  What could be happening at the moment that may propose risk or, in some cases, opportunity? 

Juggler:  The juggler is the CEO of the mind.  Whatever the challenge, the juggler is on top of tackling everything.
Three things zap the ability to pay attention.  They are stress, threats, and mood.  When stressed, whether in business or home, it blocks our ability to focus.  When there are threats, we focus on personal safety instead of thoughts.  The final item that eliminates our ability to pay attention is mood.  From depression to the blues, it dramatically reduces our ability to focus.
When it comes to making memories, there are three steps:
1.      Rehearsal:  Rehearsal is repeating something over in mind.  It could be a PIN or a person’s name.
2.     Elaboration:  Elaboration is tying something new to an existing memory.
3.     Consolidation:  Consolidation creates new neural connections. 
The author shares that meditation helps with all three brain systems and creates memories.  She recommends 12 minutes a day for five days a week, and a technique is known as breath awareness.  In breath awareness, start with a quiet place.  Sit, close your eyes, and breathe.  Follow your breath and nothing else.  If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath.  If you’re new to mediation and want guidance, try an app like Headspace. 

The Art of Stopping Time

In The Art of Stopping Time, Pedram Shojai, the author, shares something we all know; our most treasured resource is time.  So how do we leverage it?  Stop it!

What we get out of time depends on mindfulness, energy, and how we focus and spend our time.  For all of us, time is the great equalizer—we all have the same amount of hours in a day.

The first step is to determine how we are spending our time to begin an assessment to maximize time.  Is time spent on something meaningful or pleasurable?  Next, consider energy to invest in worthwhile endeavors versus low-energy tasks like doom scrolling social media.  Last, Are we mindful?  Are we living in the moment?

The author reminds us to cut bait on goals or activities that are no longer relevant and deserve our time.  Then, use this newfound time in rewarding areas and produce results.

What’s your ROI on time?  In investing, there’s a return strategy.  What’s your time investment strategy?  When time pops up, say an appointment cancels, or a commute is faster than planned, there’s a decision on how to use this extra time.  Like investing, knowing how to “invest” this spare time is essential.

We have more power over our time than we may initially think.  While some obligations are required—say, paying taxes or feeding our pets—others are at our discretion.  These discretionary activities could include letting go of relationships or no longer relevant or essential activities.

For time, the “how” is as important as the “what.”  Are there ways to get two things done at once?  Say you want to exercise and spend time with your kid.  Could you have your kiddo join you for your run or bike ride?  Or, if you have a conference call and need to drop off your child for a playdate, could you drop your kid off while having your conference call?  Small decisions compounded make for big-time impacts.

Our mobile phones are a double-edged sword.  While they can be productive, it’s a quick way to be distracted or entertained.  The next time there’s a fleeting moment, resist the temptation to grab the phone and use it to think through a current problem or reconnect with a past friend.

Be mindful.  Be present.  Be thankful.  On vacation or at work, wherever you are, think “this is the last time I’m ever here.” If this was the case, how would you be present?  Being mindful lets us live in the moment and stop time. 

While no one can stop time, we can prioritize, organize and be mindful.

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success

In the book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success,” the author Amy Morin outlines core principles of success.  I recap the book in a minute or two; read below:

  1. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.  Instead, be thankful and remember it’s impossible to feel scared and grateful at the same time
  2. Keep your power.  Here are signs of losing power—others make you angry, guilty, or judged.  Control your emotions and set boundaries if there are people in your life—say a boss or in-law—who makes you feel your power is fleeting
  3. Lean into change.   When change is needed, make a plan and have small attainable goals.  As the saying goes, “by the yard, it’s hard.  By the inch, it’s a cinch.”
  4. Let go of things outside of your control.  If within your control, focus your sphere of influence
  5. Realize you can’t please everyone.  In Adam Grant’s book, he outlines helping others, and there are Givers, Takers, and Matchers.  Avoid Takers and meet Matchers in the middle
  6. Be an intelligent risk-taker.  Know the pros and cons, mitigate risks, and know when to walk away.  In looking at solutions, look for “and” answers instead of either-or solutions
  7. Let go of the past.  Forgive yourself, focus on the future, and remember, “you never can ‘should have’; otherwise, you’ll ‘should’ all over yourself.
  8. Learn from mistakes.  What were the failure points when planning a goal or project that didn’t work in the past?  How to mitigate the losses?  To achieve the goal, ask, “In what ways can I [fill in the blank]?”
  9. Support others’ success.  Envy is never good.  Life is not a zero-sum game.  Look for opportunities to collaborate instead of competing
  10. Know there will be setbacks and don’t give up.  Be kind to yourself.  Get knocked down?  Get back up
  11. Be O.K. being alone with your thoughts—journal, meditate, exercise
  12. Remember entitlement replaces the expectation of success with the actual work to achieve success
  13. Persevere with patience.  Read any book about success and know from the lightbulb’s invention to organizations that dominate the world today, know time is on your side and persistence beats resistance

The Obstacle is the Way

My thanks to my friend and CEO of AbeTech, Chris Heim, for recommending the book “The Obstacle is the Way.” Decades ago, before the release of this book, my partner, Ryan, who runs the firm, gave me a Christmas gift.  It was a picture of a river with stones creating a path from one side to the other.  The caption said, “Every obstacle is a stepping stone to your success.” Almost 30 years later, with this same partner at my side, all I can say is he was correct.  This ideology is the book “The Obstacle is the Way.”

How does one face an obstacle?  As shared in the book, a positive mindset says, “In what ways can I turn this obstacle into an advantage?” So how do we do it?  Start by being objective.

Take a perspective that works to see opportunity in obstacles.  An initial thought with an impediment could be confusion, anger, or despair.  See the path by taking a breath and focusing on outcomes.  Keep in mind a quick response based on emotion clouds judgment.

The book shares that Edison went through 6,000 filaments before finding the one that worked.  As famously stated, with each failure, he said he knew one more thing that didn’t work.

So what’s the recipe for turning obstacles into a path to success?  Here’s a one, two punch:

  • Use objective perception followed by action.  See the situation for what it is and take action
  • Will.  As Abraham Lincoln said, “Always bear in mind that your resolution to succeed is more important than anything.”