Business success requires that we first get a peek of the peak we want to scale. Then we sit back and wait for success to attack us. Right? Not on this planet.
While vision — i.e., peek — is critical, without a great deal of effort to climb that peak, our vision is only an elusive wish. Building a successful business is very similar to growing muscles. If we do not put stress on the muscles then not only will they not become stronger, they will devolve and atrophy. A much better plan is to grow “peek to peak.”
Here is the formula: Get a peek of a peak and climb, and then prepare for falling in the valleys of life. A wise teacher once professed that good character is found in the valleys of life — assuming that we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and never wallow for very long in that valley. Eventually we will find ourselves on the peak and get a peek of another peak. The formula then repeats.
Several years ago, this column outlined Malcomb Gladwell’s bestselling book, “The Outliers,” in which he gave us the 10,000 hour rule. Here are just a few of Gladwell’s examples:
At 16, Bill Joy had the good fortune of stumbling upon the University of Michigan’s new state of the art computer center. In this computer center and later at University of California, Berkeley, he spent the next 10,000 hours learning and practicing computer programming. Upon graduation (10,000 hours later) he co-founded the Silicon Valley firm Sun Microsystems and the rest is history. Had it not been for those 10,000 hours of preparation, someone else would be the Sun Microsystems billionaire and Bill Joy would probably have pursued a career in biology.
As an eighth grader in 1968, Bill Gates did real-time programming, which was unheard of at that time. Seven years (or more accurately 10,000 hours) later, Gates was ready to found Microsoft.
Mozart’s early works were nothing to write home about. His first masterwork was not written until he was 21 and after 10 years of composing (there is that recurring 10,000 hours again).
Then there are the Beatles. In February 1964, they burst across the United States and rewrote the music scene with a string of hit records. Were they just in the right place at the right time? What is not widely known is that Lennon and McCartney first started playing together in 1957. In 1960, they were a struggling high school band when they were invited to play in a Hamburg strip joint. They played for a total of 10,000 hours before the Beatles got lucky.
We think of these and other successful people as “self-made men” when in fact they are not. The self-made man is a myth. Success does not attack the successful. Those who become successful must be willing to put in the time. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it best back in the 1880s: “The heights by great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
This concept of success being a product of effort should give each of us a great deal of encouragement. To be successful in any endeavor does not require incredible brains, unusual skills, good looks or great hair (thank goodness). Success requires that we get a peek of a peak and then pay the price in hours of effort. There is no shortcut. Today I would like to think that I’m a pretty good teacher, but I pity the poor students who had to endure my classes between 1985 and 1995. It took me 10 years, or to be more precise 10,000 hours to develop reasonable teaching skills.
Each and every one of us should hang the same plaque Calvin Coolidge had over his desk as president that stated, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
The opposite of success is not failure, the opposite of success is quitting.
Charlie Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is provided as a public service by the UAF Community and Technical Colleges.