“Once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” –Malcolm Gladwell
Last week I worked with a group of employees on how to improve team performance in a large organization. The organization has grown significantly during the last few years, but the level of success varied across the different divisions and areas. As I met with different groups, I asked what made their team successful compared to other teams. More than once, differences between groups were equated to “being lucky.” After several groups, one of their youngest and most successful managers stood up, looked around, and said, “The real difference between our team and others is that we only ask that our team work harder in preparing and delivering than everyone else.”
We have all seen a star athlete, eloquent speaker, or successful coworker and thought how lucky they must be. A key part of the human mythology pertains to the hero who is born to destiny. Although most of us do not believe in “gifts from the gods” where mere mortal reach incredible heights, accomplish supernatural deeds, and become the substance of legends, we still hold on to the assumption of the “incredible” to explain success. The less romantic, yet real side of success is that hard work makes the difference.
Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success takes on the human myth of success and concludes, “Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” Although he addresses the importance of family, community, and social influences on success, the changeable factor that most of us can control is how hard we work. Put simply, “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.” How hard we work in preparation as well as performance makes the difference between not only success and failure, but also success and exceptional success.
Similar to Gladwell, Timothy Koegel captures the importance of hard work and preparation by discussing the root of success of NFL athletes. During the regular season, the average NFL player participates in 65 offensive or defensive plays. The average play lasts approximately 5.5 seconds. As surprising as it might seem, the average player prepares 50 to 60 hours a week, but is on the field involved in a play approximately six minutes a season.
No matter how connected or automated thing become, hard work is still the key to success.