Yang: Some Sobering Points Regarding ‘Wildly Successful People’

Some Sobering Points Regarding “Wildly Successful People”

I often get impatient with my own social scientist’s penchant for “it all depends…” But seriously, how do you define “success” in your profession? And is that definition truly applicable to you yourself? Does this definition change with times?

One of the articles on “LinkedIn,” yet another social network, titled “The 5 Traits of Wildly Successful People” (link below) caught my attention. The author starts with the premise that hard work alone is insufficient to lead to success. From his research on some “wildly successful people,” he identifies five traits (my interpretations in parentheses):

1. Chase the School Bus (Determination)

Sugar Ray Leonard did not ride the school bus with his siblings; he ran after it. 

2. Stray from the Pack (Deviate from the norm)

By following trends, a business is likely to just coast along at the survival level.  So, Tim Ferriss, owner of an online supplier of sport nutrition products, demanded prepayment for shipments instead of following the industry practice of receiving payment 12 months after shipment. 

3. Create Corkboards (Assemble Facts/Data)

Peter Guber, former CEO of Sony, started his career by paying attention to the documented facts of industry talent instead of relying on word of mouth and connections.  He created corkboards detailing factual data on talents to be considered, in his office.

4. Get on “Qi Time” (Squeezing More Time out of 24 hours).

Mr. Qi Lu, of Microsoft, was dismayed with “wasting” time on sleep.  He wanted more time to read and learn. Mastering qi gong, a technique combining breathing exercises and meditation to regulate one’s body, Mr. Lu trained his body to sleep only four hours a day.

5. Play the People Game (Networking).

Steven Spielberg placed a premium on cultivating relationships with directors and stars in Hollywood…since his college days beginning at 19. He arranged his class schedule around his meeting times with movers and shakers. 

By themselves, each of these traits has some merit, except #4 which I will come to later. However, just simply following any or even all of them doesn’t automatically lead to success. I think it is axiomatic to say that by not doing/acquiring any of these traits, one is certain to not succeed.  But ultimately, the key question is: How, and when, do I know that I am not on a fool’s errand? In other words, I can strongly believe in my goal and I can pursue it doggedly for years, but at what point does it become a quixotic pursuit? “Taking risks” does not mean doing something headlong without care; it still requires forethought.

As for breaking the norms, I am all for the general principle. However, there is an art to being a deviant:  you can’t be too deviant. Dan Pallota, former CEO of TeamWorks (link below), achieved wild success in raising an unprecedented amount of money for charity causes by breaking norms, and he got burned eventually. 

Networking is one of the crucial traits in any entrepreneurial undertaking, but not necessarily for all professions.  Besides, are introverts doomed to be left out of the “wildly successful” league?  Furthermore, Mr. Spielberg lived in a different era and had a different social background.  I am sure these days if any Joe or Mary approaches a big-name director or movie star to do lunch (which was one of Mr. Spielberg’s aims), s/he is either blocked by the gorilla guards or hauled off for suspicious behavior.  

As for Mr. Lu’s Qi Gongi, literally, more power to him. However, I consider his practice a bit extreme and his view myopic. To consider sleep a waste of time? And he’s from the culture that introduced us to Ying-Yang dynamics! Sleep and rest recharge us to make our wakeful activities more effective. Yes, if he can get away with 4 hours of sleep a night, good for him. But to regard sleep time as a waste? Yes, yes, sometimes, we wish we could have more wakeful hours, but not on an everyday basis, nor on a long-term basis.

Listicles tend to make me batty. Isolated traits may inform us, but none of these traits is definitive. I prefer a different take on striving for accomplishment (same as “success?”): “When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. … Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.” -from psychologist, Anders Ericsson, Florida State University. (link below)

What are some of your examples of “wildly successful people?” Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com

Reference Links:

Editor’s note: Dr. Yang has a PhD in Management from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Wharton for a number of years, and consulted for small groups and small organizations and on cross-cultural issues. Her professional worldview comprises three pillars: 1. All organizations are social systems in which elements are inter-related. 2. To improve organizations, the focus should be on the positive dimensions on which to build. This philosophical foundation is Appreciative Inquiry. 3. Yang subscribes to the methodological perspective that she is part of the instrument from which to gain quality data from respondents, and with which to compare and contrast with others’ realities.