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Over the decades, we have all read or pondered the age-old adage “Nature versus Nurture”. Scientists, doctors, philosophers, educators, and everyday parents debate whether genetics or environment that determines success.
Number-one New York Time best-seller “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell is must-read. Mr. Gladwell popularized the “10,000-hour rule”, originally formulated by psychologist K. Anders Ericksson. The “10,000-hour rule” suggests that any person needs 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert – or at least very good – at whatever they are trying to achieve. Similarly, American parents would tell their children how to get to Carnegie Hall – “Practice”.
How do many of us – including myself – spent hours practicing a musical instrument for hours? I was so bad, I was actually paid by my father not to (true story). As you smile, the reality is that this popular concept of long hours of practice is now being debunked and replaced with quantifiable studies.
One such study is found in the book “Peak Performance: Elevates Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success” by Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg. In short, the main thesis is that success is more determined by the way you practice rather than the amount of time devoted. Similarly, I would tell my students “work smarter – not harder”.
The well-known rags to riches, poverty to wealth story of Horatio Alger bears a striking similarity to the story of Jack Ma of Alibaba – the quintessential Chinese comparison to the iconic American dream. The reality is “hard work beats talent, but only when talent doesn’t work hard”.
This concept leads us to additional science. Economist Tom Hertz depicts that only 1.3 percent of those born into the poorest 10 percent manage to arrive at the top-ten percent. Conversely, nearly one third of those born into the top-ten percent remain in their economic strata.
Other research by Daniel W. Belsky at the Duke University School of Medicine study of 918 people from Dunedin, New Zealand depicted a high correlation of a person’s genome that predicts educational success and other forms of success.
Researcher Wei Chi of Tsinghua University showed that genes are responsible for influencing personality traits such as self-control and motivation, which directly impact a person’s success. In fact, the main gene seems to be DRD4, which affects dopamine receptors. Another gene DRD4-7R is related to attention deficit disorder as well as leadership.
These genes impact a person’s education from Kindergarten to Doctoral programs. They also affect afternoon soccer and baseball success. But they don’t seem to impact business acumen, per say.
A new study published in Psychological Science included 11,000 participants. This study covered more than 88 previous studies which related to the notion of practice makes perfect, and could predict performance in music, games, sports, educational, and occupational domains. The biggest correlation was with games and music, but much less correlation in education and success in business/professions.
So, what does all this mean? I conducted my own research back in 2002, and the results were fascinating. I learned that almost 70 percent of the Forbes 400 (the 400 richest Americans) started with less than $25,000 in their previous twenty years, yet they became some of the richest people in the world. There are so many wealthy billionaires that grew up poor and not “connected”. Examples include:
Oprah Winfrey –
Had no running water or electricity in her childhood home.
Howard Schultz, Founder and Chairman of Starbucks –
Grew up not far from my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and lived in subsidized housing.
Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling –
A single mother on welfare
Sherry Lansing, first female CEO of a major Hollywood movie studio (Paramount) –
A former high School math teacher.
Steven Spielberg –
Failed to get into UCLA
Do Won Chang of Korea –
Worked three jobs at once before opening Forever 21.
Li Ka-shing –
Dropped out of High School to support his family, and is now the 23rd richest person in the world
Zhou Qunfei, founder of Lens Technology –
Helped raise pigs, lost her mother at age five, and is the world’s richest self-made woman. By the way, today China has more self-made female billionaires than any other country.
There are countless stories like the ones above. Just as with individuals, businesses can succeed and fail based on so many different factors. Allow me to share the example of Rovio – a Finland-based company that had 51 failed mobile game apps before launching Angry Birds. Angry Birds later became one of the most downloaded games in history, placing the company’s worth somewhere in billions. So, the fact is hard working, perseverance, and tenacity do lead to success.
I want to share a personal story. I once went on a job interview for which I felt under-qualified. I didn’t have the right pedigree of schools, and my upbringing was lower-middle class. But my parents instilled into me great values – though they couldn’t afford private education. At the interview, I met the senior boss. He told me that he didn’t look at meaningless resumes, and that he only hired candidates with PhD’s. I knew my interview was over until he said, “not the PhD you are thinking of… in fact, you fit exactly what we are looking for.” He followed with, “our PhDs are poor, hard-working with a desire to become Rich”.
In conclusion, one must define success for himself/herself. The key to success I have found is contentment – understanding that “less is sometimes more”. Happiness is the bonus – the whip cream on the cake. So, strive for contentment and worry about happiness later. If you achieve, that you are a success.
“Have a meaningful day and journey”! Dr. Kash
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