I am here to tell you that the secret to success in your career comes down to three things: take risks, work hard, and get lucky.
Ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything
Neurologist Daniel Levitin (as mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers)
If you improve by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put it all together.
Dave Brailsford, Great Britain cycling coach (as retold in James Clear’s Atomic Habits)
There’s a theme that runs through all of the above advice: Effort.
The rules of Deliberate Practice and Marginal Gains and the 10,000-hours theory all come back to this central tenet of effort. In order to become great, you must put in the time to be great.
There’s something beautiful and noble about this. You can achieve whatever you want by showing up every day. Wow! Can you believe that? (Seriously, can you believe it?)
This is a core part of having a growth mindset, the belief that you are capable of learning and improving and growing. You are not destined to always be the person you are today.
I love this sentiment. I feel it’s been crucial to my own career journey. Which is why my mind has been boggled this week in questioning if, actually, there might be another path to success …
What if it’s not so much about effort as it is about ideas.
How do companies and teams make their mark on the world?
I was listening to an episode of Creative Pep Talk by Andy J. Miller where he talked about the virtues of creativity. Do great things get made because of hard work? Or do great things happen for different reasons?
(You can probably guess where this is going. The answer is “different reasons.”)
It’s not about practice, passion, talent or skill. What’s the real foundation of great creative work? What’s it actually all about?
I believe the secret is hiding in plain sight, right under your nose and quite literally at the tip of your tongue but if you don’t know where to look for it you’ll never find it!
Andy’s secret ingredient to success is Good Taste.
The key to creativity is having a smart sensibility about what’s good and what’s not. This is the foundation for everything. If you know innately what works — whether it’s art or writing or cooking or anything really — then you have all you need to succeed. Layer the hard work, luck, and determination on top of that.
Let’s apply this to biz-ness
If you extrapolate on this tenet of creativity and apply it to business success, you end up with this:
The key to success is good ideas.
Do you believe it?
This isn’t advice you hear too often. And you know why? Because not everyone has good ideas! But everyone can work hard. So we end up with this culture of hustle and effort since it’s a controllable, quantifiable input. Do the work, get the results.
Ideas are a shortcut. Yes, you can spend 10,000 hours going deep on a skill, or you can make your product 1% better every day. But the right idea will take you from zero to 60 in a blink.
Electric scooter rentals.
The Warby Parker of X.
You can disrupt an entire industry with the right idea. You can chart a new path for your team with a bold movement. You can ignite your career with a smart risk.
Ideas are a way to get to new heights.
But are they the only way?
How to get ahead: the two paths
If you want to be a taste-maker, a game-changer, a world-beater, you can follow the path of the hard worker and show up every day, or you can lasso a dream and hope your new idea sticks.
There is more than one way to disrupt.
This is why diverse teams make you so powerful. You get the best of both worlds: idea generators and do-the-workers. It’s why you often find that founding teams have different, complementary personality traits. It’s why marketing and data science get along. It’s why growth and brand are buddies. When these teams and areas bring hard work and big ideas to the table, everyone wins, faster.
Where the two paths converge
There’s a nugget in the first quote I shared above, from Fred Wilson, that seems to fit here. In order to be successful, you have to take risks … alongside working hard and getting lucky. Put another way: You have to make bets on your big ideas. Ideally, you take a lot of risks and have lots of ideas because there will always be elements of luck and timing that render some ideas brilliant and others a bust.
Another way to look at it: You can work hard at being a better ideator.
Yes, creativity is a muscle and taste can be learned. Some people are born with it, and others have to put in the time and effort to cultivate it.
If you can apply deliberate, purposeful effort to writing blog posts, then you can absolutely apply the work ethic to coming up with new ideas. (See James Altucher’s “10 ideas a day” plan.)
The business world moves forward with hard work and bold ideas.
There’s no reason you can’t be the unicorn who has both.