What makes certain entrepreneurs exceptional and drives them to mega-success, while others work just as hard but just don’t seem to get the breaks. My research shows that there are three foundational elements that are common across the most exceptional individuals in the world.
In an effort to understand the building blocks of excellence I have been digging deep into what makes a very small set of people elite. Through research and a series of interviews with Olympic athletes, world-renowned musicians, Nobel laureates and highly successful entrepreneurs the building blocks of extraordinary success are emerging. Broadly they can be bucketed into three areas.
They are: the thrill (the excitement and passion you get from engaging in your work), the skill (the abilities you are born with and those that you refine and develop) and the will (the desire to excel and the ability to overcome obstacles to become the very best in your field).
Each of the three is powerful in its own right, but combined together in the right way, they can make you extraordinary.
The “thrill” is the pure joy, pleasure and excitement you get from your endeavor, whatever it may be. It is the enjoyment of the activity and the positive feedback loop you receive from doing well at it. It is the competitive spirit that many people enjoy. For most people the thrill is the spark that gets them started. It’s the excitement a little girl felt the first time she beat her brothers in a race that made her an Olympic athlete. Or the thrill you felt the first time you wrote a computer program that worked or solved a hard problem. It is the aha moment when you realize what your calling is. It could be closing a big deal or writing a business plan that you can’t wait to execute.
Only when you are genuinely passionate about something will you have the desire to put in the effort to become exceptional at it. You have to be intrinsically motivated and want to do something purely for the joy of doing it. Most people do things for external recognition such as making money, proving themselves to others or any number of other extrinsically motivating reasons. These do not help make you exceptional.
Keep questioning your motives. Are you building a business to prove something to yourself or to someone else? Are you doing this solely for the external rewards or for the joy of creating new value for society to enjoy? You will only feel the thrill and excitement from your activity when you are doing something for the right reason, which is simply because you love it.
The “skill” is your talent and your ability. It is a combination of what you are born with and how hard you work to develop it. The first thing to understand about skill and ability is that it is largely determined by your genes, or your natural talent. You can morph natural talent into world class ability, but you cannot make something out of nothing. Understanding what you are skilled at is the first step towards being extraordinary at it. Every person who has achieved an elite level has done so by building upon a natural ability.
However, genetics and natural ability only separate the top 10% from everybody else. To get from the top 10% to the top 1% is dependent on how well you build your skills and the effort you put in to becoming exceptional.
In a practical sense this means that even if you are born with unique gifts such as high IQ or the ability to solve complex problems or whether you are a natural salesperson, or a great engineer, this is just the starting point. It simply means that you have the “gift.” Becoming elite involves developing these gifts into outstanding results and that takes an enormous amount of effort. The most successful entrepreneurs keep growing their skill set and learn about every aspect of the company’s business, not just the product, but sales and marketing, finance, management, legal and every other area. Running a business is multifaceted and, and doing it successfully requires a skill set to match the demands it requires.
Your skillset also needs to include a deep understanding of the domain you are working in. Professional managers with great organizational skills will not necessarily become great entrepreneurs unless they truly understand their products and offerings. The greatest creations in science, technology, art, medicine, or any other discipline are driven by people who deeply understand these areas. If you don’t understand your domain, you are not likely to advance it or build the next generation of value.
Being exceptional is hard. You have to overcome barriers, suffer through hardships and will yourself to keep working while your friends are having fun. You need motivation, clarity, determination, persistence, commitment and the desire to be the best in your field. You also need to have the self-belief, confidence and optimism that you will succeed. All of these qualities comprise “The Will,” and without these you will end up running a lackluster venture.
The “will” is the gritty part of the formula for sustained excellence. In order to develop this element, you need to be very clear about your goals and build a long-term plan for what you want to achieve, along with specific milestones and sub-goals. Then you need to work backwards from your eventual goal so you reach every single milestone you set. You need to have the determination to reach every sub-goal because if you don’t achieve one goal you are off track for the next one, which is larger. Focusing on smaller and more specific goals is easier than focusing on vague and large ones, and only when you achieve each sub-goal, are you likely to reach the pinnacle of your profession.
The “will” is intangible, but necessary. Most business failures can be predicted long before their domains are even registered simply because entrepreneurs don’t have the will to succeed or are starting a venture for the wrong reasons. Growing a company is hard and requires full clarity and self-belief to keep you overcoming every obstacle you face. Even the most talented people fail without the innate will to succeed.
How the three elements relate to each other:
Think of the three elements, thrill, skill and will, as balls or orbs that co-exist and bounce around. They are not sequential in that you need to first find the thing you love, and then work hard to build a business around it and finally bring in the right mental aspects. All three are always around you, like juggling balls. They all relate to each other. Lose one of them and all three come crashing down. Each of them supports the other. When you love something, you are not daunted by the effort. When you can’t put in the effort, your will keeps you going, and when your mind is tired, your love for your work keeps the flame ablaze. Everything is connected and each relies on the other.
VC’s and investors would be wise to think about the presence of these three elements in a company as they decide which companies they want to bet on.
Combining the thrill, skill and will is how the most exceptional people in the world have done it, and so can you.