Thomas Edison worked endlessly to become the world's greatest inventor, with a record 1,097 patents to his name (picture source)
Our world is full of shamans, witch-doctors, snake-oil salesmen and 'gurus' encouraging people to take short cuts to success. We are relentlessly bombarded with pitches to instant riches, fame and glory such as the following:
- Be a day trader and make thousands in a week!
- Let your website/blog earn lots of money for you without lifting a finger!
- Want to retire at 35 and be a millionaire? Simply follow the examples in this book (usual price $500 but I'm now selling it to you for only $49.95).
Against such a backdrop of deceit, it is heartening to occasionally hear some words of wisdom from those whose heads are firmly screwed on to their bodies.
One such person is Kevin Roberts (CEO of Saatchi Worldwide) who shared insights on how genius is almost entirely the result of conscious effort and environmental stimuli as opposed to one's genes. Quoting from David Shenk's book The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong, Roberts stated that
'talent has less to do with the “gifts” that nature has endowed us with as it does with environmental and behavioral factors. That is, most of us aren’t destined to be talented or untalented. It’s something that happens over time, due to conscious effort and environmental stimuli.'
Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers cited in a similar fashion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a maestro at anything - from basketball to violin, brain surgery to aeronautical engineering.
In other words, there is no instant formula for success (unless you are extremely lucky at the sweepstakes). Even people who are born to savants must work hard and fight their way, tooth and nail, to achieve greatness.
Many of us know that Singapore's success was predicated entirely on the blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers. The economic success of this city isn't built on rock and roll, but on endless hours of sheer hard work, often well into the night.
In an age of instant and mobile access, 24-by-7 connected convenience, and rampant outsourcing, one can easily be lulled into thinking that a few clicks of the mouse can replace what once took years of toil to accomplish.
Who needs to cite academic papers when I have wikipedia? Why bother to make anything when I can buy them off the shelf? Must I learn how to do anything at all when I can easily pay somebody else to do everything for me?
The truth, however, is that original work and relentless perseverance now becomes far more important than ever before. With the barriers of entry lowered by technology, one needs to grind away even harder to differentiate oneself and to stand out from the crowd.
The tenets of self-sacrifice, delayed gratification, focus, resilience, and determination are critical in any enduring personal or professional enterprise. While being first off the starting blocks gives one a headstart, it is far more imperative for one to stay the course, no matter how convoluted or difficult it may be. This is also why lifelong learning and upgrading is necessary for us in the road towards self actualisation.
Let me end by citing this saying I heard from a musician in an orchestra:
"If I fail to practice for a day, my section mates can tell the difference.
If I fail to practice for two days, the conductor can tell the difference.
If I fail to practice for three days, the audience can tell the difference."
Labels: business strategy, david shenk, genius, hard work, inspiration, kevin roberts, personal effectiveness