I just finished listening to the audio CD of Outliers, the new book by Malcolm Gladwell. He makes a point that success takes more than just being ambitious, extremely smart, or working hard.
We all know plenty of ambitious people who don’t make it very far in life, or the hard-working person who makes just $10 an hour.
Gladwell’s main point is that success doesn’t just happen with the individual. For the person to achieve extraordinary results and to be considered an Outlier, you must also look at their culture and community and family and what’s happening in their generation.
Gladwell uses Bill Gates in a particular example. He writes that Bill Gates became the world’s richest man not just through his smarts but had extraordinary circumstances happen to him-for instance, he had extraordinary access to computers in high school in the 60s, when professors at leading universities had limited access to computers. And also, Bill Gates had connections to the right people because of the right family circumstances.
So if we don’t have the lucky gene pool that Bill Gates has, does this mean we’re doomed to fail? Absolutely not! Start looking around and start counting your blessings. I believe that “once in a lifetime opportunities” happen every day.
Here are my three lessons for achieving success:
Success doesn’t happen alone
In order for you to achieve success, you need others in on your plan. No one who has achieved tremendous has done it on their own. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about financial assistance or contributing positively to a big cause. Entrepreneurial companies need loyal and smart employees to build and achieve the entrepreneur’s vision. You need to involve others in on your plan.
Practitioner or an entrepreneur – Decide!
There is nothing wrong with being practitioners in your business. There are many successful practitioners out there making a great living helping many clients and enjoying and living a highly effective life.
However, if your goal is change an industry or change the world, then you need to move from being a practitioner to an entrepreneur.
An entrepreneur works on their business, not in it. I heard a great example recently where dentists are practitioners because they are so deep in their businesses that they are still working in your mouth. You need to get outside of the mouth to move from practicing dentistry to being in the dental industry. At what level are you playing in your business?
Share success with others
I’ve seen many rookie entrepreneurs make the mistake of claiming they want others to be successful. They then create a billion shares, keep 97 percent for themselves and then give their employees 10,000 shares of stock options. If the company they build becomes worth $50 million, which is pretty good for many entrepreneurs, that 10,000 shares is worth $500. Who would truly be motivated to earn $500 while helping you build a $50 million company?
Anyone who is willing to work for you and is a good employee deserves a decent chunk of that $50 million. Bill Gates became the richest person in the world because he also helped thousands others become millionaires. Be realistic with your sharing your wealth.
As an entrepreneur who has built all three of my companies, and who has invested in a few that are venture-backed, I personally struggle a lot with the concept of “sharing the wealth.” I have to fight hard with my inner self to be on the generous side and to share the wealth with my employees.
As such, Avidian has had stock options for several years now and we give our associates, even the entry-level ones, meaningful amounts of shares so that they can have a good upside when the company goes public or gets acquired. As a growing business with around 28 employees, our benefits packages are very good compared with other small businesses our size.
Finally, in 2009 we implemented a “generous profit” sharing plan for to our employees that will distribute 10 percent of all profits starting at any amount of profits and goes to 20 percent when we reach a threshold and that threshold is achievable.
Remember the old proverb from the good book, “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” If you want success, you need to involve others and be willing to share the wealth.
James Wong is the co-founder and CEO of Avidian Technologies, the makers of Prophet, the easy CRM software for Outlook. James is a seasoned entrepreneur and founder of three successful companies, and an active investor and supporter of entrepreneurship.