Recipe for Success – 5 Simple Ingredients

Who among you are not on a quest for success? Very few I would guess. Here’s my thoughts on what is takes to be successful. You may be surprised of how simple it is.

I recently completed reading a book called Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a book discussing the determinants of success. Very interesting read indeed. I’d like to share a few of the insights that I learned from the book as it goes very well with the themes I usually write about.

Let me stress upfront that I have applied my own layer of interpretation, so you may not come to the exact same conclusions if you also decide to read the book.

Throughout our studies and initial career steps we learn that good grades is the entry ticket to the jobs of our dreams. They definitely are part of the story. Conventional wisdom also states that luck has a huge impact; being at the right place at the right time. These two indicators are on the right track, but do not tell the full story.

My take-away from Outliers is that success is fully explained by five elements in combination, i.e. one or two on their own will not be enough:

  1. General intelligence – The degree to which your brain is wired optimally. This includes verbal intelligence, deductive logic, arithmetic, abstract reasoning and so on. Tests can reveal your Intelligence Quotient (IQ), where the average person scores 100, the genius scores 130 or above, and a mentally retarded person manages to score 70 or below. It follows a classic bell curve. It has been found that there is a positive correlation between success and IQ, to a certain point at about 130 where the curve seems to flatten out. That means that beyond that point you are not more likely to be more successful the higher IQ you have. Rather, at 130 the fundamental building blocks can be said to be in place.
  2. Creativity – The ability to form something original that has value. In other words, being able to think outside the box and make never before seen combinations of things that suddenly make sense. General intelligence, in contrast, is the ability to think very well inside the box. Combining that ability with creativity and being able to combine between boxes makes potential success even more likely.
  3. Practical intelligence – The ability to say the right thing at the right time (to the right person). This is the final piece of the puzzle of what comes from within a person to define success. This is the salesman of your ideas – sold in the right way you will enjoy the full impact of your ideas and in turn reap the corresponding success.
  4. Luck – The ability to be at the right place at the right time. Of course, this is not an actual ability unless you believe in witchcraft or things of that nature. But if you’re like me and don’t put your faith in that you realize that luck is random. Having enough (not as much as possible) of the three above abilities can only get you so far. Opportunities have presented themselves to the most successful people on the planet. A great example is Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft, the world’s largest PC software company) who just happened to be very interested in computer science and programming, and was enrolled at Lakeside School, a private preparatory school that, among very few examples, offered students computer time, which evolved into an opportunity for Gates and three of his friends to do debugging for Computer Center Corporation. A small part of the story that allowed Gates to get much more time doing programming compared to anyone else on the planet at the time. Leading me to the final element in the recipe.
  5. Diligence – The effort put into understanding and working within a field to understand the different aspects to step into an expert role and excel above all others. A study by Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist, concluded that 10,000 hours is needed to achieve great skill in a given area, commonly known as the 10,000-hour rule. This usually takes around 7-8 years if you spend 25 hours practicing. Hence, you need to practice a whole lot to become proficient enough to set yourself up for success.

There you have it – how to achieve success isn’t such a big mystery anymore. It requires five simple ingredients, three of which are more or less given at birth and the last two are hard to come by. I, for one, wish you the best of luck and hope you can maintain your focus throughout the 10,000 hours of practice in your endeavour towards success.


  1. Pingback: Emotional Intelligence – a Prerequisite for Becoming a (Good) Manager > Career Minerals

  2. Pingback: Outliers: The Story of Success > Career Minerals

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *