April 8, 2011

The Three A's of Awesome

I've been a fan of the 1000 Awesome Things blog since at least #805 The Smell of Crayons, but probably even before that. This counted down list of the everyday awesome things really makes me appreciate the little things around me and reminds me what a gift life is. Many posts are insightful, most are funny, and some are down right icky (like #989 Blowing Your Nose in the Shower). But they never fail to make me smile.

When I heard that the blog's author, Neil Pasricha, had given a talk at TED (a conference bringing together people from Technology, Education, and Design), I knew I had to see it. The talk was posted in January, but for whatever reason I just got around to watching it today. Maybe it took that long to prepare myself for the awesomeness of it all.

In his talk, Neil outlines the keys to a satisfying life, the "Three A's of Awesome": Attitude, Awareness, and Authenticity. So I just thought I'd share the points he made about these here, though I definitely suggest checking out the talk for yourself.

When bad news hits, you always have two choices: "You can swirl and twirl in gloom and doom forever or you can grieve and then face the future with newly sober eyes." You can choose to move forward and move on, taking baby steps into the future.

Appreciate the small wonders around you, as if you're seeing the world for the first time. Embrace your inner three-year-old, remembering that you saw everything you've seen for the first time too.

Be true to yourself. It's about "being you and being cool with that." When you're authentic, you put yourself in places, situations, and conversations that you love and that you enjoy. You meet people that you like talking to, you go places that you've dreamt about, and you end up following your heart and feeling very fulfilled.

While these points aren't revolutionary, they're important reminders of something we often forget. And they get to the heart of what living is all about.

April 7, 2011

Just Dance: What Makes Meaningful Work

As a follow up to my post yesterday, there's a lot more I could've written about Outliers. But I just want to highlight the discussion in the book about what makes work meaningful, because this is a large part of success: if you love the work you do, you'll be motivated to put the effort in that's needed to be really great at it.

According to Gladwell, satisfying work has three key qualities:
  • Autonomy;
  • Complexity; and
  • A clear connection between effort and reward
Autonomy is about having a certain level of independence in your work; it's the ability to make choices about your work and have a level of creative control. No one wants to feel like a cog in a wheel.

Complexity is feeling engaged with your work and having the chance to use your imagination. I've often heard that one of the best ways to find the work you love is to pay attention to those times when you were so involved with something, you lost all track of time. Meaningful work will really draw you in.

Seeing the connection between how much time and effort you put into something and how successful you are at it is also important. If you keep slaving away at something and it's getting you nowhere, chances are pretty good you're not loving your job. But if it's clear what the result is of your hard work isif there's a direct result that's important to youthen your work will be satisfying.

In combination, these three aspects are what makes work meaningful. Ultimately, it's not how much money you earn that's going to make you happy, but whether or not your work is fulfilling to you. This quote from Outliers sums it up perfectly:
"Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it become the kind of thing that makes you ... dance a jig."

So let's get out there and dance, shall we?

April 6, 2011

Success: When Preparation Meets Opportunity Meets the Family

I was first introduced to Malcolm Gladwell’s writing when I picked up a copy of Blink a couple years ago. I was hoping for a lesson in how to make quick decisions. But what I got was even better: a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of the human mind and its natural processes. With each new chapter, each new tidbit discussed, I was hooked, and I made a mental note to check out Gladwell’s other books in the future. That’s what brought me to Outliers: The Story of Success.

In Outliers, Gladwell challenges our taken for granted ideas about what success is. In a nutshell, the pervading message of the book is that success is not an accident, a lucky break, or merely someone overcoming the odds. Instead, success is the result of several predictable factors and circumstances and includes both extraordinary talent and extraordinary opportunities.

From the Beatles to Bill Gates, Gladwell shows us that those who are successful have several things in common. First, their stories reveal that excellence at a particular task requires a minimum level of practice: 10,000 hours, or about ten years.

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good,” Gladwell writes. “It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” Practice really does make perfect.

These successful people were given an opportunity to work hard and they took it. But they also happened to be born at the right time, when “their extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society.” They won the demographic lottery. So success was not just of their own making, but a product of the world in which they grew up.

Another common belief is that the higher your IQ, the smarter you are, the more successful you will be. But Outliers suggests that IQ is not the whole story and really, after a certain range (about 120, while the average is 100), additional IQ points don’t offer any real advantage. Practical intelligence—knowing how to ask for and get what you want—is just as important, if not more so. It’s knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and work them to your advantage.

Gladwell notes that, while IQ is basically a measure of an innate ability, social savvy is something that's learned. For example, the attitude of “entitlement”—of not being afraid to question authority and ask for what you want—is a common middle to upper-class attitude. This attitude is also what it takes to succeed in the modern world. Success, then, not only depends on hard work and opportunity, but also relies on lessons learned from our families:

“Successful people don’t do it alone. Where they come from matters. They’re products of particular places and environments.”

These cultural legacies are powerful, remaining throughout the generations. Gladwell’s discussion of the garment industry of the 1900s in New York city and rice farmers in Asia really brings this point home, illustrating how the ethic of hard work is passed on to future generations, and this attitude contributes to successful professionals.

“Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard.”

Often when we hear stories of success, they typically include the theme of triumph over adversity. Gladwell addresses this belief head on, noting that time and again, “what started out as adversity ended up being an opportunity.” The key is to seize the opportunities that come your way.

Simply put, the Coles Notes version of all this is basically:

Success = a large dose of hard work and persistence + a generous amount of social intelligence and know-how (thanks to cultural legacy) + a dash of the right opportunities + a dollop of pluck to seize those opportunities

While challenging the common beliefs about what contributes to an individual’s success, then, Outliers demonstrates how several forces are at play—both within an individual and without. In the process, Gladwell argues that society needs to provide opportunities for all to be successful, not just those with the right upbringing or advantages.

In knowing what it takes to be successful, I think we can all incorporate these lessons into our own lives. For me, Outliers is a strong reminder that diligence does pay off. The key is to remain persistent and be bold enough to take the chances that come your way.

[Image from here.]