As I’ve mentioned before, I am at any given time reading three books simultaneously: a print book, an eBook, and an audiobook. Every once and a while, I’m reading a few books concurrently whose ideas play into one another fairly well. Throughout the past few days, I’ve happened upon such a serendipitous occasion with Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain by Elaine Fox and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The great news for you as a small business person and just plain old human being is that I’ve found an out for you. The research in these books absolves you from the responsibility for your failures. Congratulations! You have an excuse…
I’d like to preface the following remarks by saying that I’ve pulled some major themes from these texts, but my comments do not in any way represent the entirety of their arguments. Both books are well-reasoned, thoroughly researched works of social psychology. Neither author is in-your-face bashing you over the head with his or her theory of who succeeds and who languishes. And, please, take my comments on the books with a grain of salt. Read the books if you want to really know what the authors are arguing.
Fox’s book is an attempt to discover what causes some people to be optimistic and others to be pessimistic. Gladwell’s book is an attempt to discover what causes the success of remarkable people in our society. The disagreement between the two revolves around the classic “nature vs nurture” debate. Are we a product of our genes…or of our environment?
We Are the Product of Our Genes
Elaine Fox focuses on neurobiology and genetic analysis to find a means of determining who will become optimists and who will become pessimists. In her search for a “gene for optimism,” she inadvertently discovers something slightly different–a gene for plasticity. Some people, it turns out, are more hard-wired to be shaped by their circumstances and others are more hard-wired to be resilient. Therefore, when faced with hardship, the person with the gene for plasticity will likely cave in under pressure. On the other hand, the person who does not have the gene will likely overcome regardless of the pressure.
What this means to you: When you fail or feel like a failure, it’s not your fault. It’s in your nature. You’re predisposed to giving up and giving in. So, you can rest easy. You can stop beating yourself up over how lazy you are. If you’re not resilient genetically, no amount of positive self-talk or feigned determination is going to get you results. Yes, you’re failing but, no, it’s not your fault. So, don’t worry about it. You have an excuse.
We Are the Product of Our Environment
Gladwell focuses on trends in sociological research to find a means of determining who becomes extraordinarily successful and who doesn’t. In short, he is debunking the belief that most successful people become so because of hard work and determination. In his research into the context in which successful people and unsuccessful people live, he discovers that people–regardless of their natural intelligence or propensity for resilience–are ultimately shaped by their environment. Those who are given the environmental advantage are those who succeed and those who are given the environmental disadvantage are those who fail. It all boils down to luck.
What this means to you: When you fail, it’s not your fault. It’s the world around you. You’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’re unlucky. You got the short end of the stick. It could be the way you were raised. It could be because you’re in the wrong city. It could be that you missed out on a pivotal conversation because of some random last minute scheduling conflict. It could be anything. But, whatever it is, it is completely beyond your control. You didn’t have anything to do with it. You were just in the path of the tornado. Yes, you’re failing but, no, it’s not your fault. So, don’t worry about. You have an excuse.
We Are the Product of Our Efforts
I lied. You don’t really have an excuse. Do I believe that both Fox and Gladwell are wrong in their assessments of human nature? No, of course not. I think that they are both probably correct. Some of us probably are more genetically predisposed to fail and some of us probably are more environmentally predisposed to fail. But, to me, these truths are irrelevant when it comes to actually making choices about our lives and our businesses. We may be but victims of our nature and nurture, but it is imperative that we live as if we are masters of our universe (Tweet this).
In a chapter of Outliers called, “The 10,000 Hour Rule,” Gladwell reveals that–although they become so because of the lucky breaks that they get in life–all wildly successful people put in a substantial amount of effort before they achieve the pinnacle of their success. The magic number? 10,000 hours. Classical musicians. Computer programmers. The Beatles. All of them, when they finally reach the plateau of success, can be shown to have put in approximately 10,000 hours of practice. So, even if Fox and Gladwell are right, success isn’t possible without effort. Among those who are genetically capable of being resilient and do have reasonably good luck, it is only the ones who put in the work that will become successful.
What this means to you: It all boils down to hard work. Even if 99% of your success is determined by factors beyond your control, the relevant question is what you are going to do with your 1% (Tweet This). You can always find an excuse. You can blame it on your genes. You can blame it on your disadvantaged childhood. You can blame it on both. But all you are doing is robbing yourself of what you actually are capable of contributing. Do the work. If you fail, at least then you will fail with the dignity of knowing you tried.
So what’s it going to be today? Will you look for an excuse for defeat…or will you look for a pathway to victory? The choice is yours.