“A consummation between preparation and opportunity ultimately brings forth success – ceteris paribus.”
– Michael Akinwale.
In the last post, I made mention of Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book, Outliers, in this post we will take a deeper look at what the book says. Our headline quote is from Michael because he, sort of, inspired this piece.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an outlier, amongst other things, as:
A statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.
Gladwell says Outliers are “men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary.” (page 17). These are geniuses, business tycoons, stars, the kind of people we will all like to be and can be.
For our definition of luck, we will turn to The Macmillan dictionary, it defines luck as:
1. success that you have by chance and not because of anything that you do,
2. An influence that seems to make things, especially good things, happen to people for no particular reason.
Isn’t this just sweet? That’s why a lot of folks like luck. They absolutely have no input – no work, no pain, no toil, no labour, but bingo, gains and fortunes land.
Let me quickly add, there is no concept of luck in Christianity. The word doesn’t appear at all in the Bible. The closest thing to the word luck in the Bible is “time and chance” mentioned in Ecclesiastes 9:11 but this is still not luck because time and chance, unlike luck, will just not work for you on a platter of indolence. The verse immediately before where time and chance was mentioned preaches hard work! What more, understanding is needed to benefit from the advantage of time (1 Chronicles 12:32).
The favour of God seems a bit like luck because its not gotten by merit, however God favours the diligent, hear what the Apostle Paul says
“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all…” – (1 Corinthians 15:10). Favour isn’t the same thing as luck.
Please, allow me digress a little, by 2011 I knew Nigeria was going to run into some issues because as the elections were around the corner, rather than discuss plans, agenda and manifestos, we were busy discussing luck. I think we went for the person we thought would offer us the very best of luck. No nation succeeds merely by good luck! Our public universities have been shut for about four months now, our luck; we have witnessed several air disasters and our honourable aviation minister said they are inevitable, our luck; kidnappings etc!
Preparation and opportunity
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.”
Allow me to lump preparation and opportunity together, its pretty hard to separate the two.
Again, we turn to The Merriam-Webster dictionary for help. It defines preparation as:
The action or process of making something ready for use or service or of getting ready for some occasion, test, or duty.
We would not bother to define opportunity. We would just get into it headlong, so that we don’t miss it.
The book Outliers is divided into two large parts, one of which is “Opportunity.” Gladwell starts by telling us that “the people who stand before kings….are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities…” (P 19). He quickly adds that every man has a role to play in taking advantage of opportunities. He says, “Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” (P 38).
To establish the concept of labour (work) and preparation he introduced us to the 10,000 hours theory. He mentioned a study done in the early 1990s by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music. The 10,000 hours are the periods of preparation and sacrifice that everyone must be willing to put in before s/he is announced to the world. The study showed that no musician floated effortlessly to the top while practising less than his peers (talent is never enough), nor was there anyone who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks (hard work breaks bad luck).
Success, they say, has a price tag attached! “The people at the top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” (P 39). He says, “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice (preparation) is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything.” (P 40). Gladwell goes ahead to back this claim up with stories of many world greats in various disciplines. “These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it…” (P 67).
Sometimes, we tend to think of opportunities as some sweet, young and fragile damsels with fair skin and thus easy to grab, no! Strength is needed to grab opportunities, “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” (P 267). A whole lot of work, not luck, is needed to grab opportunities, “Lucky is winning the lottery. They were given an opportunity, and they seized it… They took advantage of the circumstances that came their way… But that word luck fails to capture the work and the efforts and the imagination and the acting on opportunities…” says the legal scholar Eli Wald talking about some outliers (P 129).
What I have tried to do with this post is for us to see that we can become outliers, but we won’t achieve that by luck but by being prepared (ready, having put in our best) when the opportunities come. I think its safe if we conclude this post with the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, he said,
“Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.”
As always, I look forward to your comments here.
I am @seunalade.