Entrepreneurs love to point to the success of "self-made" people like Bill Gates as proof that hard work, solid ideas and solid execution are the most important factors for success.
But is that really true?
Malcolm Gladwell, the famous author of The Tipping Point and Blink, has a new book on the way called Outliers and it seeks to explain that opportunities due to your environment have more to do with your success than just your smarts.
In a recent interview for New York Magazine titled Geek Pop Star, he pointed out the advantages Bill Gates had because of his family and location:
Gladwell cites a body of research finding that the “magic number for true expertise” is 10,000 hours of practice. “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good,” Gladwell writes.
“It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” Gladwell shows how Gates accumulated his 10,000 hours while in middle and high school in Seattle thanks to a series of nine incredibly fortunate opportunities—ranging from the fact that his private school had a computer club with access to (and money for) a sophisticated computer, to his childhood home’s proximity to the University of Washington, where he had access to an even more sophisticated computer.
“By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at his own computer software company,” Gladwell writes, “he’d been programming practically nonstop for seven consecutive years. He was way past 10,000 hours.” Yes, Gates is obviously brilliant, Gladwell concludes, but without the lucky breaks he had as a kid, he never could have had the opportunity to fulfill the true potential of that brilliance.
How many similarly brilliant people never get that opportunity?
I repeat the last question: How many similarly brilliant people never get that opportunity?
Success is not due to just yourself, but the environment and people you surround yourself with. That is why networking is so integral - who you know, who knows you and who you can raise capital from.
Your environment can play a real role in making things easier. Of course, that does not mean that one should look at their surroundings and resign themselves to failure.
Nothing worth having is easy to achieve.
If your current environment is not the best for your venture, it just means that you work harder and smarter, while finding ways to alter your surroundings to improve your chances of success.
Gladwell himself is a beneficiary of circumstances - His Jamaican mother was able to leave her small Jamaican town, eventually marry an Englishman and raise a family in Ontario.