The No. 1 business book in the country is "Outliers: The Story of Success," the new book by Malcolm Gladwell, author of "The Tipping Point." "Outliers" is basically a collection of weird little scholarly studies and anecdotes strung along like pearls on a necklace, arguing that it’s smarter to be lucky than it’s lucky to be smart.
Lyrics from "Pippin" aside, Gladwell spends a lot of his time indicating that a strong factor in success is that the seed finds fertile soil — as in his story of the kings of Silicon Valley, who were all born within two years of each other, because any computer geek older than that would have been an entrenched IBM man by the time the personal computer revolution came around.
But Gladwell uses another set of his stories to indicate that success requires practice — nearly constant practice. He uses the figure of 10,000 hours to indicate mastery of a field, whether it’s music or hockey. In other words, it takes sweat. He doesn’t really use the word "persistence," because in some of his examples, the practitioner found the practice to be actually fun. Bill Gates, for example, enjoyed programming computers. And sometimes, as in the case of a young hockey star, there’s a loop where early success begets more rink time, which begets more success.
The book has some good lessons for real estate pros, especially in these trying times. No. 1 is that if you’re going to succeed, you’re not going to do it without practice. Every local Realtor association has its "Rookie of the Year" — so it’s not that there aren’t prodigies, but those people might have actually had practice in some crucial real estate skills, like learning how to stay in contact with dozens of people simultaneously or how to explain a technical subject in a manner that is amusing or at least tolerable.
The figure of 10,000 hours is approximately five years if you’re working 40 hours a week, so we need to give ourselves a break if perhaps we are building real estate practices around other jobs and family demands.
No. 2 is that even if you are very, very smart and work very, very hard, conditions still have to be right for you to blossom. Generally, you need a combination of economic and cultural circumstances that "fit" what you are trying to do — and it doesn’t hurt to have encouragement. In many of the success stories that Gladwell tells, the mega-achiever got that way not because of one lucky break from one person, but because of three or four breaks from three or four different people.
My first year in the business, in my very first real estate office, I noted with a little shock that the best leads went out to people who were already doing well at closing deals, instead of to people who were new or lagging at the game and might need a hand.
"Milk is given to the teenagers and not to the toddlers," I wrote. That’s very often a piece of the story of success: that one lucky break makes you a golden boy or girl, and then you are handed other opportunities to strut your stuff.
So if you’re in the middle of that cycle of success, work hard and run with it. But if the rocket has not taken off, how best to start it? One key is to try to make your work meaningful, because it will make the time you spend plugging away seem more like a means to a goal and less like unending toil.
In other words, kids, find joy in the day and keep your chin up.
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."
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