He’s a Canadian journalist, best-selling author, and speaker. He’s been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1996. He’s written five books, all five of which have been on the New York Times Best Seller list. He’s Malcolm Gladwell, and here are his top ten rules for success.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Top 10 Entrepreneurship Rules For Business and Success
Rule #1: Have The Courage To Pursue your Idea
It’s not enough to have a great idea and the focus and the conscientiousness to see it to fruition, you must have the strength and the resolve and the courage to pursue that idea, even when the rest of the world thinks you’re insane.
Time and time again, if you look at the stories of extraordinarily important entrepreneurs, there is almost always a moment when they are the only ones who believe in the value of what they’re doing. I tell in my book the story of, my book, David and Goliath, the story of Ingvar Kamprad, the guy who founds IKEA, and the crucial moment in the story of IKEA is when he faces a boycott from the other furniture manufacturers in Sweden.
He’s about to go out of business, and in desperation, he moves his operations across the Baltic Sea from Sweden to Poland and sets up shop in Poland. And that’s what IKEA is. IKEA is essentially furniture, shipped flat, made in Poland.
That’s the original elevator pitch for IKEA. What’s interesting about that is that he does it in 1961. At the height of the Cold War, at a time when East and West, when Communist world and free world are closer to outright war than at any other time in history, a guy living in the West, Sweden, crosses the pond to Poland, the Iron Curtain, and sets up shop.
You cannot imagine what a controversial move that was. That would be like Walmart opening operations in North Korea. Literally, it’s on that level of kind of eyebrow-raising, you’ve got to be kidding me, who is this guy, kind of thing. But he does it, and he persists, and he turns his back on all those critics.
Why? Because he is a deeply disagreeable person. Didn’t need people to agree with him. And that’s how he’s able to build IKEA into this extraordinary, runaway success story. That’s very hard to do. As human beings, we are hardwired to want the approval of our peers.
Rule #2: Try A New Approach
There are situations where being bad is highly advantageous. And if you read, I don’t go into this in the book, but if you’ve read Innovator’s Dilemma, it’s what Innovator’s Dilemma is all about, right? The disruptive outsider is the one who is incapable of meeting the marketplace needs as the market is traditionally defined.
They can’t do it, right? So what do they do? They try a completely new, half-assed approach which in the beginning doesn’t work, right, but that very nature of trying something completely outside the mainstream, they end up upending the. Were they any good, they would never be forced to do that. So it’s the same kind of principle.
Rule #3: #Believe In Meaningful Work
When you put forth effort, you get reward. When you throw your heart and mind and soul into something, you get something back. You know, in my book, I call that notion, that belief, that effort brings reward, “meaningful work”. And when you look at the lives of people who are really successful, what you see over and over again is this idea of meaningful work is embedded in their consciousness.
You know, I tell the story in the book of The Beatles. Everybody knows about The Beatles. They come here in 1964, and the British Invasion. The most interesting thing about The Beatles is what happened to them before they came to America.
In 1959, when they were just kids, they were invited to go to Hamburg in Germany to be the house band at a strip club. And they went there, and they stayed there for months on end and seven days a week, they played eight hour sets, night after night in this strip club.
And over the course of that extraordinary crucible, that experience of playing, they taught themselves how to be a great band, right? In fact, we think now that by the time The Beatles came to America, they had played together as a live band 1200 times.
We could go to all of the clubs on Friday night in San Francisco, where all the promising young bands are playing. I submit to you that you would not find a single band that has played together 1200 times, right? Just doesn’t happen.
So what made The Beatles special? What made them special is that they were willing to play together 1200 times, willing to play eight hour sets seven nights a week, for months at a stretch.
And why were they willing? Because they believed in the notion of meaningful work. They had an opportunity to throw their heart and mind into something, and get something back. And that made all the difference in the world.
Rule #4: Constantly Revise Your Conclusions
When Dick Nisbett. He makes a turn in his career as a psychologist where he goes from. Remember, he thinks the fundamental attribution error in the beginning is fundamental, and then he realizes, actually, no, it’s cultural.
And he puts out and it doesn’t refute the fundamental attribution error, it deepens our understanding of it to say, oh, actually, it has roots in Western culture, but you see a very different, and actually, then he writes that book about East/West, which is incredibly fascinating.
So he gets two great books, out of going back, going over and correcting his earlier position. That to me is… the model of how you ought to behave in the intellectual world. I think you should always double back, and say, now wait a minute, this is more complicated here, we can kind of, and “contradiction” is too strong a word, but you should be constantly revising your conclusions, I think.
Rule #5: Distinguish Yourself From Others
My strategy has always been, you can’t, you have to very consciously differentiate yourself from where you think your professional peer group is going. So to the extent that people to the extent that people migrate to things that are accessible online, I feel I should migrate to things that are inaccessible online.
So the value or to the extent that people stop reading books and read, I feel I need to read more books. So what I’ve been trying to do is to kind of, it’s why I spend a lot of time in actual, physical libraries reading things in hard copy, because there’s a kind of a serendipity that you get when you,this is not in any way meant as a criticism, by the way, of search engines, for example, which are incredibly useful, but they also have limitations.
They reward a certain kind of serendipity, and they punish another kind of serendipity, right? And if you really want to. If you’re interested in serendipitous learning as I am, much of what I uncover is uncovered serendipitiously, you have to be a student of all of the different mechanisms of chance encounters with the unusual and the insightful.
And so that means, not only do I spend a lot of time screwing around online on databases, but I also very, very consciously make sure that I go to physical libraries and walk through the stacks. Even something as simple as you’re interested in one book, and you go and you just look at all of the books that surround it, and the connections are not always.
There are connections between them, but it’s a different kind of connection than they would be connected online. It’s not a keyword connection, right? It’s a thematic connection, so there’s all these sorts of, You have to be a student of these kinds of different ways in which ideas cluster. And so, I’ve thought a lot about that in recent years, as a way of distinguishing myself from other journalists.
Rule #6: Practice
I’m uninterested in that topic.
Interviewer: Which one, the relationship between gift and practice?
No, I’m uninterested in natural gifts. I know they exist, and I know there’s such a thing as talent and I just feel like, and so what, right? Because there are people, I mean, you’re a basketball fan, I always think of Derrick Coleman.
I remember chatting with a guy that worked for the 6ers, and he said, you have to understand, that Derrick Coleman was the most gifted man ever to set foot on a basketball court.
He said, you’ve heard a million other names, nobody was as good as Derrick. And who has heard today, who thinks, who puts Derrick Coleman up there on the pantheon? No one. He didn’t want to work. He had bad habits.
He had a bad attitude. I mean, so what? Give me somebody who want to go to practice in the morning, and who wants to try in games, and I want to celebrate him.
Rule #7: Explore
Interviewer: If someone were to follow you from the inception to, sort of picking a story or identifying a study, to the full book, what happens along the way?
Well, I don’t really know. I mean, sometimes I start. There are about five or six times a year I go to the NYU library and I spend a couple days. Just browsing is too mild a term.
But, wandering around, going through millions of journals in the most serendipitous way I can. Just to kind of see what’s out there, and see if I can stumble on something.
Interviewer: Without a clear goal or direction?
No goal whatsoever. No goal whatsoever. So there’s that I do, as a regular basis, and then. I do a fair amount of speaking, and I always try and have conversations with people well outside my world. So today, I gave a talk this morning in Philadelphia, and I was talking to a guy.
One of the guys there runs a medical devices company. Very, very small one. And so I started talking to him about it. Because I’ve always had this idea in my head that it would be really, really fun to write, to compare the way dogs are treated with the way humans are treated, because they’re not that dissimilar, as problems for medical science. But the systems that surround doggie healthcare and human healthcare are profoundly different.
So, the same devices are used in various hip implants, well, not the same, but analogous devices, only you do a complex knee surgery on your dog, it’s $7,000, and you do it on a human being, it’s a hundred. Now, is human really 15 times more complex than a dog, when it comes to.? No, so there’s something, but I sort of had this vague thought and when I met this guy, so I started asking about this, and he sort of started riffing on it, gave me his card.
Now that’s sort of how it works, you know what I mean? You take advantage of a little thought you had in your head and when you meet someone by accident who happens to have specialized knowledge, you make sure you get his card.
Rule #8: Be Patient
So a group of really brilliant psychologists in the field of expertise research have sat down to try and figure out how long do you have to work at something before you become really good. And the answer seems to be, it’s an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields, and that is, you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed for 10,000 hours before you get good.
So, every great classical composer, without exception, composes for at least 10 years before they write their master work.
Mozart is composing at 11, but he’s composing garbage at 11. He doesn’t produce something great until he’s 22 or 23. Concerto number nine, I think. If I asked you, how long did it take you when you were doing this job before you felt comfortable, and good at what you were doing.
Interviewer: Yeah, 10 years at least
10 years. And the same with me. It’s an incredibly consistent finding, and it’s really important because it says that we are far too impatient with people. When we assess when someone has got what it takes to do a certain job, we always want to make that assessment after six months, or a year, and that’s ridiculous.
The kinds of jobs we have people do today are sufficiently complex that they require a long time to reach mastery. And what we should be doing is setting up institutions and structures that allow people to spend the time and effort to reach mastery, not judging them prematurely.
Rule #9: Understand The Rule Of Business
If you are a doctor, you have to understand that you are in the relationship business. If you are in a shipper, you have to understand that what you are interested in is the supply chain from A to B, not in managing some transaction along the way.
If you’re in the radio business, you have to understand that you are not selling a box, you are selling an experience. Those are the rules of the modern economy. And those who grasp those rules are the ones who thrive and succeed, and are capable of transforming the industries that they’re a apart of.
Rule #10: Outwork Others
The choice you have as an underdog is, if you’re going to choose to fight, and fight to win, there are a series of strategies available to you. But they are all more costly than the strategies available to the favorite. So I give the example of a chapter about a software mogul in Silicon Valley, an Indian guy, who coaches his 12-year-old daughter’s basketball team. And they are without talent.
They are, by his own admission. They don’t even know how to play the game. He takes them all the way to the national championships. He does it by. He instructs them, they’re going to play the full-court press every minute of every game, and defend every inch of the court.
Now, that’s actually a very effective strategy, particularly in age class basketball if you’re the underdog. It’s really your only chance of winning, is to play a really aggressive defense. It requires, however, that everyone on your team expend maximum effort every minute of the game.
You cannot loaf for an instant. You have to be in really good shape, and you have to run yourself ragged, and you cannot let up. Most people will not play that way because it’s too difficult. If I said to you, we’re not going to be doing elegantly designed plays and shooting gorgeous baskets and passing the ball, we’re just going to be doing this for the entire game, and you’re going to be exhausted at the end, most kids would say, that’s not why I signed up.
So that’s a classic illustration that effort. Effort is the route, one of the routes available to the underdog. I can outwork you. I may not be able to outspend you, but I can outwork you. Well, outworking is a tall order, it’s not easy to do. As anyone who’s worked in a startup knows, it’s one of the stressful parts of it.
But successful startups, I’ve never seen any actual data on this,but do we think the people working for successful startups work longer hours than people who work for Fortune 500 companies? My guess is yes.
Thank you so much. I made this because Jim Jhang asked me to. So if there’s a famous entrepreneur that you want me to profile next, leave it in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do.
I’d also love to know which of Malcolm Gladwell’s top 10 rules meant the most to you, had the biggest impact. Leave it in the comments, and I’ll join in the discussion. Thank you so much. Continue to believe, and I’ll see you soon.
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