Outliers Work Much, Much Harder

Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

A frequently highlighted passage from Malcom Gladwell’s best-seller: Outliers.*

I love this point and there’s a reason why 1064 Kindler users highlighted it: it exposes the fallacy of talent. Yes – there are certain people who have a natural capacity to learn skills, apply certain kinds of thinking and exert physical maneuvers that are unmatched. But for the vast majority of things and in the vast majority of cases, the best performing person is the one who has worked the hardest and the longest at whatever it is they are doing. Period.

We like to believe that it’s our lack of talent that prevents us from being successful when in reality, it’s probably our lack of sustained hard work.

Side Note:Do you want to get the best nuggets out of a book? Then you’ve got to check out Amazon’s Top Highlighted Passages on Kindle books. It’s a great way to see the passages people like most from various books. This makes it great for remembering important passages from books you’ve already read, and getting the gist of books that you haven’t.

*affiliate link

How To Find Awesome Startup Roommates

A note about my writing style. [0]

I’ve lived in SF for over a year and a half and have had the good fortune of having four cool startup roommates: Kalvin Wang, Randy Pang, Patrick Stockwell & Michael Righi (soon-to-be). All of them involved in startups and really great guys.

Some people don’t like living with people in the same industry – but I bet a lot of those folks just hate their jobs (ie: most lawyers  & investment bankers). I love it. When I get home in the evenings, I get to geek out about interesting Hacker News posts, debate Facebook valuations (I’m a little bearish, Randy is quite bullish) and get recommendations cool web apps that make my life more awesome [1]. Plus startup folks tend to know interesting people – I’ve met and made friends with some really cool people through my roommates.

This kind of sweet roommate situation doesn’t happen by accident. It takes some work and planning. My roommates and I have spent many many hours making sure that we really mesh with the people in our apartment. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from these experiences:

Note: Kalvin has different perspective on this process which he’s written up in a colorful and ironically link-baity titled post: How Borderline Douchebaggery Helps You Land a Great Roommate.

1. Start Projects With Cool People

Kalvin and I first met through a project in college that eventually became a nonprofit focused on microfinance and student innovation. That’s how we first became friends. When I first moved to the city, I was living in an open room in a family’s home. It was ok, but far from optimal. When Kalvin decided to move closer to work in September of 2009 (he was working at a startup in SF but living in Mountain View) I jumped at the opportunity to live with him. We already knew, liked and trusted each other, so it was a good fit.

2. Take Ownership of Your Search

Originally Kalvin and I looked for two room openings in four-bedroom places. We wanted to live with others and we figured it’d be easier to move into a place then find our own. We were wrong. It was hard to find affordable rooms with cool people in good locations. Ultimately we decided to pony up for our own three-bedroom apartment, pony up the security deposit, sign a lease and take matters into our own hands. This was a good move – we were in a much stronger position to find and bring in the people we wanted to live with.

3. Craigslist and Friend-of-a-Friend Are Not Enough

To find a great startup roommate, you need a large number of “high quality leads”[2]. It will not be enough to ask your friends for help and post on Craigslist. Your friends, while likely source of good leads, won’t get you enough of a selection. They will read your email, think about it, and *maybe* forward it to one or two other people. The distribution is weak. And when you simply post a two-paragraph blurb about your opening on Craigslist, you’re casting the net too wide and filtering for quality becomes an issue.

We got contacted by a bunch of folks from Craigslist and interviewed a number of them but no one really good came through. And even when we started to make offers (“the place is yours”), many of them had accepted places elsewhere. Our funnel was not big enough, nor were our applicants particularly compelled to live with us. We ended up with a roommate who, three months later, we had to ask to leave over rent and other issues.

4. Build a Great Landing Page

This was definitely a key element in finding Randy, Patrick and Michael. As it turns out, being very explicit about who you are, what you’re like and who you’re looking for is a great thing. It turns off the people who wouldn’t be interested in you but makes those who *are* a good fit, really excited.

Continue reading…

Use This Navy SEAL Technique to Virtually Guarantee Victory

In the excellent book Unleash the Warrior Within, former Navy SEAL Richard Machowicz explains a concept called “Advantage-Stacking”:

You want to stack so many advantages in your favor that, when the order comes, when the opportunity presents itself, you can’t help but win. Every successful person, whether they realize it or not, stacks advantages.

I love this concept. By incrementally improving various elements of yourself and your position, you can dramatically enhance your chances of success in whatever you’re trying to do. Here are a few ways you can stack advantages and win:

  • Commitment – How serious are you reaching this goal? Are you willing to do whatever is necessary to get the job done? A strong commitment is a powerful advantage.
  • Focus - Do you know exactly what you want or is it a more vague idea? Will you get distracted about other shiny objects? The more clear you are on exactly what you’re trying to achieve, the better.
  • Expertise – How much do you know about this domain/industry/practice? A deep level of knowledge and experience is a huge advantage against common/foolish mistakes and ignorant newcomers. Continue reading…

Further Thoughts on “Winning Isn’t Normal” (Vlog)

It’s been exactly two months since I published “Winning Isn’t Normal“. I typically get around 100-150 people coming to the site on any given day. (You can see my stats from 2010 for more on this) and when I have a post hit Hacker News, that number can go up to 1-3 thousand. But for whatever reason, over 10,000 people came to my site (many from HN) to read “Winning Isn’t Normal”. It’s by the far the most popular post I’ve ever written and I’m honored that so many people took the time to engage with my work.

I got a lot of feedback from the post (both good and bad) and wanted to share some more thoughts I’ve had on the post. I also wanted to try responding with a video rather than just another blog post .. you know, to mix things up a bit. So let me know what you think about the video in the comments – and I hope you enjoy!

Further Thoughts on Winning Isn’t Normal (youtube.com)

The Original Article: Winning Isn’t Normal
The Hacker News Discussion: HN Comments
The Rumi Quote: “The lion who breaks the enemy’s ranks is a minor hero compared to the lion who overcomes himself” ~ Mevlana Rumi quotes from Rumi Daylight: A Daybook of Spiritual Guidance
Keith Bell Quote: “Remember one thing… winning isn’t normal. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with winning. It just isn’t the norm. It is highly unusual … So it requires unusual action. In order to win, you must do extraordinary things.”
Sebastian Marshall header: SebastianMarshall.com: Strategy, Philosophy, Self-Discipline, Science. Victory.

Steve Newcomb on Building a Cult

If you are a founder of a startup, then burn the following info into your head:

Having a good team, or even an excellent team isn’t enough – you need to build a “cult.” And by “cult” what I mean is a group of super high quality people who trust each other and have similar ways of thinking, learning, reacting, problem-solving and working together.

Further, this team needs to bond together under a leader they trust and respect.  They must not be afraid of any type of challenge; they must be willing to walk through fire when their leader asks them; and they must believe they deserve to be the ones that will change the world.

Do this and you and your team can handle anything.  Don’t, and you’ll be heading to the dead pool.

– Steve Newcomb, cofounder of Powerset (acquired by Microsoft for $100M in 2008) as quoted from his blog: “Cult Creation“.