Written by Lori Thiessen

Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book Outliers: The Story of Success pokes significant holes in the North American myth of the self-made man (or woman).

Gladwell argues that being wildly successful (oodles of money, living large, etc) has less to do with an individual being seemingly blessed by the gods and more to do with background, opportunity and encouragement.

In a time when quick fixes are demanded in all areas of life, Gladwell shows that mastery of a particular skill set takes about 10,000 hours of old-fashioned, unglamorous practice.  From Bill Gates to hockey star, Sydney Crosby, every successful person has put in hours and hours of hard work.

Gladwell also points out that there is such a thing as a gifted person but without role models, encouragement and opportunities that gift is likely to wither, undeveloped and unsung.  A gift doesn’t spring fully formed when the recipient of that gift is born.  Unmiraculous things like training and discipline must accompany a gift if it is to bloom.

Given these parameters, why would anybody want to develop their gift? The short answer is passion. Nothing is more encouraging than being passionate about something. It is passion which will drive you to spend 10,000 hours on your gift.

But there is more to it than just passion. The other part of the success formula for work is that it be meaningful.

Like me, you’ve probably read books on success and work. And also like me, you may have been baffled by the words passion and meaningful when applied to work.  The passion part is starting to make sense to me now because I’m spending more time on something that I do care deeply about namely, writing.

But the word meaningful when applied to work still causes me to scratch my head a bit.

Gladwell comes to the rescue by breaking down the connotative definition of this word. For work to be meaningful, it needs to have complexity, autonomy and a clear relationship between effort and reward.

As people have grown dissatisfied with the standard definition of success (e.g. oodles of money, living large), I think Gladwell indirectly offers us a more comfortable definition of success: meaningful work. While this definition may be more comfortable for many of us, meaningful work is, nevertheless, still about hard work, having people around us to encourage us and mentor us, and having opportunities to develop our particular gift into meaningful work.

I would like to share a story with you I heard some years ago about the French impressionist painter, Claude Monet.

A young painter who was taking lessons from Monet asked the great master’s  advice on a scene which was troubling him. Monet examined the painting then picked up his brush and swept a little colour onto the canvas. The painting was transformed into a wondrous piece of art. “It took you no time at all to do that!” exclaimed the young painter. “Ah, you are wrong. It took me forty years to do that,” replied Monet.

Q: Who do you consider to be a success and why? It doesn’t need to be someone ‘famous’, but someone whom you admire.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!