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Reflections on what you need to be successful

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I would highly recommend anyone watch this video.

This is Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com giving a lecture to students at his old University, London School of Economics.

This is of course useful for people starting out on their career journeys but I think it’s also worth a watch for those people already well into their career. Why? Because it’s worth reflecting on what (career) success is and what is required to achieve it.

Lewis suggests that there are 4 things you need to be successful:

  1. Talent
  2. Hard work
  3. Focus
  4. Luck

I think that intuitively we all know this but sometimes we don’t give luck the attention it deserves. Whether I think of myself as being successful in my career or not, if I examine it, I can certainly attribute a certain amount of luck to all of the professional roles I’ve ever had. In fact, more often than not it was luck and not talent that got me in the door.

Of course once inside, there was never any getting around the fact that hard work and focus really are the key attributes of success. We all know talented people who’ve never quite lived up to their potential. And we also know people who have exceeded all of the expectations of those around them. Why? Because they were willing to work hard.


On the subject of working 90 hours a week I think it’s important to point out that the speaker in this video is referring to a business that he was growing. He very much had a personal interest in the business and I suspect was engergised when he could see the correlation between his effort and the success of his business.

I’m less convinced about long hours for those treading well work career paths – lawyers, bankers, doctors etc. Why? Because unless this path is a vocation, I question how effective you can be when working over a certain number of hours.

There may very well be times when you just need to put your shoulder to the wheel in the short term but this kind of lifestyle isn’t sustainable long term. It also doesn’t afford you with time to recuperate, recharge and stay effective in the long term. Steven Covey called this ‘sharpening the saw’, the idea of balancing your resources, energy and health to create a sustainable lifestyle. Such an approach will leave room for reading, reflection and creative thinking which can be useful in accelerating ones’ career rather than getting busy being busy.

In fact, in an era of exponential technological change, our ability to think creatively, that most human of abilities may be the only thing that empowers us to maintain a sustainable career. To think creatively requires time and space.

By the way, there is research that suggets that productivity – output per working hour – improves with shorter working hours. Across the world’s richest countries, higher productivity correlates with lower working hours (see also OECD data).

Some of this is of course subjective and can depend on the individual. I for one can vouch that the amount of time it takes me to complete a task correlates directly with the amount of time I have available. In other words, even for minor projects, if I have lots of time available, the project will expand to fill the time rather leaving me with spare time to sip pina coladas. But that’s just me.

Final note, Ford’s original workers were found less productive working more than 40 hours a week, a situation likely to be even more the case for people who work with knowledge rather manually – who ever had their best ideas when they were exhausted?

Enjoy the video.

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