The ‘A + P x O = S’ formula is my personal mathematical interpretation of Malcolm Gladwell’s theory which he brilliantly explains in his bestselling book, Outliers (I recommend you get yourself a copy). He argues that success is not only solely based on ability and hard work, but a lot hinges on opportunity. Talent and sweat are not enough to get you to the top. But what is opportunity?
The definition of opportunity depends on your world view. Some refer to it as luck, others say it is randomness (check out Nassim Taleb and Leonard Mlodinow’s books), a few will say coincidence. Jung called it synchronicity while Christians prefer the term ‘divine intervention’.
Napoleon Bonaparte sums it up well when he said that “ability without opportunity is nothing”. Gladwell goes on in his book to argue that successful people work hard at developing their abilities and talents. They actually spend more time honing their skills than most people do. An academic study by Anders Ericsson et al (which Gladwell refers to his book) discovered that the average time required to transform potential into expertise is 10,000 hours which is equivalent to 10 years.
This is not just mindless exhaustive preparation, but mindful and deliberate practice which requires the role of precise and frequent feedback from mentors or coaches in order to improve your skills. According to Geoff Colvin, deliberate practice is painful and demanding because it continually stretches an individual beyond his or her current abilities. It also goes beyond the normal practice that most people do.
We all tend to practice the same thing over and over again, or stick to practising what we are already good at. Colvin states that “the great performers isolate remarkably specific aspects of what they do and focus on just those things until they’re improved; then it’s on to the next aspect”. Deliberate practice is a form of KAIZEN – a Japanese word for never ending ‘continuous improvement’.