The Success Formula


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’.

6 replies on “The Success Formula”

Nice Inspiring piece… Bought Outlier Straigtaway. The book reviews on were enough to speak for the book. Adding Malcolm Gladwell to be Author preference list…

Pastor Dave used this in his preaching last Sunday as part of his series titled ‘Unmerited favour- the Grace of God’ would you believe.
I like the formula and I had been wondering what the book by Malcolm Gladwell was, thank you for that I already have the Tipping point.

I am glad that the blog post ties in with Sunday’s sermon at Hope City and I will recommend that you get ‘Outliers’ especially if you enjoyed ‘Tipping Point’.

I have to say I am intrigued by this Success formula. My first thought was to swap the places of preparation and opportunity. But, ya, I get how the formula works now. It makes sense.
I value the concept of mindful and delibrate practice with frequent feedback. I wouldn’t mind reading the book, Outliers. Here’s what I’m hearing: My actions need to be delibrate and not just a result of chance. Thanks Prof!

Hi Ola. It’s funny you are writing about ‘opportunity’. I was listening to a teaching earlier in the week where the Pastor said that “opportunity awaits the man who accepts responsibility.”

It’s true that we need feedback from mentors to help us progress. I am currently under a rather meticulous supervisor at work and I realise that it is a good thing to have someone who stretches you to get better by urging you to improve on the areas you are not so good at. Thanks for this..

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