Why do some succeed, and others don’t?
An interesting question in all areas of life, including entrepreneurship and business. Here are perspectives from two successful people in business.
Mark Cuban: “Luck is a huge part of everyone’s success. Shaq used to give me a hard time: ‘Oh. You got lucky.’ And I’m like, ‘you planned to be seven-foot-two and athletic, right?”
Warren Buffett: “When (Charlie Munger and I) were born the odds were over 30-to-1 against being born in the United States… We wouldn’t be worth a damn in Afghanistan… We won it partially in the era in which we were born by being born male…. We won it by being white… And we won it … by being wired in a certain way… to be good at valuing businesses…. It just happens to be something that pays off like crazy in this system.”
Some believe that they are “self-made” and succeeded (as beautifully sung by Frank and Elvis) because “they did it their way,” which minimizes the impact of where they were born, the talent they were born with, the skills that were taught, their racial and socioeconomic circumstances, their family and caregivers, educational institutions, available opportunities, open doors, and societal structure.
And then there is the middle ground, i.e., a combination of talent, skills, discipline, effort, and luck. This means you do the best with the talent you have, the skills you can develop, and the opportunities that are open (and open a few with your own initiative), never quit, and luck might strike.
Why is this important? People like Mark Cuban, Shaquille O’Neal, Warren Buffett, and others did not rest on their talent and endowments. They worked to acquire skills and use them. But they were also afforded the training and opportunities to succeed in their chosen fields. Doors opened to them, while these same doors may be closed to many. And they stood out from those who tried out – and from the masses who are not given the opportunity to try out.
Here’s the point – no one could have predicted their genius and accomplishments before they proved it. They were not picked for greatness based on a 3-sentence pitch. They selected themselves for greatness based on their talent, skills, accomplishments, and character when they grabbed the opportunity and proved their potential.
This also applies to 94% of billion-dollar entrepreneurs, who were not waiting for someone to anoint them as winners and shower VC on them, nor were they willing to accept the assumption that they needed VC to win. They controlled their destiny and did not squander their opportunity by ceding control to VCs who rarely succeed. While the world has been mesmerized with VC, and the business press cannot stop gushing over VC unicorns that often end up as mirages (WeWork, Theranos, FTX), these entrepreneurs proved their real unicorns where it counted – on the ground.
These high achievers proved their potential because they were allowed to prove it. Will society do better if everyone was given the training to offer their full gifts to society rather than rationing skills and educational opportunities to a few? Should business schools focus on the VC model that helps about 20/100,000 ventures, or should they focus on skills that help everyone?
MY TAKE: Entrepreneurial education ecosystems that are skills-based can do much more than those that are top-down VC-based. When will business school deans ask the right question – skills competition or pitch competition?