I’ve heard people say there are plenty of hardworking, intelligent people who still fail to achieve their dreams and because of this, their advice is to be realistic and have a plan B. To a certain extent, I agree. You should definitely have a plan B if that backup plan is also something you really want. However, if falling back on your plan B and achieving it will still leave you feeling empty, forget plan B.
Are there really that many intelligent, hardworking people who fail? First of all, we have to define “intelligent”. Getting a 4.0 in school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re intelligent. Memorizing a bunch of facts and figures doesn’t necessarily mean you’re intelligent either and neither does knowing how to solve a Rubik’s cube (it’s really not that hard).
Here’s my definition of intelligence when it comes to achieving goals:
The ability to quickly figure out what is needed to be successful, what works, what doesn’t work, and being able to efficiently apply and improve upon what works.
People who are ambitious and work hard for years and still don’t reach their goals most likely did the wrong things or they did the right things but didn’t stick with it long enough. It could also be because they were missing some crucial pieces to the puzzle. You could have a great product but without a great marketing plan, not enough people are going to know your product even exists. Sometimes, it could just be that you don’t currently know the right people.
You can be a hard, dedicated worker who happens to be working for the wrong company, a company with a culture that promotes people who are in the “in crowd” for example. If you’re trying to get fit, you may be focusing too much on the exercising aspect and not enough on the nutritious food aspect. It could also be that you’re doing all the right things in the right order, but you just hate what you’re doing and therefore, are likely to end up quitting way too soon.
Achieving the Results You’re After
So what can we do to increase our odds of succeeding in whatever it is we’re working on?
Assuming you already know your outcome, the first step is to take action. Being way too concerned about whether you’re doing the right things or not in the beginning can prevent you from ever getting started. The important thing is to take that first step.
From there, measure your results. As you take action, you’re going to get feedback. Compare your results to your ultimate outcome. Are you getting closer or further away? Once you start getting some results, good or bad, you will be in a better position to focus on what needs to be improved. You’ll also have a better sense of what sort of information to look for.
It’s sort of like reading and studying a chapter before it’s discussed in class. Any questions you might have for the teacher will be a lot more focused and efficient compared to going to class and learning everything for the first time. You’ll simply have too many questions that could probably be answered had you taken action and looked into the material beforehand.
What you’re really after in doing all of this measuring is the few crucial things that make the biggest difference.
The Pareto Principle
There’s a well-known concept called the Pareto Principle. In relation to the topic of this article, this principle basically states that of all of the things you can be doing that’s related to producing the outcome that you want, 20% of those things will produce 80% of the results. Another way of putting it is that you could be spending all of your time focusing on the 80% of tasks that only produce 20% of the desired results.
Being intelligent when it comes to achieving goals, in my opinion, is being able to figure what that 20% is. Once you figure that out, the work and time that you put into your goals will be a lot more efficient.
If other people have already achieved the results you want, then they likely focused their energy on the right things. Either find these people and ask them what these things are directly (email, networking, conventions, etc.) or read books that talk about what the right things are. For just about anything you want to achieve, someone wrote a book or an article about it somewhere that explains how to do it. Perhaps there are interviews where you can find out this information as well. You could also take the longer trial and error route and figure it out on your own.
As I said, there’s nothing wrong with having a plan B or C through Z for that matter but only have them if those backup plans are also something you truly want to achieve. My belief is, it’s all about what makes you happy. Some people pursue a dream, never reach it, but are still happy because they’re doing what they love on a daily basis. What’s the point of pursuing a goal that doesn’t somehow add to your enjoyment in life if you achieved it?
I understand that in certain cases, things like luck, talent, or having the right parents are involved in the achievement of a goal but most of the people who fail to achieve their goals fail not because of the lack of these things but the lack of correct, consistent action and intense desire. If you’ve failed to achieve your goals, it’s most likely because you didn’t focus on the right things or because you gave up too soon.
The “right things” can vary depending on the goal. In some cases, it could mean getting to know the right people while in other cases it could mean working for the right company or hiring the right people. Whatever those key things are, figure out what it is and apply them.
Bare in mind that the “right things” today may be different than the “right things” 3 or 5 years from now especially in the world of business where things are constantly changing. This is why it’s a good idea to keep up to date with information regarding your industry. Find out what the top people in your field are reading and subscribe to the same magazines.
Success is mostly based on logic. If you do the right things (which can constantly change) for a long enough period of time, you are very likely to succeed.