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What’s the one habit you employ that contributes more than any other to any success you’ve had? Attention to detail? How about follow-up? Or punctuality. That’s gotta be up there, right? Two of the most successful people in the world, each quickly uttered the same one-word reply when asked about their one single habit for success. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both replied with – focus.
I know what you’re thinking. How can you compare a couple billionaires to the plumber down the street or the high-school math teacher?
Well, Lewis Schiff, the author of Business Brilliant, who’s made a career out of analyzing successful people, did compare the responses to 3 questions posed to entrepreneurs of varying wealth. The responders ranged in net worth from less than a million, to over 30 million.
And the responses are pretty eye opening. He found that the multi-millionaires – people like Richard Branson or Suze Orman, responded distinctly different than the average Joe’s when it came to how they focused their efforts on getting ahead.
Want to see how you compare? Check out the responses below and see how it relates to how you approach your own work habits.
Here are the 3 questions he asked:
1. Do you know what you are exceptionally good at that makes you money?
He found that 55% of the respondents in the middle-class group didn’t even have an answer to this. Although the people in this group may be considered “successful” by society standards, they weren’t making a killing financially.
Now, compare that to 97% of the most wealthy (those worth over 30 million) who knew exactly which of their skills were the most marketable. Lewis Schiff calls this “learning your language”. The most wealthy group had the self-awareness to pinpoint exactly where their personal strengths were. The ones they felt were most marketable.
He adds that we all have certain traits we’re exceptionally good at, and we may not even know it. We may be so accustomed to our daily routine that we don’t give it a second thought. But without exception, every successful person he’s studied has been able to identify their own exceptional quality and turn it into a profitable business.
2. Write down areas where you’re exceptional. How many did you write down?
Just like in the first question, he noticed a distinct pattern with the people in the lower end of the income scale versus the extremely rich. The lower net worth group listed the largest number of things that they considered themselves excellent at.
And surprisingly, as the wealth levels of the responders went up, the number of things they thought they were good at went down. Specifically, the lower net worth group wrote down an average of six things, where the higher net worth group noted an average of – two.
Wait, does that make sense? Aren’t we taught to be well-rounded?
So as someone’s wealth went up, their expertise in various areas went down. Or is it more telling to express that differently – when you focus your efforts on a smaller, clearly identifiable set of skills – those you know you’re good at, you tend to be more successful.
3. Do you work to get better at things you’re not exceptional at?
To me, this almost seems like a trick question. If a job interviewer posed this question to you, wouldn’t you say, “Sure, I’d absolutely work to sharpen my skills in each area that I’m not familiar with, or lack skills in.”
But Schiff also noticed another very distinct pattern in the responses to this question. Fifty-eight percent of the middle-class group responded with “yes” they do spend personal and professional time honing their skills in areas they’ve identified as weaknesses. But in the wealthiest group, zero percent reported spending any time trying to get better at skills where they already know they’re not proficient.
So How Do You Compare?
I was amazed to see how the differences in self-awareness, and in how narrowly focusing your efforts can have such an enormous impact on your success in life.
It reminded me of what Woody Allen wrote in the movie Annie Hall, “80 percent of life is showing up”. The majority of businesses today, probably stay afloat because they employ staff that may not have a laser focus on what their most marketable skills are. But the average worker shows up every day, identifies the tasks at hand, and spends time multi-tasking to get the job done. And in return, they receive a paycheck that’s enough to pay the rent, but not much else.
But the owner of the company, or those who achieve success independently, approach their work with an almost diametrically opposite mindset.
They isolate those couple of skills they identify as marketable. The ones they can do better than most people. Instead of “I’m a skilled baker”, a person destined for success would say, “I make the best chocolate chip cookies you’ve ever tasted, and I’m going to sell them in every supermarket in the country.”
If you made what you considered to be the best chocolate chip cookie, would you want to spend months learning how to make donuts, rolls, and bread so you could work in a bakery? Not if you aim to be successful anytime soon.Instead, you’d probably focus on getting your cookies into as many stores as possible.
If you write a blog, and you think you can produce content that may help or inspire someone in some way, should you spend weeks becoming an HTML expert so you can redesign the heading? Or should you spend a few hundred dollars to have it done by an expert in their field while you produce a dozen new articles?
You’d want to have a general understanding of what’s required to get your ideas to the market. But to be truly successful it seems, you’ll need to be able to isolate what you’re good at, and do what it takes to maintain as much focus as possible right there. This goes against what we’re taught early on – to learn as much as we can about many areas and develop diversified skills.
The people who become most successful are taught the same diversified skill set, but at some point, they identify their particular strengths and do everything possible to maintain the majority of focus there.
It can be hard relinquishing some control. To begin outsourcing and have someone else contribute to your project. But the responses to the questions above really seem to bear out the idea that focus is the difference between earning a paycheck and achieving wealth. Specific, targeted focus.
Are you in a career situation that requires a lot of diversified focus? Do you find that focusing on a wide spectrum of tasks prevents you from getting ahead?
Or were you able to narrow your focus by outsourcing certain skills? How were your results?