There are actually lots of people out there who have what it takes to be great. But to be the greatest of the great, you need more than talent.
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi is a scientist who has made it his business to tell people how to succeed, and his new book The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success was broken down by Bloomberg News. There appear to be five basic tenets of destroying your competition. If you are currently at the top of your field, but you want to knock everyone else off the mountain, Barabasi will tell you how. And if you’re not quite there yet, these laws might give you something to think about on the way up.
Network, Network, Network
You can be the best at something, but if no one knows, no one cares. Work on making friends in your field, especially with people more successful than you. That means having people skills, introducing yourself at parties, going to events, and throwing out favours.
It kind of sucks that just being extremely good isn’t enough, but a lot of skills don’t have a “best of” category. An athlete may consistently win, thus establishing themselves as the best, but most of us do stuff that is much harder to measure. That’s why who you know (and who likes you) matters so much.
Act Like You’re The Best
Apparently, there’s also very little difference at the top, but there’s a big difference in the kind of awards and attention that go to someone considered number one versus number two. So: If you’re incredible already, add a little flair. Writer Peter Coy added this anecdote as an example of what that means:
The pianist Lang Lang is known for his theatrical gesticulations at the keyboard. Turns out that’s a good strategy. Both novices and experts did a better job of predicting the winners of a juried piano competition when they watched videos of the performances with the sound off—an indication that the jurors themselves had been swayed by appearances, not just the music.
Flair attracts more people to take an interest in you, thus building—you guessed it—a network.
Pretend You’ve Already Been Successful
Once you’ve been designated “successful,” more success is going to come your way. That’s rough when you’re just starting out. Barabasi says the best thing to do is fake it until you make it. Write your own reviews, tell everyone how great you are; that doesn’t mean telling a lie, necessarily, but it is deceit-adjacent. Just think of it as letting your light shine brighter. A hint of shamelessness can get you far.
Dominate or Avoid Groups
One person will always end up being the face of group efforts. If you’re ok with always sharing credit, or not getting any at all, then collaboration is for you. Collaboration is also useful to society as a whole. However, if you’re determined to be the best, you have to be careful about how you hitch your wagon to projects. Especially women, apparently:
When women co-author economics research papers with men, people assume the real work was done by the men. How do we know that? Because every team-authored paper to which a woman contributes lowers her chance of getting tenure. Dismayingly, “from a tenure perspective, if you’re a female economist publishing with men, you might as well not publish at all,” Barabasi writes.
You may be in a field where doing things solo isn’t an option, especially at the beginning. Just think carefully about every move you make. Are you relegating yourself to second fiddle forever?
Stick with it. A lot of people who succeed do so because they hang in there until the very, very end. Barabasi cites examples of older scientists, who are considered less likely to discover anything noteworthy than younger scientists—except that’s just because they publish fewer papers. Those that do get published have the same rate of sharing breakthrough research, comparatively. Their output rate is the issue, not the quality of their work.
Others will fall off, lose their edge, don’t know how to play the network game, or find other things to do. Not you. You, the truly successful person, never gave up. And now you’re here to collect all the rewards.