Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book Outliers: The Story of Success investigates the real reasons some people become successful and others remain average.
His first conclusion is that sometimes success is an accident of birth – mostly because it means you reach the right age at the right time to take advantage of opportunity. He cites a range of evidence from hockey recruiters to the great industrialists in the US.
He also shows that success is a matter of hard work; he quotes Daniel Levitin‘s work “The emerging picture … is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything”. Which means I’ll never be a concert pianist, or an Olympian, or a world-class programmer.
It’d be tough to look at success without also looking at failure, and he looks at some aircraft accidents and finds that the cause is sometimes cultural – related to how conversations work with figures of authority. Culture plays a part in failure, and success, particularly related to work ethic.
It turns out to be exactly as your mother told you – some people are born lucky, some people are born talented, but the really really successful people work incredibly hard.