Success isn’t always about being luckier, more talented, or harder working than everybody else.
As actress and entrepreneur Jessica Alba, “A Song Of Ice and Fire” author George R.R. Martin, and other luminaries show, it’s about having a unique approach to your work.
One key to getting so much done: outsource or automate whenever possible.
'If your time is worth $US25 or $US50 or $US500 an hour, then fork over the $US15 for someone else to do your laundry for you, and work on something for two hours instead,' he writes on LinkedIn.
'If you have to do tedious data entry to create a report every week, set up a spreadsheet to pull in and add the numbers for you,' he says. 'This is the entrepreneur's philosophy, and it can make you more productive than almost any other thing.'
'You spend a lot of your life having people tell you to follow your passion,' she tells The Huffington Post. Passion is fickle, Gilbert continues, calling it a 'one night stand' that you can't 'access every day.'
But curiosity can be met every day.
'Follow it,' she says. 'It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too.'
Actress Jessica Alba became a mother in 2008.
She couldn't find any baby products that suited her desires.
'I wanted clean, safe, effective products that were affordable and beautifully designed, and I couldn't find that in the marketplace,' Alba said. 'There wasn't really a family brand that spoke to me as a young mum.'
So she thought to start a company.
'People thought I was nuts,' she said. Reactions ranged from 'Can you just do a perfume or something?' to 'Baby diapers? Really?'
Paul O'Neill took over as the CEO of aluminium manufacturing giant Alcoa in October 1987.
He gave a speech to Wall Street, but he didn't talk profit margins or anything else financial.
'I want to talk to you about worker safety,' he said. 'I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America.'
Investors sprinted to the phone, telling their clients to sell.
Yet the emphasis on safety made an impact. A year after O'Neill's speech, Alcoa's profits hit a record high.
By changing one central habit, O'Neill changed whole culture.
'I knew I had to transform Alcoa,' he said. 'But you can't order people to change. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.'
When Donna Morris joined Adobe in 2002 as a senior director of global talent management, she noticed that the annual performance-review process wasn't serving anybody in the company.
'We fundamentally believed people were our most important asset,' she tells Business Insider, 'yet once a year we had a process that pitted person against person.'
So she soon abolished it. Goodbye annual performance review, hello regular check-in.
Reflecting on the experience, she says that 'people should have the courage to disrupt a process that might no longer be providing the company with value.'
If you spot popular talk-show host and comedian Bill Maher on a plane or in the back of a car, he'll be scribbling on a yellow notepad. This is his craft, he says, the incremental work of perfecting a joke.
The craft is in 'moving one word around, from the middle of the sentence to the end of the sentence,' he says. 'It's moving one joke that works pretty good over here, moving it behind this other joke, and now it's a giant laugh.'
He compares his approach to comedy as that of making violins -- a profession that takes decades to master.
'Game of Thrones' creator George R.R. Martin has created a world that people love to live in.
But the world isn't entirely his own.
'You look at Shakespeare, who borrowed all of his plots,' Martin says. 'In 'A Song of Ice and Fire,' I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own.'
This happens again and again in business. Apple didn't create the first MP3 player. But it made the most beautiful one.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is relentlessly efficient in the way she approaches her workday. Rather than being beholden to blocks of time, her workflow depends on what needs to get done.
That's why she brings a spiral-bound notebook with her to every meeting. In that notebook is a list of discussion points and action items.
'She crosses them off one by one, and once every item on a page is checked, she rips the page off and moves to the next,' Fortune reports. 'If every item is done 10 minutes into an hour-long meeting, the meeting is over.'
Arianna Huffington has every worldly metric of success. She launched and sold The Huffington Post, pocketing $US21 million. She lives in a swank luxury loft and is a well-known media personality, followed by millions on Facebook and Twitter.
Yet she didn't feel so successful one day in 2007, when she found herself in a pool of blood on the floor of her home office. She had collapsed from exhaustion.
It was a wake-up call: She had to include well-being in her conception of success.
'The difference now is a consistent prioritizing in my life,' Huffington tells Business Insider, noting how she incorporates yoga, meditation, and rest into her schedule. 'It doesn't mean that I do it perfectly by any means. But it is very much part of my life every day.'
James Patterson is the best-selling author of the past decade. He's set to publish 15 books this year.
He doesn't do it alone.
Patterson has shifted publishing's standard for writing, where a single author works on a single book. Instead, he treats his books like a TV writer might approach a new season of 'The West Wing' -- he's worked with more than 20 coauthors.
The collaborative method is everywhere, he says.
'You start wandering through Florence and Venice and start looking at these churches,' he told Business Insider. 'You look at these ceilings and you see, like, nine painters. TV scripts -- 60 pages, two writers. Movie scripts -- four writers. It's a lot more prevalent than people think it is.'
'Freakonomics' coauthor Steven Levitt was consulting with a tech company with a difficult problem.
'The question they were asking was: How can we reduce turnover to keep our subscribers for a longer period of time?' Levitt recalls. He suggested they look at the data.
Levitt and his team discovered a quizzical trend: Frequent users of a subscription product were cancelling their subscriptions. But why?
Digging into the data, Levitt found that there were customers who used the product frequently, but when they tried to renew, they ran into a credit-card failure.
'No one understood this,' he says. 'It was in the data, but no one had thought to tunnel down in that exact way.'
The company made an intervention and retention spiked.
'It wasn't that they didn't have the data to come to the conclusion,' Levitt explains. 'It's just that it's rare for people to have the patience to look at the data before trying to solve the problem instead of immediately reacting to a perceived problem.'
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