Every creative person and anyone wanting success is always on the look for hacks. We study and examine high achievers and ask: How did they do it? What do they eat? When do they sleep?
What books should I read for a little of their magic to rub off on me?
I’ve gained much help from studying achievers, artists, and successful people in their craft, past and present. Dare I say, stolen some of their hacks.
But there’s a danger here.
We think high achievers in whatever discipline found success because of a set of tried-and-true principles. Perhaps. Working hard is a given, but not everyone had success because of work ethic alone. They had breaks, skill, and talent.
The danger is by reverse engineering Steve Jobs building of Apple, or Ernest Hemingway’s process for writing, we too can make billions and win a Pulitzer in Literature. If it were that easy.
So how can we study the greats but not fall into the trap of mimicking their success as a guarantee of success? Let me try to illustrate from a recent sporting event.
Consider the Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship earlier in the week. If you’re a fan of basketball, or not, something interesting happened with this team.
Nobody gave this team a chance. In the last decade the NBA has become a three point shooting league. A league with teams shooting more three pointers than any time in history. Where in the past the NBA had a more balanced game. Some three’s, inside game, and team defense were keys to championships.
The Bucks don’t fit the typical style of the NBA. They depend on their big guys. Much of the season they started two seven footers. Not exactly the common strategy for 2021.
You can’t win with centers common knowledge suggests. The NBA is a three pointer league the analysts say. The days of Shaq and Kareem dominating the paint are over.
Until Giannis Antetokounmpo the seven footer on the Bucks showed up. The “Greek Freak” essentially took the Finals into his own hands and dominated these games. Even scoring fifty points in Game 6 to close out the series.
What does this have to do with success and achieving? Everything.
You don’t have to be a basketball fan to see where I’m going. The minute we say there’s only one way to win a championship we get the Bucks. All the experts assume the only way to win championships in basketball is to have three point shooters.
True, until it isn’t. The Bucks only made five three’s in the close out game.
Context is King
When we study high achievers in our fields, you have to consider the context. Hemingway wrote on a typewriter, we write on computers. Thomas Jefferson was extremely prolific with his writings and ideas, but didn’t have Netflix. You get the point.
Our success is not dependent on following the exact path of someone else. As if that’s possible.
Don’t Follow Fads
Sometimes we mimic other achievers because of fads. Did you hear so and so use a Bullet Journal? So then we do, and it lasts three days. Did you hear so and so wakes up at 2 AM, works out, eat only egg yolks, and fasts sixteen hours a day? We try it and hit the snooze after day five.
Don’t follow fads. For other achievers, many of these things worked. You can learn from them, but do you.
Know Thy Self
When I wrote my first novel, the advice is never to edit as you go. Sit down, write a crappy first draft, and come back and edit later. The problem was my first novel had so many problems the editing process forced to me to shelve the thing for two years. I now edit as I go.
What I learned is many professional writers edit as they go. They want clean drafts when they get to the editing phase. So that’s what I do.
Do I recommend everyone do this? No, you do you.
Creative people will say you have to make something every day. Write every day. Do you? Some people do, some don’t. Does one way guarantee success? I’m not sure. I see validity on both sides.
But what the Bucks teach us is there are multiple ways to play basketball. If you want to lineup big guys and dominate the paint and force your will on the other team, do it. The second we say the only way to win championships is a simple formula, we lose.
There are many ways and paths to success. If you’re stuck and think your process is the “way” to do it. Mix it up. Try something new. Don’t assume what you did in the past is the way forward.
I won’t stop reading and study the greats from the past and present. I won’t stop offering advice on writing and creative pursuits.
But I’ll do it remembering there is more than one way to win a championship.
*Originally published on Medium.