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Create an “Environment of Excellence”

Most people think that they could be more successful if they made a few simple changes. The interesting thing is that most of us know what those changes are and yet have difficulty doing what is required. Even though success means different things to different people, there will need to be 7 key elements present.

  1. Learning the relevant skills
  2. Practicing those skills
  3. Implementing them by taking action
  4. Consistency of application
  5. Feedback awareness
  6. Adaptation

Sadly most of us don’t even know that we need to develop each of these six elements. They are each individual skill sets in their own right and take conscious effort. However, these six crucial elements may not be enough to ensure long term and high levels of success in the areas where you want to make an impact and in the lives you want to help change. There is another element, the seventh that I have described as an “Environment of Excellence“.

Matthew Syed was the former UK Table Tennis champion for 10 years. Around the time that Matthew developed, he said that half the top players in the country didn’t just come from the same region or town. They apparently lived in the same street as he did. When he looked at the contributing factors to their success there were these three primary observations:

  • According to Matthew the coach at the sports club was probably the best in the country at that time.
  • They had keys to the local sports club with 24 hour access. They could practice whenever they wanted and so they did. Spending their evenings, weekends and holidays honing their skills.
  • The two factors above created a number of young people keen to develop their Table Tennis skills, which then naturally created a competitive group of highly skilled people to play against and inevitably get better.

The likelihood of success is massively increased by having a clear goal outcome and the desire to succeed; facilities to execute the action; a peer group of supportive and competitive people to help you grow and ongoing coaching from a professional that is one of the best in their field to inspire and unlock the potential in you. Sounds all rather obvious, but not always that simple to find in our work contexts. We have to be prepared to go and search for it.

The bestselling Author and journalist Malcom Gladwell has written and talked about these unusual environments that create excellence. His examples include:

  • Some of the very wealthy mergers and acquisition law firms in the USA. Their owners were Jewish lawyers that went into that field of law decades ago as it was seen as unfavourable to most of the other firms that didn’t see the value in doing it at the time. I believe that due to discrimination they had difficulty obtaining other legal work so M&A was an ideal solution. Then in more recent times complex mergers and acquisitions became some of the most lucrative legal work available, which placed them in the perfect position to take full advantage.
  • He also explored Bill Gates of Microsoft who had unprecedented access to a computer terminal overnight at his school as a child. There were only a few terminals in the whole of the country that were connected to a particular mainframe computer. It so happened that one was in Bill’s school. But also Bill was unusual in that, unlike most teenage boys, he would voluntarily get up in the middle of the night to travel across town and spend a few hours programming on this terminal.
  • Steve jobs of Apple was born at a similar time to Bill when computers were just starting to evolve. If they had been born a decade earlier or later, then they wouldn’t have been “in the right place at the right time” and had the global success in those particular fields.
  • Malcolm Gladwell talks about his own experience where his flat mate happened to be one of the most connected people in his city, which led to Malcolm getting a job in journalism which was his first step towards his success later in life.

Environments of Excellence are created by the decade we were born in, the family that raised us, the education we had, the people we happen to meet etc. Hence, a few people are fortunate that “all their stars are lined up”.

But, for the vast majority of us then we have a simple choice. To declare that we are not the lucky ones or we will decide to create our own Environments of Excellence.

Isn’t creating the conditions in which ordinary people can become extraordinary is what school and work should be about?

Matthew Broomhead

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