Doug and Polly White on Wednesday Sept 13, 2017.

QUESTION: I am a college student. I want to become an entrepreneur. However, it seems to me that starting a business is risky and great success will require a lot of luck. From your prospective, what are the key elements of great success in business??

ANSWER: In his landmark book "Outliers: The Story of Success," Malcolm Gladwell shares a series of in-depth studies of people who achieved tremendous success.

Through these anecdotes, he makes the point that great success requires three elements: God given ability, luck and hard work.

Let's explore those three elements:

God given ability: As a boy, Doug wanted to be a professional football player. He pursued this dream into his teenage years. He had the good luck to live in a football rich part of town.

He had the privilege of playing on championship teams in youth league, junior high school and high school. He was fortunate enough to have great coaches that taught him good technique.

He had a rigorous program of running and strength training to which he adhered with religious fervor all year long. He worked hard, much harder than most of his teammates.

But, alas, he lacked the God given ability. He may have been big enough and strong enough, but he was simply too slow.

His football career peaked at Randolph-Macon College where he had a wonderful experience and won three conference championships. But given his level of ability, he had no shot at the pros.

No amount of good fortune or hard work could overcome his lack of God given ability. Great success, in any field, requires a measure of God given ability.

Good luck: A certain amount of good fortune is also a necessary component of great success.

You dream of great success as an entrepreneur. You are fortunate to live in the United States.

Depending on where and when you were born, becoming an entrepreneur may have been beyond your reach.

In the same way, bad luck can derail your plans. An ill-timed recession, a new competitor, a change in regulations, the loss of your health could all deal a serious setback to any particular business venture.

Being in the right place at the right time is important. Great success requires some good luck.

Hard work: Just because God given ability and a modicum of luck are necessary elements of success, don’t underestimate the requirement for hard work.

In "Outliers," Gladwell writes about the 10,000-hour rule, claiming that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,0000 hours.

He uses the Beatles as an example. They seemed to have burst on the music scene out of nowhere. The Beatles were touted as an overnight success.

Gladwell points out that prior to becoming an overnight success, the Beatles had been traveling to Germany for years playing long gigs in less than ideal conditions, receiving little compensation and essentially no recognition, all the time honing their craft.

After many years of hard work, the Beatles became an overnight success.


Only one of the three things necessary for success is in your control - how hard you work.

You can’t change the tools with which you are born, although you can develop yourself with hard work.

You can’t change your luck, although through hard work you can overcome some bad breaks.

But you and you alone control the effort you put into any endeavor.

You are gifted with a certain amount of ability and you will have your share of luck.

Doing anything less than the best you possibly can, doing anything less than working very, very hard is squandering these gifts you have been given.

In the final analysis, two things are clear. Every extremely successful person has worked very hard. And if you work hard, regardless of your ultimate level of success, you will achieve much more than if you don’t work hard.

Whatever you choose to do, fully commit yourself to it.

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Doug and Polly White have a large ownership stake in Gather, a company that designs, builds and operates collaborative workspaces. Polly’s focus is on human resources, people management and human systems. Doug’s areas of expertise are business strategy, operations and finance.

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