The full court press

I just loved Malcolm Gladwell’s recent article in the New Yorker, “How David Beats Goliath.”  It aims to explain nothing less than why and in what situations the weak beat the strong.

Like any good story it has a likeable but complex protagonist, some twists and turns, and plenty of surprises.  It weaves together the fate of a 12-year-old-girls’ basketball team, former all-Pro running back Roger Craig, a successful immigrant entrepreneur, wars throughout history, renowned NCAA coach Rick Pitino, and Laurence of Arabia.  What’s not to like?

My favorite line out of many great lines: “Relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coordination.”

Over the last decade, relentless effort has gotten a bad rap.  The Internet and Wall Street booms both reinforced the myth of the overnight success.  Have a great idea for selling dog food online?  Internet millions!  Are you 25 years old, smart, confident and good with numbers?  Here’s your million dollar bonus.  Are you gutsy enough to buy a house with no money down and resell it a year later?  You too can be rich!

Sure, it’s nice to dream big and have inspirational icons, but at some point as a society we end up undervaluing hard work and making collective bad decisions based on a something-for-nothing mentality that works fabulously until the music stops and lots of good, hard working people are left holding the bag.

So now we all have to get back to work.  Hard work.  And this presents two challenges: first, you have to be willing to do the work.  And that means every day, for years, long after the thrill of getting started has passed and the early glimmers of attention (which paint the outlines of what might someday be possible) have faded.  This is the hard part.

Harder still: where exactly should you place your effort?

This is about finding your own highest and best use and leaning your shoulder into that wheel.  Hard work in the wrong situation or on the wrong problem won’t get you there (though that may be part of the learning and discovery process).

So be willing to do the work, and be open to crazy-sounding ideas that may work better than what everyone else is up to.

In basketball, apparently, that’s the full-court press.  What it is for what you do?

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