How You Too Can Achieve The Extraordinary
Last week, my father was honored with the Franklin Institute Award, which, at 192 years, is the oldest award in science and technology in the US.
He and seven others joined an illustrious list of past Laureates including Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, and Bill Gates. To-date, 117 Franklin Institute Laureates have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in their fields.
As part of the award ceremony in Philadelphia, we watched brief video clips about each of the Laureates, including their groundbreaking work and the way they approached it.
Not only was it wonderful to see and listen to these wise people – imagine Yoda from Star Wars – I was struck by the recurring themes in their stories. And in particular, how these could apply to us mere mortals as well.
Six strategies that helped the Laureates succeed
It obviously helps that these Laureates have towering intellects. But even for the rest of us, these six strategies can work beautifully. So having less than a genius IQ is no excuse!
Here are the common themes from the stories of the Laureates’ success, and thoughts on how they can help you to achieve the extraordinary too.
1. Not stopping at “no”
When these scientists were told it couldn’t be done, they came back at it from another route, not letting it stop them. Several had stories of being dismissed or even ridiculed by industry experts when they proposed their extraordinary ideas.
While some ended up leaving to team up with people who were willing to take the risk, others stayed on and were able to change peoples’ minds. Either way, they eventually had to find a way to persuade others in order to achieve success (see strategy 2).
Are you the one saying no to potentially great ideas that you haven’t taken the time to consider from all angles? And if you’re on the receiving end of the “no”, could you channel the confidence, resilience and grit of these scientists the next time conventional thinkers throw up obstacles that threaten to block you from achieving your vision?
2. Bringing others along
Another common theme was the need to persuade others to support their work. That included recruiting people to work in their teams, getting approvals and funding, and keeping their organizations onside during the years it took to achieve those extraordinary outcomes.
For Laureate Bill Barucki, his employer NASA was the only game in town. So when his boss at NASA told him everyone agreed his idea would never work, but that they would nonetheless form a special committee to investigate, Barucki had to find a way to bring them on board. He regrouped, pulled his team together, and gave his naysayers a special presentation: a full explanation of his plans, showing how the seemingly impossible could be accomplished, and demonstrating the impact the project would have on the success of the space program. By the end of the day, they became believers and joined his team.
Whether you’re in a large organization or part of a startup, being able to get others on board and persuade them to back you and your idea is pivotal to extraordinary success. No one achieves extraordinary outcomes alone. In fact, the bigger your mission, the more you need others’ support.
How are you developing your ability to communicate with a wide range of people in a way that influences and persuades them to support the bigger mission? What do you need to do to reframe your idea in a way that others are willing to support?
3. Not being bound by convention
These Laureates are innovators, willing to take an unconventional route when necessary (and it’s almost always necessary). More than that, they tend to ask why something can’t be done differently and better. To quote one of the Laureates, Patrick Soon-Shiong, who is driving the “Moonshot” approach to overcoming cancer, “The status quo is never acceptable.”
Indeed, even well-meaning people can get it wrong when they’re bound by convention and what they know. Sometimes they don’t understand what you’re proposing, or they see it from a different context, or it’s simply beyond their comfort zone.
In fact, in large organizations, it’s easy to become “institutionalized” without realizing it. The constant pull of conformity that comes from being part of a bigger entity can blind us to new avenues and opportunities. Just when it’s the very thing we need in order to get to the next level of achievement as an organization.
How do you resist the gravitational pull of conformity, convention, “group think” and maintaining the status quo so that you can help unleash the extraordinary?
4. Sticking with it
In each case, it took years for the Laureate’s vision to come to fruition. And during those years, there were significant set backs such as people saying it couldn’t be done and even ridiculing them.
For Laureate Bill Barucki, it took 24 years to get his Kepler Telescope into space – 16 years to get the final green light, and another nine to build and launch it into space. But the key to extraordinary success was that he stuck with it and completed his mission.
When it comes to doing something amazing, Laureate Yale Patt pointed out that it’s more a marathon than a sprint. And when you finish a marathon you get a medal. As my father likes to say, “it’s about completion”, not how long it takes.
Are you ready to stick with your mission for the long haul?
5. Pursuing your passion and beliefs
Each and every one of the Laureates had a fundamental thirst for knowledge and discovery in their area of expertise. This helped sustain them through the inevitable ups and downs of doing something new and substantial.
When it comes to choosing our work, it helps to be pursuing something we feel passionate about. Or at least to be able to frame it in a way that links to our values and beliefs.
Where do you stand on this point? Are you pursuing something you believe in and living your values every day, or simply marking time?
6. Looking at the intersections
For my father, the breakthrough in figuring out why arteries clog up at junctions (which increases the risk of heart attack) came from combining biology, medicine, and engineering. The solution could not have come from thinking about the problem in just one dimension. Indeed, in so many fields we’ve gone as far as we can in the single ‘silo’ and the big insights will come from applying knowledge from multiple fields.
How could this apply to your work? What can you port from one part of your life into another to create a new and better way of doing things? Or perhaps it’s collaborating with someone from another department or functional area to solve a gnarly problem by combining what you know (as in making 2+2 greater than 4)?
Learn from the best
I believe in learning from the best, and these Laureates are just that. In fact, they’re extraordinary. That’s why I’m sharing with you what I’ve learned from them.
Armed with these strategies, I hope you will find it easier to achieve the extraordinary.
And perhaps most impressive is how humble they are despite their achievements and contributions to society. This is something worth our learning as well.
A special note on my Dad
When it comes to my Dad, in the end, the Franklin Institute has simply recognized what I’ve known all along. My father is a role model for how to achieve the extraordinary. And it’s nothing flashy. From what I’ve observed, it’s simply staying on purpose and striving for excellence, one day at a time.
What will you do?
If you were to adopt even just one of these strategies, it will stand you in good stead. But most importantly, it’s about taking action.
So, I’m wondering…
Which of these strategies stands out for you as one you want to put into action?
Leave a comment below and let me know.
For more ways to achieve greater success in your career and life, check out my book ACCELERATE: 9 Capabilities to Achieve Success at Any Career Stage, available on Amazon.
Getting past “no”–the points in this article are well worth teaching our children as well. As parents, we often dispense “no,” and that is appropriate at times. At other times, we need to encourage and tell stories from our own experience and others like those in this article.
Great point on parenting, Udo. Couldn’t agree more. And the stories provide such important color and context for kids (and adults) to understand the nuances. Thanks for sharing.
‘Sticking with it’ – so often we are so close to achieving our goals only to fall short of achieving it because we didn’t stick with it. It is usually the last 20% where you need to stick with it to get over that last hurdle to achieve your goal.
Ah, the cousin of the 80/20 rule. So true – that last bit is both the hardest and the most important. Or in my Dad’s words, it’s about completion! Thanks for sharing this, Tarik.
‘Looking at the intersections’ is the point that struck me today. I’ve been thinking about this concept over the past few weeks as I look at the different parts of my life. I’m encouraged by your comment that ‘big insights’ can come from applying my knowledge in different areas.
Yes, it’s true and I can’t wait to hear what happens when you apply your knowledge at the intersections. Keep going for extraordinary, Therese!
Looking at the intersections resonated with me. I recently ran a 6 mile race, which is something that I did not think that I could do. However, I was encouraged by someone else who consistently races to go for it. It makes me wonder, what else could I venture into based on the encouragement of others( teaming at work, trying a new experience) all of which are things to remind me of my resilience, which is important to nurture!
Congratulations on your race, Nicole. Love that you are going for it and also nurturing your resilience.
I’m thinking you can encourage others to expand their horizons as well…