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Role Models and Teachers. Choose Wisely.

Perhaps you have too.

Over the years, I’ve read broadly the stories of the titans of business, statecraft, and war: Rockefeller, Morgan, Lazard, Duveen, Rommel, and Patton are some names that come to mind.

The same is true for biographies and hagiographies of contemporaneous figures like Pat Reilly, Phil Jackson, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Tim Grover (Michael Jordan’s trainer), and many more.

A few things stand out across the lot of them.

  • No small measure of good fortune. This spans from their parents, the era and country they were born in, and many events along the way. None of these things they chose.
  • Grit, determination, pig-headedness, perhaps even a dose of psychopathy.
  • Big learning motors.
  • Strong teams formed around them.
  • 4th Standard Deviation abilities are the big difference maker in what they choose to do: basketball, business, statecraft, etc. Whatever that one thing is, they do it way, way, way better than the rest of us.

Besides luck, it is this last thing that explains their success. It also makes it difficult to “learn” anything from these people. “Learn” is the operative word here.

If “learn” means reading about something and thinking, “this makes sense,” I withdraw my thesis. The wisdom these folks have to offer, some familiar and some surprising, can give us courage and encouragement.

If “learn” means that now that we know, we can be like them . . . not so much.

Their off-the-charts superpower is one part knowing and 999 parts doing at the exclusion of everything else. Unless you’re a 3rd standard deviation performer, most of what these superstars can do is beyond your capacity. We admire their achievement but would hate to live with them.

So, what to do?

If you’re searching for a role model or teacher, pick someone who is more like you and less like Michael Jordan. Just because someone can do the thing at superhuman levels doesn’t mean they can teach you how.

Work on strengthening your strengths. You may not get to the fourth standard deviation from the median. The good news is that’s not required in order to enjoy, emphasis on “enjoy,” success at what you do.

You just need to be a bit better than the rest of us.