Success: Genius or effort?

Do raw intelligence and innate ability translate to success?

Not always, say a couple of authors. More likely it has to do with time, effort and practice.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, and Matthew Syed, author of Bounce, both cite successful case studies to prove their points. Among other factors, like luck and being in the right place at the right time, both claim the key to success is practice. Significant practice. This is true of athletes, artists and leaders. Most of those who get to the top of their profession do so by the relentless pursuit of their trade.

What does this mean for managing your IT career, particularly as a manager or leader?

Management skills come from practice. The more you write, the more you develop ideas, the more you find ways to resolve issues with others…all make a difference. Spending time with budgets and spreadsheets, and working the numbers, all provide in-depth understanding of your unit or operation. The more you study, the more you read, the more you volunteer in leadership roles… all have impact on your career advancement.

Why? Because people notice people who master their work. There are seen as ‘do-ers’. The people who demonstrate these skills tend not to ask for promotions. It’s more likely we ask them to take on more responsibilities.

Short clips of Gladwell and Syed are available at

Malcolm Gladwell Outliers 4min. 30 seconds
Bounce, Interview with Matthew Syed.  6 min.

Empower Users

The command and control era of IT is over. There are remnants, for sure, and with data and privacy the role remains. But in the general use of technology, it is our role to empower users to be self-sufficient. In other words, break their dependence on us.

This is a bit frightening for some. I hear it often. If the Help Desk has access to systems and network status logs, they will not understand it and provide misinformation to customers. If we give tools to departments that allow them to get their own data from Banner, they will misinterpret it and use it for the wrong purposes. If we provide departments tools to develop and generate their own web pages, they’ll produce a mess.

Some of those points are valid. However, we need to change our mindset. Wouldn’t we be better off partnering with our customers and teaching them how to use the tools effectively? If we have knowledgable partners, won’t they be able to serve their customers better? If we are overwhelmed with the work on our plates, wouldn’t we be wise to enable others through education and empowering tools? Teach them to fish

Susan Cramm writes about this in IT Leaders, It’s Time to Give It Up. She raises good points. She also cites another article Why the New Normal Could Kill IT. In there a quote… “users today have as much patience as those stranded in long lines at the DMV [Access Nova Scotia].”

The challenge for us is to give it up. We, as IT professionals, should strive to make our systems so simple that our users can self-help. We need to empower our business partners. The more we make them come to us, to depend on us, the more we lose control. They can, and will, work around us to systems that are more friendly and usable.

Think about this in your current role. What can you do? Don’t ask for permission. Just do it.