yukai chou gamification

The Lazy Man’s Way to Become Successful: Start Early

Successful Turtle

There’s always going to be people smarter than you and people dumber than you

Everyone wants to be successful in life. However, not everyone has what it takes to get there. Life is competitive, and to constantly keep up and excel over your peers is a tough and struggling battle.

Sure, some people believe that they can dominate everyone based on their natural abilities and intelligence, but you would be a fool to deny that there isn’t someone smarter and stronger than you out there (if you happen to be that one person who truthfully qualifies for that, email me and I’ll apologize to you personally). For most of us, gambling that you are the ultimate genius is a risky way of winning any battle.

The only way to win is to spend more time more efficiently on it

For everyone who is not the ultimate genius, the only way to beat the genius is to spend more time more efficiently on that activity. You’ll have to spend more time practicing, doing, failing, and learning than the born natural.

In his often-quoted book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell talks about how in order to become highly successful in something, one needs to spend 10,000 hours on that specific task. To put this into perspective, this is like practicing a specific action four hours a day, seven days a week, for seven years. (speaking of which, how many hours did your last “social media expert” put into his expertise?)

Needless to say, spending more time on something is not enough, as HOW you spend your time on it matters a lot too. I used to play chess on Pogo.com a lot (until Snow Leopard doesn’t support their java anymore…), and I’ve seen people who have astonishingly played 14,000 games but still plays like a beginner. These people lack the fundamentals of chess and a good player can literally beat them without looking at the board .

Obviously, if you practice the wrong way, spending more hours doing something will only make you suck more. If you don’t learn from your experiences every step of the way, you might as well not do it and die.

Take advantage of the Slacker’s Gap

Now the problem with spending more hours against others is that everyone has a limited amount of time on a given day. Since most people have to spend time sleeping, eating (and some even have friends and family!), whatever you do can only be highly marginal.

If your average competitor spends 4 hours a day improving himself, it’s pretty hard to three-times his effort and beat him that way. If you work your butt off, you probably practice 6 hours a day trying to get some kind of advantage. Yes, it works, and I encourage that if your goal is to become powerful in your field, but it’s definitely an uphill battle.

In that case, the best way to outcompete is to wait for what I call the “Slacker’s Gap.” Basically, this is a time when your competitors are taking days off and relaxing. When they are active, it’s incredibly hard to have a 40% advantage over them. But when they are doing nothing, you immediately gain immense ground since any progress you put in closes your difference by the same amount.

Am I telling you that in order to win, you need to be a workaholic and have less/no work-life balance?

I actually am. If you truly want to become powerful and influential in your field, you have to do more than what others are doing. Sure, there’s this thing about working smarter, not harder, 4-hour-work-week and all that. But to become highly competitive, you need to work smart AND hard. You need to do the 4-hour-work-week, 80 hours a week.

If you want to accomplish uncommon things in your life, you need to live everyday of your life uncommonly. If you spend your day like everyone else, you will end up like everyone else. It’s that simple.

Starting early allows you to stay competitive and become successful the easy way

But there’s actually an easy way to take advantage of the Slacker’s Gap. Lets say instead of working 50% more than everyone else, you started a year before everyone. That means for an entire year, your competitors are zero, and whatever hours you put in will be more than infinite times what they are doing. This is not just a Slacker’s Gap, this is a Slacker’s Valley. No one is there to challenge you until they realize they should start too.

Once you’ve had a head start like that, when your competitors start, they need to work their butts off, while you simply need to maintain steady pace to keep your lead. Life is easy and non stressful that way, obviously until some workaholic competitor surpasses you while you are in your Slacker’s Gap.

Three Steps to start early and become successful

Everything is easier said than done. HOW do you actually start earlier? If it was that easy than everyone would be doing it already! Here I lay out a few steps to help you gain an early bird advantage.

1. KNOW where you want to be, not where you are

Most people just focus on the present and their needs right now. You shouldn’t do that. You want to think about exactly where you want to be years from now.

Have you ever met people who are “lucky” because they knew what they wanted to do at a very young age? Most of them did not become “lucky” because they sat on their butts. They probably actively tried out a lot of things, got exposed to a variety of interests, and finally found out what they are passionate about.

In the same way, you need to spend a lot of time trying different things and really envisioning yourself 5 years later. Instead of handling the tasks at hand, really spend time figuring out what does success mean to you 5 to 10 years later. Yes, it could be daunting, but if you want to become successful, this gives you an immense advantage that is too precious to not take advantage of.

This is actually the hardest part of taking advantage of the Slacker’s Valley and requires a lot of initiative, speculation, outside advice and soul-searching. The rest is a lot more systematic.

2. Understand the metrics required to to get there

Once you know where you want to be many years from now, you have to figure out what are the metrics that matter verses the ones that don’t.

For instance, if you are a dental student who just wants to be a General Dentist, passing dental school is very important, but getting top grades is not (it is if you want to specialize). Of course you want to make sure you nailed down all your dental skills in order to treat patients well, but you don’t have to kill yourself over classes like Biochemistry or such.

However, what does matter for a successful dentist is how many people in your practicing city know about your service and thinks positively of you. A dentist’s success is not measured by how well how he did in school or even how good he is at dentistry. It’s measured by how many patients he can attract and retain to his practice. That’s why established dentists have an advantage over younger dentists, even if some of them may not have done better in school nor are they necessarily better at what they do.

This immediately means that networking and building a personal brand to a future patient-base is much more important for a dental student than getting perfect scores in school. It’s really important to identify what are the metrics that matter verses the ones that seem important at the moment.

3. Pursue the success metrics that matter in the longrun and go easy on the insignificant ones

Once you realize what metrics truly matter, you need to start preparing for that immediately, no matter how many years later would it start to matter.

Most dental students would only focus on studying and hanging out with other dental students when they’re still in school. The FD student on the other hand would spend time networking with others and establishing herself as a future dentist to all sorts of demographics in her target city.

That way once she actually starts a practice, people already know about her practice and would contact her whenever they or their friends are looking for a new dentist. Even better, while in school she should probably network with those that don’t have a personal dentist yet but would be looking for one a couple years later, like those still in other professional schools.

As you can see, in this example it is also very important for the dental student to know exactly which CITY she wants to practice, since for a dentist it only matters that people who are local know about what she does.

If the city the dental students wants to practice in is not the city she is studying at, what she needs to do is instantly network with people in that city via online methods. Use social networking sites and tools like Twitter or Yelp to establish relationships with people in that city while constantly letting them know she is an aspiring dentist might yield great benefits later on when you update them, “I’m finally a Dentist now and am opening a practice in Orange County!”

She can even start a blog that targets the local audience there like a food/restaurant rating blog (would need some research or a friend’s help) to get locals to read her stuff on a regular basis, while having a “About me” section that talks about how she will become a dentist.

All in all, when you know what are the future metrics that matter, you need to immediately get off your ass and start building that foundation while others are oblivious of this.

This “lazy” way to become successful is HARD!

Now at this point you might be contesting, “Didn’t you say that this was the LAZY man’s way of winning? This is SOO much work!” It’s true. In order to become powerful in your field, you have to put in tons of work. There’s no way out of it.

But some people spend their entire lives working hard and never get to where they want to be. This post is more about using a realistic and doable way to get an advantage over others without killing yourself.

Based on how ambitious you truly are, by no means should you really just get an early start and chillax from there. Remember that the difference between 95 and 96 is not 1. If everyone else is a 95 and you are a 96, you are the winner, and the winner gets all the opportunities. In a winner takes all situation, it’s the difference between 0 and 100. If you truly want to become the best at what you do, you need to start early and constantly make sure you are on top of your game.

What if I’m already behind?

You’re screwed. Haha, not necessarily. Since most people are still slackers and don’t take much action, you actually have a huge chance of catching up in most fields. All you have to do is after you read things like this blog or some other self-improvement book, actually convert it to action and DO SOMETHING. Most people read this kind of stuff just to feel good and agree with things, but only the 1% of the people who actually follow through and make it happen are the winners. The key to winning is not starting early, it’s being proactive in empowering your own life however way you can whenever you can. There’s a reason why “Be Proactive” is the first chapter of the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.

Everyone else is still sitting in the sidelines. Be a winner and start now.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Get mentored by Yu-kai Chou

Octalysis Prime Gamification

Every week I hop on a conference call to teach, answer questions, and give feedback to members of Octalysis Prime. If you want to take your Gamification practice to the next level, then come join us.


If you are interested in working with Yu-kai Chou for a business project, workshop, speech or presentation, or licensing deal, please fill out the form below..

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

20 thoughts on “The Lazy Man’s Way to Become Successful: Start Early”

  1. Great motivational post, still, makes me feel stuck.
    My resistance to successful behavior is Epic!
    Haha just joking.
    In 5 Years I will be a Gamifing Consultant, my Legacy started the moment I landed on this website. I will probably live in Canada and will have to travel a lot but I will feel accomplished having found a way to make the world every time a step closer to the games I love.

  2. Lazy way of getting anywhere is Hard.. Agree with that totally. But also it is one of the most main reasons for smart solutions out there.

  3. ya its good

    but i feel i have to do lots of work but i simply postpone that one ,i dont know why im thinking on that situation only its cant imagine my goal on that time

  4. Hey Justin!

    I’m usually a bit slow on these comments but here are my responses:

    1. I have actually not read “Talent is Overrated”. I think the most important thing is to constantly try new things that challenge yourself AND reflect on it as often as possible to identify ways to improve.

    2. Metrics as an entrepreneur include your emotional stability/maturity, network size/quality, presentation skills, financial skills, selling skills, the team you put together, the advice you can get, your knowledge about termsheets and legal papers, your eye/ability for design, your leadership skills, and your personal brand. Of course then there are the numbers for the actual business like customers, users, revenue. When people aren’t spending time developing these, you should be working hard to push on it.

  5. Hi Yu-kai,

    Great blog post, especially your “Slacker’s Gap” theory. A couple of questions for you:

    1. Have you ever read the book “Talent is Overrated”? It discusses some of the issues that you cover in this post – but basically, the author says that the most successful people spend the most time in “deliberate practice”, which is practice that is carefully planned out (as opposed to just going through the motions). If you’ve read it, I’m interested in hearing some of the “deliberate practice” that you go through to make yourself successful.

    2. Would you mind sharing some of the metrics that you use to measure your progress?

    Thanks, Yu-kai!


  6. Ahh thanks a lot Janet! As I said, feel free to contact me whenever you want for whatever reason 🙂

  7. Hey Yu-kai! I’ve been reading your blog entries and found them to be quite useful. You have gained yet another loyal reader. Cheers! & It was nice meeting you the other day

  8. I got this cool email response which I have permission to post here for 🙂

    “Hello Yu-kai,
    I am Alex Hernandez, whom you may at best remember from Blue Valley High School, seeing as our interactions have been few, but this is just a reminders of who I am and is not the important to the purpose of the this email.

    This email IS about the apology you owe me.

    Your blog is something I take time to read; I find its careful pragmatism and playfully divergent thinking enjoyable and useful. I can tell your posts are well considered and are designed to be widely useful. And, I find it a nice counter weight to, as I see, an overwhelming “How easy it is to succeded in Social Media” blogs on the internet; but I digress.

    It was while reading your most recent post that I came upon a certain statement that piqued my ego: “(if you happen to be that one person who truthfully qualifies for that, email me and I’ll apologize to you personally)”

    Well, I am here to collect that apology.

    You might stop for a moment and think, has he achieved success? How is it that I have not heard of his triumph? I must admit that I have had no success, yet, that I have no company nor invention nor website that I can hang my name on and claim as my own wonderful success. Yes, I must admit that I am not at all near any metric of success. And in so wonder, then, by what machismo that if I have not become successful, how can I ask for an apology.
    I can only say this, that time will reveal all. Like Alexander the Great, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, I will succeed and success will be mine. It may not now and may be through a means yet known, but my talent and wit will lead me through all and in all being undeniable in my successes, like that of the aforementioned.

    And yet, this may not suit you; you may still withhold that apology. I understand, and so, ’til then, ’til that time when you are at last satisfied with my success, I must, and will, patiently await the apology I am so deservedly owed.

    ‘Til that future time, happy blogging,
    Alex Hernandez

    P.S. I’m joking by the way. I read that statement, quickly thought something like this, and thought you might get a kick out of it. But anyways, I do enjoy reading your blog and hope you got a good laugh out of this.

  9. Hi, YuKai,

    I understand your point. By the way, there are broken tags in viralogy.com. I think you better get someone to take a look, might be your server side code.

    1. Oh yea, that was a typo that I think we just fixed. Doing a lot of work on our AI so we are just doing super quick edits on the front page, resulting in some errors 🙂


  10. HI, Yu Kai,

    I agree that spending more time on a specific topic helps increase efficiency. However, working in a startup is overwhelming. I worked as a technical lead and in the company and I have issue queues up to hundreds each day. How do you debug 100+ bugs? We just try our best. I spend like 10+ hours each day in code, sometimes I just feel exhausted and demoralized.

    1. Hey fromasia,

      I do agree that spending tons and tons of time debugging something can be demoralizing. However, my point in the post is that once you’ve been debugging so much, you will be MUCH better than someone who is just starting out today. Also, if someone started programming and debugging things 10 years before you did, now he/she may have a much easier time doing all of this compared to you (hence the “lazy way to win”).

      So spending more time on something increases your ABILITY on something. But in order to be more efficient on any given load of work, that’s when having better systems come in place (both personal systems and group systems).

You must engage in the conversation!!