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The Sky Is the Limit The 5 things all big thinkers have in common

Read more Last updated: February 2019
In collection Freedom
Reading duration: 3 minutes

Some people are not constrained by conventional thinking. They strive for bigger things and achieve their goals against all odds. Irrespective of their chosen field all of these big thinkers have certain characteristics and experiences in common. We take a look.

1. They don’t fear rejection

We all experience rejection at some point in our lives, but for many rejection is allowed to fester. Even if it lies dormant for a long period it can affect us later in life. Not so for the big thinker. When Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, set up his earliest businesses he went bankrupt no less than five times before finally achieving success. In the early '90s, J.K. Rowling was a single mother in Edinburgh struggling to support her child and living on welfare. After repeated rejections, she finally sold the first Harry Potter book for about €4,000. Now, she's richer than the Queen of England.

2. They have work ethic and passion

Many want to be successful but are unwilling to put in the blood, sweat and tears in takes to get there. Thinking big takes willpower and a lot of work, more work than perhaps many of us are willing to invest in one project during our lifetime. (Malcolm Gladwell told us that if you want to be an expert or champion in something, you need to devote 10,000 hours to it - that’s about 90 minutes a day for 20 years). And if you are going to dedicate your 10,000 hours to something you need to feel passionate about it. Van Gogh sold only one piece during his lifetime, yet his passion drove him to paint almost 900 works.

3. They are able to learn from mistakes

He may be the world's richest man, yet Bill Gates believes that his failures are an important learning tool, he famously said "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." Thomas Edison, creator of the light bulb, took between 1,000 and 10,000 attempts before creating the world-changing invention. Big thinkers don’t assume they will get everything right the first time, in fact many see failure as part of the very satisfying journey to fulfilling their dream.

4. They are confident in their own abilities

Rejection and failure may be par for the course for big thinkers, but an underlying confidence in their abilities and beliefs is what sets big thinkers apart from the rest. It allows them to continue with their projects and goals even when others tell them it will never happen. Millionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson was diagnosed with dyslexia in childhood and yet his confidence to take on any challenge at hand has lead him to enjoy success (which includes the yet-to-launch space travel for the public).

5. They surround themselves with good people

We all flourish as part of a community, even the big thinkers among us. This was determined by Model of Institutional Departure, a study by Vincent Tinto, a professor at Syracuse University in US, which looked at why some students continue through higher education and some drop out. Tinto’s model informs us that, above all else, college is a transition from one community to another. Our success in college depends on how well we integrate ourselves into that new community. What happens if students go back to their parents every weekend? They don’t meet people and integrate, they don’t receive the support of their peers going through similar issues and they don’t receive academic mentorship. Tinto’s study showed that, if people aren’t alone, they persevere.

But doesn’t common wisdom dictate that those on the path to success covet their ideas in fear of being copied? This is far from accurate in the modern world. Big thinkers are smart enough to realise that while they may be very good at one thing, raising an idea “takes a village”, to coin a popular parenting metaphor. They might be good at inventing, but they might not be good at selling it to investors. They might be good at leading people but they might need help with background administration. Big thinkers know where their talents end and someone else’s begin.

Above all they are not afraid to ask for help.


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