The Top Predictor of Success

Every year, people in the U.S. spend $10 billion to learn what it takes to become more successful.

What separates those who succeed from those who don’t? Why do some people outperform others, while some fall short?

The traditional attributes to success are setting clear goals, resilience, focus and the ability to continually develop.

According to network science, the study of different types of networks and how they create competitive advantages, success has little to do with the most common principles of success.

The top predictor of success is based on being in an open network as opposed to a closed one.

What does this mean? When you are in a closed small network, you are connected to people who already know each other. Therefore, you hear the same ideas, have the same opportunities and have same beliefs. In a large, open network, you have access to different clusters of people, where you are exposed to new ideas and opportunities. The larger your open network, the more successful you can become.

Research showed that half of the predicted difference in career success (e.g., promotion, compensation, recognition, etc.) was because of this one variable.

When you have an open and large network, you have unique relationships, experiences and knowledge that people in closed networks will not have. In addition, opportunities are tied to people. So if you are looking for an opportunity for success, you are actually looking for a person. The more people you know, the more opportunities you will have.

If this is the case, then why don’t more people have open networks? It is easier to stick to networks of people you already know and are comfortable with. It is easier to get stuff done since you have already built up trust, you know the culture and the group confirms your own beliefs. This explains why in the political process, political parties can trump good ideas, and why groups have gone to war over their beliefs.

Being in an open group also has its challenges. It can be difficult to question your beliefs by interacting with different groups — you may feel like an outsider or misunderstood, and that you have to make a new start. But when you are able to overcome these challenges, an open network gives you a more accurate perspective of the world — you have the ability to connect the different groups, can control the timing of information sharing and result in more breakthrough opportunities.

Steve Jobs is an example of how a large, open network resulted in Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world. His adoptive father taught him the value of craftsmanship and attention to detail, his brief college years gave him an appreciation for design, living around the world gave him inspiration for simple aesthetics, and the different people he met helped him build Macintosh, iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPad.

In an interview, Jobs stated that “creativity is just connecting things … (creative people) were able to connect experience they’ve had and synthesize new things … Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences … You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”