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SXSW Interactive 2013

The Secrets of Superachievers

We know that it takes hard work, talent and the occasional dose of luck for someone to make it to the top of their chosen field...but is that all? To find out we asked dozens of extraordinary people including celebrities, businessmen, artists and iconoclastic achievers, “How do you do what you do?” The result is our book “The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well” (Plume/Penguin Jan 2013). We talked to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, actor Alec Baldwin, Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner, actress Laura Linney, rockers OK Go, startup king Bill Gross, wire walker Philippe Petit, business guru Guy Kawasaki and many more. We discovered that these superachievers, however diverse their goals, shared many fascinating qualities that contributed to their success. We’ll discuss what you can learn from their strategies, principles and tips and how you can apply them to your own work and personal life.

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  1. Why do some people realize their dreams while others fail? Like many of us the superachievers we spoke with had visions of their future vocational selves. But these dreams come with no roadmap. To accomplish these dreams requires taking the first step, picking up the ball or the pen, the guitar or the kitchen knife. But that’s not all. We’ll show you how our superachievers realized their dreams, and discuss how actualizing a vision requires dedication to the day-to-day struggle for achievement.
  2. How can I change what’s not working? A Harvard professor found that when people and organizations are blocked from their goals, typically they question external or technical causes to correct the problem. But not the superachievers we spoke with. We’ll discuss how when their careers floundered or strategies failed them, these extraordinary people questioned their own deeply held assumptions, made brutally honest assessments and took action based on what they learned.
  3. How can I get my message across? Studies have shown that in the grips of a story we encode the contents of the narrative in the same way we would if we were actual participants in that story. Storytelling, we discovered, was critical to the success of our superachievers’ products, brands, artistic endeavors, even, to someone finding love online. By learning to shape an effective narrative you can use the power of storytelling in your own work or personal life.
  4. What’s one of the most surprising things we learned? Although you may assume that superachievers are too driven to care about what other people think, listening is one of the vital practices that’s led to their success. From a schoolteacher who transformed at-risk teens into citizens of the world to Tony Hsieh whose form of listening helped him build a billion dollar business, we’ll discuss how superachievers use listening not only to validate others but to learn about the world around them.
  5. How do I deal with the low moments? Superachievers are not superhuman. Just like everybody else, in order to succeed under all kinds of pressure, whether it’s a top FBI hostage negotiator, a teen solo circumnavigator or the winningest game show champ, they’ve had to learn how to manage their emotions. We’ll discuss some of their techniques to cope with fear, disillusionment and anxiety and how they turned negative emotions to positive results.



Camille Sweeney, Author, Self-Employed

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