What Does it Take to Be Great?

There's talent. And then, there's greatness. Many people have talent. many people are good at what they do. But only a few are great.

What does it take to be great?

Raw talent--and a knack for the task

Those who are great have raw talent at something-- and often do exactly what they were put on this earth to do.

If you're not good at basketball but want to be a basketball great, no amount of practice will make you great. You might eventually be good at playing ball, but you'll never be great.

In short, greatness starts with recognizing your gift and working with it. Warren Buffet, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, told Fortune that he was "wired at birth to allocate capital."

Many argue that greatness doesn't always come down to the most talented person in a field. Take, for example, Muhammad Ali. He is considered the greatest athlete of all time, but many sports experts don't even consider him to be the best in his sport. His greatness had much more to do with his charisma and some of his other claims to fame, most notably, standing up against the draft.

But not everyone is born with an innate sense of where their talents lie. Books like StrengthsFinder 2.0 are great at helping you assess your potential and figure out what you're put on this earth to do.

Being prolific

Great people are able to do what  they're good at-- over and over again.

A great writer can write great articles at great speed. A great soccer player can score goal after goal. Take Arthur Antunes Coimbra, more commonly known as Zico. He famously scored 52 goals in 72 games.


A great musician can put out several amazing albums year after year. But it's not always about how many albums a singer puts out. A prolific singer is also able to perform flawlessly, non-stop. Take singer Justin Timberlake, for example. In concert, he seamlessly flies through three songs, all without breaking a sweat.

Hard work and practice

The more you work at something, the greater you will be.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell laid out his theory on greatness, saying that the magic number was 10,000 hours. After you did 10,000 hours worth of something, you essentially became a master at it, Gladwell said in his book, "Outliers."

In fact, Gladwell had a theory-- anyone can be great, so long as they achieve 10,000 hours. This theory has been put to the test. It's been criticized by many for ignoring the role that  raw talent can play in greatness, or the role that physical limitations can play in the lack of the ability to achieve greatness.

Knowing your industry

A great basketball player knows the game, from the rules of the court to the exact spot on the backboard he or she needs to hit, in order to do the perfect layup. A great player also knows who the greats were that came before him or her-- and why they were indeed, great.

A great singer knows music. Again, take Justin Timberlake, for example. While some may argue that he's a cookie-cutter boy-band singer, he will inevitably go down as one of the greats. He's been compared to Bing Crosby, for his wise career decisions and evolving vocal style. CNN calls him "a character not seen in a generation or two in show-business: The well-rounded performer."

You can't be great unless you know what standards of greatness are within your industry, and unless you strive to adhere to the highest standards in your industry.

Taking risks

"Both fortune and love befriend the bold." -- Ovid

Staying within the box will only get you so far. The greats think outside the box and push their limits constantly.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took a huge risk when she left Google to head up it's struggling competitor. A pregnant woman in her late thirties, Mayer had no experience at the C-level. At Google, she was a Vice President. At the time she was appointed as CEO, Silicon Valley pundits questioned her ability to lead.

Marissa Mayer

Now, one year later, she's made some stellar acquisitions (like Tumblr), fixed broken products and processes by creating a department just to deal with them (called PB&J, or Processes, Bureaucracy, and Jams), and turned the company's internal culture around, making it one of the most sought after places to work.


To sum it all up, greatness is knowing who you are, what you're good at, striving to be the best you can be, and finally, believing in yourself.

There's no one recipe to greatness, but there are several elements of greatness that many of the well-known greats share.

Those who are good at what they do might settle for mediocrity, throwing their feet up at smaller accomplishments and saying "I did a great job."

Those who are great always strive to outdo themselves; taking challenges as they arise and constantly looking for ways to be even better.


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