If you have trouble discovering an innate advantage—or if what you find doesn’t seem advantageous enough—you create an advantage. The top 1 percent we surveyed and studied did not always have size, beauty, or remarkable demeanors (some were downright obnoxious and a bit hard on the eye), but they all had advantages they used to help them be successful. These advantages were often not innate but things a lot of people might have. The top performers just identified the potential advantages and, if they did not have what they needed to create them, went out and got it.
Creating an advantage is not easy, especially if you have no talent, but it is always possible. Just think about people you’ve worked with over the years: unimpressive, untalented, and eventually in charge. As you read this, look around you. What does success look like? What do those successful people have that you don’t (other than success, obviously)? Chances are they have more than innate advantages. Try to discover some learnable behaviors or positioning strategies that you could duplicate. Is there an education level that can’t be maneuvered around? Is there training or certification needed?
As you look around, remember that it’s important to know the business culture you’re operating in. You must see business for what it really is: a place where fairness falters, where even the seemingly undeserving win. The terms “fair fight” and “level playing field” have little business in the business world. The bottom line in the real business world is that fairness rarely raises its ugly head. A fair fight means you are unprepared. Heck, I could lose a fair fight. I personally like my fights lopsided in my favor and my opponents minimally skilled and easily defeated.
Let’s be really honest: You want a fair fight only if you believe that equality is more important than personal success or if you are bored with how easily you’ve been winning your fights. When I first started to hear the advantages of the most successful, it did not seem right that they were successful regardless of talent, skill, or education. But I realized that the people who are willing to overcome everything in their path (like a giant lack of talent) because of their desire for their goal were as deserving as anyone else.
Viewing business this way requires a willingness to step away from traditional norms of fairness—to understand that “unfair” fighting does not mean unscrupulous or dishonorable. It means thinking critically about some business practice, personality trait, or personal strategy and then methodically employing it to your advantage so you stand out from others and win. Creating a phony Facebook account for a person who is competing with you for a promotion that clearly states his dedication to Hitler is definitely unscrupulous. However, making sure you discuss your love of the History Channel in the interview with your Nazi-crazed future boss is not. You knew what he valued and got excited about his favorite subject. And you used your thought-to-be-useless knowledge of World War II to get the promotion.