The unfair advantage: how you already have what it takes to succeed

Success could mean a sense of giving back to the world and making a difference. It could mean a sense of accomplishment and career progression. It could mean being able to do the things you love. It could mean being able to provide the best possible upbringing for your children. Then have you ever wondered: how do people get ahead?

How does someone like Elon musk succeed while others fail? We’re often told that success directly correlated with hard work. That we won’t go anywhere without putting in 10,000 hours or by working 100 hours a week. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if those who’d succeeded simply had an unfair advantage over their competitors? And what if we find out that we’ve all got our set of unfair advantages that we can use to succeed. And welcome to the very first series of book club. A new series where I am gonna be summarising key insight from books. And today we’re talking about : ” The Unfair Advantage,” and “How you already have what it takes to succeed”. It’s written by these two entrepreneur and investors : Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba.

And it starts with the thesis that life is fundamentally unfair. When we’re looking at successful people, they normally didn’t just get there with hard work. There was normally other stuff that played a strong role like luck, circumstances, privilege that sort of things. And the equation which can help with understanding the book it’s what I call the formula of success.

Success, however we wanna define it. Is some sort of combination of fair play and unfair advantages. Fair play means factors that we would look at and think “all right, mate, fair play”. Let’s say there’s a start-up founder who gets up at 3 o’clock every morning and the goes for a two-hour run and then kind of hustles on his or her laptop all day and just works really, really hard. That would be a fair advantage. In a way, it’s something that any of us could replicate if we wanted to and therefore it is fair. But the same startup founder, let’s say his or her parents was super-rich and invested half a million dollars into their company from day one, that would be an unfair advantage. it’s an advantage that really helps the business but something that the rest of us can’t easily replicate.

But the unfair advantages aren’t just about our strengths, they’re also about our circumstances, basically something that gives us a competitive edge, something that some else can’t easily replicate. And one of the main ideas of the book, which is why the subtitle is “How you already have what it takes to succeed”, These unfair advantages aren’t just for people who are rich and famous, they’re for everyone. We all have our own unfair advantages in our own ways. How do we find out what our unfair advantages are? Well, we can use the MILES framework.

MILES framework is just breaking it down into money, intelligence and insight, location and luck.

Let’s start with M which stands for money. Let’s take Evan Spiegel, the billionaire co-founder of snapchat who became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire at just age 24. He grew up in a multimillion-dollar house in Los Angeles, attended expensive private schools, and had parents who were powerful and well-connected lawyers. This put him in unique circles and gave him access to tech entrepreneurs and CEOs that most people could never dream of accessing. Clearly he had to put in the work and the ideas but his example shows how money, prestige, and power can be a big unfair advantage. Secondly, the I stands for intelligence and insight. So let’s take the Collison Brothers for example. They co-founded stripe which became a multi-billion dollar payments processing company before either of them had turned 22. Patrick Collision’s sort of invented his own computer programming language when he was 16 and he left school a year early to enrol at MIT. His brother John finished with the highest ever score on his Leaving Certificate it’s sort of the Irish equivalent of A-levels, and he’d been accepted into Harvard before he’d even done his exams. And yes, of course, loads of hard work and effort went into it but I think it’s reasonably fair to say that the Collison brothers’ intelligence was some sort of unfair advantage.

Thirdly, we’ve got L which stands for location and luck And as Ray Krock, the pioneer of McDonald’s once said, “The two most important requirements for major success are first, being in the right place at the right time and secondly, doing something about it.” Location is clearly important. For instance, businesses cluster as they do in Silicon Valley and the right location can be key to unlocking opportunities, making connections and accessing a target market.

Ash and Hasan talked about this in the book as well, take more action, do more things, meet more people, go to more events, blog about your startup (have some expertise in this), produce things and publish them, get feedback, put more stuff out into the world. And the idea is that as we expose ourselves to more of these opportunities, we get a lot more luck coming our way, so in a way the more of this stuff we do, the more of a surface area we have for serendipity. The more we allow luck to appear and then we can take advantage of it. So I think that’s more a sort of fair advantage rather than an unfair advantage.

Moving on, the E stands for education and expertise. Right, let’s be honest, having a fancy degree from a fancy university probably is an unfair advantage, depending on what you’re going for, like let’s say hypothetically, you wanted to start a Youtube channel aimed initially at medical students. If you happen to be a medical student at Cambridge University, which is famously a good university, you’d probably wanna plug that wherever you could because yeah, that’s you unfair advantage. It’s something that other people in that space can’t replicate very easily and therefore it becomes more interesting, more brandable.

Beyond that, in the book Ash and Hasan say that there are basically three benefits to a good education : Knowledge, network, and signalling.

And finally, we have S for status. And of course status can be an unfair advantage. Elon Musk’s status in the world is so high right now that if he starts any new company, it’s guaranteed to be successful in some way or at least everyone’s gonna hear about it regardless of how ridiculous the name is.

But what would I say to people who still say that they don’t have any unfair advantages? Well, in the book the authors say that Everybody has unfair advantages. What might seem like a disadvantage, you can actually turn into an advantage. So one example is having little money, which a lot of are starting off in business. They might have little money, with very, very tight budget, or hardly anything to invest. But having little money makes you more creative. The necessity is the mother of invention kinda thing. There are lot of startup founders that when they have money behind them, their path to growth, it’s like yeah, Google ads and Facebook ads.

But there’s no creativity there, you’re just burning money and it’s gonna be very difficult to sustain that, especially in the early days before you know that the market, the customers really like your product. You don’t wanna be doing that, having less money and less status, less a socioeconomic status, can give you more of a fire in your belly to succeed. I know some really well of kids in college that just were playing World of Warcraft, and had no motivation whatsoever to get a job. So that can be a downside, so not necessarily being born rich is a good thing. Being in the wrong location, just to give one more example, you can be in a great location like London or I don’t know, the Bay Area in San Francisco but rents are gonna be higher and everyboddy’s gonna be fighting over the same talent that your runway in terms of how much you have to spend on living, cost of living basically, is gonna be super high. Whereas if you live in the middle of nowhere where coss are cheap, a lot of people go to Southeast Asia for that reason, actually. There’s pros and cons, it’s a double-edged sword.

So again, this is one of those paradoxical things which is like, we’re all humans, we’re all cut from the same cloth. Whatever somebody else can achieve, I can achieve versus don’t kill yourself trying to achieve and feel bad and get depressed about it, because not everybody’s born with the same opportunities and the same talents. But what can we learn from them anyway? So having that balanced outlook rather than just pedestalizing them, and go “Wow, they’re amazing, nobody’s like them, Elon Musk is an alien robot.” But then versus saying, “Anybody could do it.”

When we think about success, we can think about all the things that we don’t have going for us. We can fixate on the privileges that we don’t have but when we do that, we blind ourselves to the unfair advantages, the competitive edge that we do have. We often don’t appreciate that wherever we are, whatever stage of life we’re in we’ve got so much to be grateful for. As Ash and Hasan talk about in their book, “It’s not about focusing on the negatives, It’s about know the realities and leveraging the infair advantages that we do have to us to live our best lives. “

Thank you for reading.

And with that check out my book which now can be sold as Ebook or paperback.

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