As legendary coach (and legendary curmudgeon) Bobby Knight once said, “Most people have the will to win. Very few people have the will to prepare to win.”
Danny Meyer’s parents were travel agents, so as a teen he spent weeks every year traveling. His mother made him keep a journal of those vacations, and in time, he realized all his entries were about food. When he went to college, he spent his weekends in New York City checking out restaurants. When he graduated and worked in sales, he spent much of his free time exploring different restaurants.
One night he went out to eat with relatives and announced his plan to return to school and become a lawyer.
His uncle said, “Will you just stop it? Why don’t you go open a restaurant? You know that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
So Meyer quit his sales job and its $125,000 annual salary for a front-office job in a restaurant that paid $12,000. During the day he worked in the office; at night he volunteered to do grunt work so he could learn. Observing. Studying. Learning. Taking notes.
In his “spare” time, he created a list of the top dozen chefs and devoted a notebook to each. Their strategies. Their concepts. Their recipes. What made them stand out and successful.
He then went to Europe where worked for free — and sometimes even paid for the privilege of working — in different restaurants. Observing. Studying. Learning. Taking notes. After nearly a year, he returned to the U.S. where he spent the next six months searching for the perfect location for his first restaurant.
When ready, he opened Union Square Cafe, a nine-time Zagat “Favorite New York Restaurant” and the foundation for Union Square Hospitality Group and, later, Shake Shack. (And the foundation for a personal fortune worth hundreds of millions)
Meyer didn’t just have a desire for success. He also had the will for mis en plus. You need practice, explorations, proactive learning, and grinding out the kinks.
You need the desire for mastery.
Because success in any competitive field — and every field is ultimately competitive, even if the competition is simply between the person you are today and the person you hope to become — requires mastery.
- Try to know more about your subject — whatever it might be — than anyone you know.
- Expand your circle, and work to know more than anyone of them.
- Keep expanding that circle. Keep working to know more. Keep working to become the most expert fish in ever-larger ponds.
- Don’t leave the less expert fish behind. Develop relationships, and then work to maintain them. When you do something well, let people know you benefited from their advice. From their courtesy. From their willingness to take the time to teach, and advise, and guide you. Why? Because some will “only” be peers or colleagues, some will become your friends. No matter how expert or successful you may someday be, we can all use a few more friends.
* Vince Lombardi said, “The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.” Knight and Lombardi may have been inspired by Michigan football coach Fielding Yost, who said, “It is all right to talk about this ‘will to win,’ but I tell you it is not of much worth unless you have the will to prepare, whether for the game you are to play or for the business or profession you are to enter.”
Regardless: The thought counts, not who said it first.