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Is there such thing as an overnight success? Consistent greatness take time, talent, and hard work. In a world where news breaks in an instant, or a play changes the course of a game, rarely do we see that---behind the curtain of “suddenly”--- the power of process is on full display.

Most of us enjoy listening to stories of overnight sensations such as how an actor or actress suddenly becomes famous or how a salesperson becomes an overnight success. What most of us don’t see, however, is the actor’s laborious ten years of working as a waiter or waitress in Hollywood before gaining a key audition or for the salesperson, the nine failed sales calls before best practices and lessons learned are incorporated into a successful tenth.

Even in the physical world, newspapers commonly entertain with stories of an unexpected avalanche or a twister that appeared out of nowhere. What’s missing from the discussion however, is the complex set of interactions in a given system that led to that single event occurring. Take an avalanche for instance. A myth pervades that a single person yelling on the slopes or the noise from a snowmobile “causes” the avalanche. Behind the scenes however is the process leading up to that key event, such as myriad actions (weather, snowfall, temperature, wind direction, slope angle etc.) that created and ripened the conditions for the avalanche to occur in the first place.

Not even stock market crashes are sudden. In “Why Stock Markets Crash,” author Didier Sornette writes, “(The) underlying cause of a crash (can) be found in the preceding months or years in the progressively increasing build up of market cooperativity or effective interactions between investors.”

In complex systems such as those in which we live and interact, there are often many relationships and interconnections. It is difficult to believe that anything happens in a vacuum, or that there is a single cause for every event. More often than not, “suddenly” actually occurs over long stretches of time where small events build up and lead up (via a process) to an instantaneous transition.

And perhaps this is why the power of process is so important. It’s the process, over time, which creates. Each day, hour, minute, second, sub-second all contribute to the process. It’s why the first chair violinist in New York’s Philharmonic probably isn’t a prodigy who practiced little to achieve concertmaster status. And it’s also why athletes like Tim Tebow are the first in the training room every morning and the last to leave team headquarters. While we definitely shouldn’t discount the role of talent in such situations, hard work definitely pays off over time. There’s definitely much effort that precedes “sudden” success.

A series of events, decisions, actions are usually the predecessor of some key magnifying event. Suddenly, then, rarely is.

Related: Does the 10 Year Rule Apply to Marketing?


Some of the smartest economists in the world failed to predict the “sudden” 2008 market crash. What do complex systems say about our ability to predict the future?

Is it “the journey or the destination” that counts the most?

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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.