According to John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen, authors of "The Self-Made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value," it comes down to what the authors call "habits of mind."
Sviokla, the head of global thought leadership at Pricewaterhouse Coopers and a former Harvard Business School professor, and Cohen, a vice chairman at PwC, conducted a study of 120 self-made billionaires, randomly chosen from a pool of 600 global candidates.
They selected subjects who created $1 billion of wealth through "entrepreneurial activity," operated in regulated and somewhat transparent markets, and who didn't inherit the bulk of their wealth (although they did qualify if they grew their inherited wealth by 100 times or more). They then learned everything they could about the finalists.
The authors write that while they expected to find commonality among the billionaires' external circumstances, be it disadvantaged backgrounds or existential challenges, the common thread they found among the billionaires was internal: habits of mind.
Specifically, the billionaires are largely able to achieve what the authors refer to as a "duality of mind" between imagination and judgment — the ability to imagine something greater while seeing existing things truly as they are. Sviokla and Cohen write:
These dual habits of mind and action enable them to function as what we term Producers: They envision something new, bring together the people and the resources to create it, and sell it to customers who didn't know they needed it.
The opposite of this is what the authors term Performers: people who excel at operating within our existing systems and structures. Performers can be very successful, but there's a drawback to their strengths:
That single-minded talent for reaching otherworldly heights within a defined environment — so necessary in many aspects of business — reinforces function-driven systems that discourage the integrated habits of mind and action necessary for Producers.
There is, however, a ray of hope for those of us who recognize ourselves as Performers.
And, they write, anyone can change and improve their habits of mind. There's hope for us yet.