There's way too much focus on amorphous concepts like leadership and entrepreneurship these days. If you spend enough time around successful executives and entrepreneurs, you quickly learn that none of them ever set out to become either. That's just not how it works.
The more I think about it, if I came into the workforce now instead of 30 years ago, I'm not sure I would have made it. Frankly, the odds are much slimmer now. There's just too much distraction, too many shiny objects, too much information keeping people from focusing on what really matters.
Make no mistake: It's still possible to make it big. It just takes some focus, and the ability to tune out the noise and the pomp. This is how real people who grew up with nothing end up making it big in the real world.
By making their own luck. They say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. That's absolutely true. Take baseball. When you get a high fastball right where you want it, it doesn't do any good if you can't hit it out of the park. You've got to be ready when that break comes.
By trusting their gut. I don't get crowdsourcing; it makes no sense to me. When everyone collaborates and has to agree on everything, you don't get innovation and you don't get great work. Sometimes you just need a focus group of one.
By making smart decisions. There's a good reason why smart people do well in this world. They can reason. They don't throw caution to the wind based on one data point from a source that isn't credible. There's simply no way around it. Good things come to people who make good calls.
By taking risks. The single biggest reason why the vast majority of people go nowhere in life is because they don't or won't take risks. They take the easy way out, the path of least resistance. You don't make it big that way. Ever.
By finding big problems that need to be solved. There's a huge misconception that innovation is mostly about inventing or coming up with cool new things. More often than not, innovation is about figuring out what people really need or want but can't have or afford.
By saying "sure, no problem" a lot. If you're always telling people why you can't do something, if you parse everything and nitpick, I've got news for you: You're not going anywhere. If you want to make it in this world, learn to say, "sure, no problem." Practice. It's good for you.
By working their tails off when they need to. Sure, there are people who became rich and successful the easy way. There must be. But I've never met or known one. Not one out of thousands. So forget it. If you're not ready to work your tail off whenever you need to, settle in for a life of mediocrity. And one more thing. First you do the work. Lots and lots of work. Then success happens. In that order.
By focusing on what really matters. You know all the personal branding, blogging, tweeting, liking, messaging, posting, status updating, and social networking everyone spends all their time doing these days. None of that matters. Period.
By negotiating hard. And getting equity. Whether it's your own company or a piece of somebody else's, if you want to make it big, you've got to get a piece of the pie. The catch is that nobody wants to give it up, at least not easily. So you've got to negotiate hard. Do it. It'll pay off big-time.
By finding ways to resolve their issues and complement their weaknesses. I keep hearing about strengths-based leadership. What a crock. If you've got big issues or weaknesses that are holding you back, you need to face reality and find a way to either resolve them or partner with others who can put up with you and fill in the gaps.
By listening and learning from smart, accomplished people. This is the argument for getting out in the real world and working for a stellar company or two while you're young. You'll learn how things work in the business world. You'll learn how to manage. You'll learn the ropes from people who've actually accomplished what you aim to do.
By doing. Nobody ever got anywhere by sitting on their butts and saying, "Someday I'll do that ... maybe tomorrow." Successful people are people of action. They do things. They get things done.
Now go out and make it big.
This column originally appeared on Inc.com.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.