How to Become Successful: Tips From Boris Solopov, CEO of Opticom St. Petersburg
Who defines the criteria of success? How to set priorities so you can manage your time and attain your goals? Boris Solopov, CEO of Opticom St. Petersburg and ITMO University graduate, expanded on different motivational issues during the "Success: travel notes" open lecture at ITMO's Entrepreneurship Center. ITMO.NEWS put down his advice and recommendations.
I do optical engineering. We produce optical parts, one to five millimeters in size, that are mostly used in medicine. There's one thing about our line of work: despite the advancement of technologies, there are still almost no machines that can produce parts this small. This is why we have to do most of the work manually. What is more, another of the market's peculiarity is that we never get orders for a year ahead - at most times, that would be for a period of two month or so, as the specifications for parts change really fast. We also act as distributors for Schott, a German company that produces special purpose glass ceramics and glass. Almost 40 people work for Opticom.
I wasn't born with a caul: my mother was a paramedic, my father was a simple worker. I wasn't an outstanding student; during my 9th grade, they wanted to expel me for poor behavior. Still, in 11th grade I got perfect grades in Math and then entered ITMO University. During the third year of my Bachelor's program, they sent me on an internship at the Institute of Macromolecular Compounds of the Russian Academy of Science. Those who worked there were scientists, and it was there that I learned that I am not some fruit that has to mature, but that I am a person who has to do a specific job. Those people had a different attitude; they never saw me as some idiot that just has to do something. I wrote my thesis and even found a job at the university. Everything was fine, except for the money, which is why I changed my job, became a manager, and started selling sausages. But after a while, I had to face the question of what’s next: if I were to continue selling sausages for two more years, I would get nothing more in my life. This is why I decided to return to the field of optical engineering. That was not an easy decision, as I lost money. Still, I had time, health, I had no family, so I could do everything to grow and achieve my goals.
Criteria of success: surplus of money, lack of time, health, status. At this stage, when you have no family, you have enough time and health to reach your goals and make your future life better. Then, you'll have an opportunity to buy time and health: for instance, hire someone to do a particular job for you. If by the time you're 45 you have kids, but not much health and money, that's not really good. And naturally, we can't normalize success for just everyone: there are always people like artists and musicians, for instance, who don't care about health or money, and only wish for the opportunity to create.
On "now" and "then". Telling when it is that we have enough is always a problem. It is we who have to decide whether to stop or transcend to the next level. For some, everything can be attained at the age of 40, for others - 60. Everyone has it differently.
Make use of the opportunities that emerge around you in your field of focus. Even better, create them. Write down every idea that comes to your mind and try them out. You never know which will bring you success. It is also important to understand whether you placed your ladder against the right wall: if not, then you'll be going the wrong way. Sometimes, it is important to reflect on what's happening and take a look at yourself from the outside in order to tell whether what you have is really what you wanted.
Don't listen to people saying you can't make it. You can often face "advisors" who will tell you that what you want to do is impossible. We recently had such an incident at our company. We were launching a new project, and our technologist told me that we wouldn't succeed with the technology we planned for it. I told him: "Okay, do what you want." Still, in three weeks, the technologist told me that it was the technology we planned for that was the correct one. Never act in the way others want you to: they can discourage you out of envy, stupidity or any other reason.
Never discuss your ideas with anyone, even the closest people. Your ideas are your future. It is such a shame when others accomplish your dreams. You can ask for others' help, but if you'll only talk and won't do anything, others will do that instead. Remember: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So, you need to move towards your goal, even if you have to crawl.
It all depends on your efforts, not intelligence. I don't know about the present, but there were once so-called racial quotas in American universities. Because of that, there were situations when a black person entered the university having received 75 points for their exam while a white didn't with 80, because "whites" had to get 85. Naturally, that triggered discussions about the future of a country where the more gifted students couldn't join universities. At a certain point, researchers studied the success of students who entered universities via quotas and entrance examinations. It turned out that despite the level of their IQ, all of those who wanted to work became successful, and those who didn't, never did. This means that everything depends on you.
Read specialized literature. Otherwise, you'll be stuck on the level of an average specialist in your field. After reading a book, write down the keynotes, otherwise, you'll forget it entirely. And read more - not some five-six books a year, but three or so times more.
Professionalism has to be worked upon. It is believed that you have to spend at least 10,000 hours in order to attain good results in something. There has been a study conducted amongst Berlin school musicians. Scientists calculated how many hours per day the students trained starting from the age of 12. It turned out that the most skilled students who aimed to become professional musicians spent no less than three hours every day. Having researched other professional activities, scientists got similar results: three hours per day to attain professionalism. If you'll be doing something you want to succeed at for three hours every day, completing these 10,000 hours will take about 10 years. There's no other way around it.
Moderate your entertainment. This can be applied to everything. For instance, how many social networks do you use? I'm all right with using a single one. Use social networks for work and other important stuff only. Just imagine: if you'll be spending 2 hours per day on YouTube, those will be the very same time that you could've spent on becoming a professional in something.
Discipline. It is widely known that there are schools attended by children from well-to-do families, and those attended by just everyone. In the USA, they've conducted a study in order to check what knowledge is left with children from different schools when they return after summer holidays. Children from well-to-do families returned with the same or even a better level of knowledge; children from troubled families lost about 30% of knowledge they had. Seemingly, the former spent their summer reading and training with their parents, while the latter spent their time entertaining. This is why you have to constantly work on your professionalism and dedicate time to that.
You first have to pass a particular stage of your career in order to advance to the next level. Start with what you have, and do what you can. Learn your field in a stepwise manner, starting with the simpler things. If you'll start skipping topics, you'll never learn properly. At our company, I believe that people have to start with ground zero, by washing the equipment, so to say. And I'm sure that this approach would work out for any establishment. Everything depends on one's motivation. Or let's take a manager's job as an example. At first, a manager has to think a lot about assigning particular jobs to particular people. At the final stages of their development, managers don't have anything to do: their subordinates already know what they have to do.
Value others' time. There's this joke: Germans come to the minute, Russians - to the day. For whatever reason, modern youth don't really understand much about timing. For one, our interns have to come to work at eight, but they come at nine. If you are late for a business appointment, a good idea would be to ask the person who's been waiting for you for the cost of his minute of work and compensate them financially.
Appearances matter. Today, no one looks at the quality of your watch, glasses, or smartphone, but if you dress better or more appropriate than others, that helps make a good impression. This does not mean that you have to buy expensive suits. You just have to look presentable.
Do “networking". For example, when we are looking for a new employee for Optecom, we first go through business cards and contacts that people we've already worked with left. We don't use headhunting websites. And vice-versa: the more acquaintances you have, the more is the chance that you'll find the employer or partner that you need.
Gather positive feedback. Show off every approval of your professional activities: victories in contests, participation in exhibitions, completed internships and project work. Put an emphasis on your most important achievements. This really works.
Express gratitude. Though no one would work for no more than a "thank you", you still have to say that. If you won't express gratitude for people's work, you'll find communicating with them a lot harder.
Remember: you don't need strength for walking, strength is needed for getting up. You can't prepare for every misfortune. All you can do is to try to prevent them, as a good commander wins battles before they even start by training their army well. In our country, there's great potential for the development of business, for self-fulfillment. Still, according to statistics, only 2% of Russian citizens try entrepreneurship, while in the USA this number amounts to 40%. Set yourself great goals, as small dreams won't fire you up.