Three Billionaires Reveal the Underrated Skill You Really Need to Succeed (and It’s Not Intelligence)

And you don't need an expensive degree to learn it either.

Turns out, your mom was totally wrong. There IS a secret to success! So forget everything you’ve been told about meditation, exercise, or productivity. The real answer is way simpler than you originally thought.

According to billionaires Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Warren Buffett, there’s just one essential skill you need to be successful: communication. (This is the advice that Gates would give his young self.) 

That’s it! Easy, right?


Well, maybe not. Communication issues are common in any group setting, and that goes for lots of different mediums: interpersonal, organizational, and even nonverbal. (Don’t miss these signs you can’t trust your co-worker.) But being a good communicator is essential if you want to get ahead; research by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that only 15 percent of financial success comes from knowledge or skills, while the other whopping 85 percent comes from the ability to effectively communicate, negotiate, and lead. Plus, if the world’s most successful billionaire entrepreneurs have already confirmed the importance of communication, we should take heed!

Here’s the scoop: Ten years ago, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said in a BBC News interview, “Communication skills and the ability to work well with different types of people are very important … software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.”

One decade later, that advice still holds true today. As Richard Branson wrote on his Virgin blog,

[pullquote]Communication makes the world go round. It facilitates human connections, and allows us to learn, grow, and progress. It’s not just about speaking or reading, but understanding what is being said—and in some cases what is not being said.[/pullquote]


Translation: It’s all in learning how to listen to the people around you. And that means paying attention to what someone is saying not only with your ears, but with your body language, too. Etiquette experts advise listeners to make direct eye contact and resist the urge to interrupt or offer solutions right away.

And finally, our last billionaire pretty much sums the whole lesson up. According to Patrick O’Shaughnessy, author of Millennial Money: How Young Investors Can Build a Fortune, Warren Buffett once shared this piece of advice with a graduate student:

“At your age the best way you can improve yourself is to learn to communicate better… Without good communication skills you won’t be able to convince people to follow you even though you see over the mountain and they don’t.”

Well said, Mr. Buffett. Looking for more secrets to success? You need to memorize these attributes of wildly successful people.

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Brooke Nelson
Brooke is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for