Hard work more important than talent, Onion founder says

Scott Dikkers

Success isn’t always measured by money, says Scott Dikkers, who started the Onion with friends at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Photo: Cristobal David Mora

Leaders “become the gravitational epicenter that gets others to follow,” says Scott Dikkers, one of the founders and former editor of The Onion. 

Hard work is what’s critical in finding success, Dikkers told a UIC audience Friday in Student Center East.

He spoke emphatically about the many colleagues he mentored and worked with at The Onion, the satirical newspaper he helped start in the late ’80s as a student at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“There have been many times where I was asked to pick between two people, one who was talented and one who was hard working,” said Dikkers, now the company’s vice president of creative development.

“All I have learned is that any so-called ‘talent’ can be learned with enough drive. Babies aren’t born funny, you learn how to be funny.”

Dikkers’ message of working hard to find success resonated with freshman Jane Zhang.

“It was so awesome to see him talk about talent that way,” said Zhang, a student in biological sciences. “So many students feel that just because they weren’t born knowing everything they need to know to succeed at school, it means that they can’t be successful. This just isn’t true.”

Dikkers told students that success isn’t always measured by money.

“There were times in my life where I was couch-surfing,” he said. “But I was doing so much with The Onion and I was so professionally fulfilled that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t successful the way society wanted me to be successful.”

Dikkers shared several principles for creating a successful startup company: invest passion instead of money, have the courage to eliminate bad ideas and work smart.

“Learn from the mistakes of those who have walked the path you want to walk and model their successes and avoid their failures,” he said.

The event was organized by the UIC Honors College as part of its Leadership Lecture series, and co-sponsored by the Office of Student Development Services, Campus Programs, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Department of English, College of Business Administration Undergraduate Programs, Office of Career Services, and Campus Housing.

It was also part of the Chancellor’s Lecture and Event Series and HON 401 Honors Leadership Seminar.