Ever wonder why some people achieve great success and others with just as much creativity and smarts never seem to rise beyond the ordinary? Mark Erwin, successful entrepreneur, former US ambassador and author of the new book The Powers: 12 Principles to Transform Your Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary, offers some insightful answers.

Most of us are told to "dream big," he explains--but then given no instructions as to how to transform those big dreams into reality. That transformation requires three traits that most people don't have, he explains. The good news is that by working to develop these qualities in yourself, you actually can achieve the big goals you're dreaming of.

1. Vision

Before you can achieve any big goal, you have to have a vision of exactly where you're trying to go. Even (or especially) if that vision seems crazy from the perspective of today's world. Consider Bill Gates and Paul Allen when they founded Microsoft, talking about a computer in every home. "Try to imagine how absolutely absurd this idea would have been in 1975, when Xerox had just closed its computer division," Erwin says.

Today, he adds, Gates' big vision is that by 2035 there will be almost no poor nations left on Earth. He's gotten Warren Buffett and other billionaires to buy into this vision of the future, and with that kind of help, he just may achieve it.

2. Persistence

Consider J.K. Rowling, Erwin says. Seven years out of college, she declared: "I am the biggest failure I know." It would have been hard at the time to argue with that assessment. She had no job, her marriage had fallen apart, she was a single mother and had just been diagnosed with clinical depression. 

But the smartest visionaries are able to treat abject failure as an opportunity, Erwin says. That's just what Rowling did. She described is this way: "Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me." In fact, she observes, had she been more successful in the ordinary way, the Harry Potter books might never have been written.

The point is, it doesn't matter how many times you fail, you only have succeed once, Erwin notes. And then, as Mark Cuban says, "Everyone can tell you how lucky you are."

3. Hard Focus

Erwin, who worked in the Clinton administration, was once playing golf with the former president when Clinton told him about a match he'd had with Jack Nicklaus the previous week. "When I won a hole, Jack didn't speak to me again for three holes."

Erwin asked if that hurt Clinton's feelings, but he answered, "No, I understood. He's a competitor, and losing a hole to me, an average golfer, shocked him into hard focus. He was probably not even aware I was there."

That ability to focus hard on reaching a goal or solving a problem makes the difference between extraordinary success and what Tony Robbins calls "dabbling your way through life." 

Learn to develop that hard focus, combine it with persistence and a clear vision of what you want to achieve. And then you'll be unstoppable.