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January 15, 2009

10,000 Hours?

It’s not surprising that Malcolm Gladwell’s new book has made a splash. All his thought-provoking writing does and deserves to.

The argument of Outliers:

* Where you’re born and when you’re born have an enormous amount to do with whether or not you’re successful.
* Becoming a superstar takes about 10,000 hours of hard work.
* Both of the bullet points above are far more important than the magical talent myth.

Bill Gates, the Beatles, Beethoven, Bill Joy, Tiger Woods–do the math, 10,000 hours of work.

In some ways, this is a restatement of the Dip. Being the best in the world brings extraordinary benefits, but it’s not easy to get there.

For me, though, some of the 10k analysis doesn’t hold up. The Doors (or Devo or the Bee Gees) for example, didn’t play together for 10,000 hours before they invented a new kind of rock*. If the Doors had encountered significantly more competition for their brand of music, it’s not clear that they could have gotten away with succeeding as quickly as they did. Hey, Miley Cyrus wasn’t even 10,000 hours awake before she became a hit.

Doc Searls and Scoble didn’t blog for 10,000 hours before they became the best, most important bloggers in the world. Molly Katzen didn’t work on her recipes for 10,000 hours before she wrote the Moosewood Cookbook either.

*(There were bar bands in Buffalo, where I grew up, that put in far more than 10,000 playing mediocre music… didn’t help. Hard work may be necessary, but not sufficient).

Here’s my take on it:
You win when you become the best in the world, however ‘best’ and ‘world’ are defined by your market. In many mature markets, it takes 10,000 hours of preparation to win because most people give up after 5,000 hours. That’s the only magic thing about 10k… it’s a hard number to reach, so most people bail.

Yo Yo Ma isn’t perfect… he’s just better than everyone else. He pushed through the Dip that others chose not to. I’m guessing that there are endeavors (like being CEO of a Fortune 500 company or partner at a big law firm) where the rewards are so huge that the number is closer to 20,000 hours or more to get through the Dip.

But, ready for this? The Dip is much closer in niche areas, new areas, unexplored areas. You can get through the Dip in an online network or with a new kind of music because being seen as the best in that area is easier (at least for now). You can get through the Dip as a real estate broker in a new, growing town a lot quicker than someone in midtown Manhattan. The competition is thinner and probably less motivated.

Yes, it matters where and when you were born. It matters that you get lucky. And it matters most of all that you saw the Dip, realized how far away it was and chose to push through it.

– Seth Godin.

I cant imagine a better way of putting this, and its something my good advisor Gordo has said too.

The concept of it taking 10,000 hours of hard work to being truly a world leader, makes more sense to an Ironman than most people. I spent that in the pool alone as a kid growing up. I reckon I am going to add that in my life running and on the bike at least. 30,000 hours exploring beautiful places, meeting amazing people, experiencing life and employing my talents.

Awesome.

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