Google+ Badge

Saturday, December 5, 2009

So, You Want To Invest 10,000 Hours To Be the Best?

 Life is
the only chance you get,
how you live it,
what you take from it,
how much you give back,
a joy and a heartbreak,
doing the best with what you have,
loving with all of your heart,
treating all forms of it with respect,
and a wondrous beautiful mystery

-- C.Yost

 Malcolm Gladwell became one of the world’s most influential sociologists with the publication of The Tipping Point in 2000, which described how small actions could trigger social epidemics. In his book, Outliers: 10,000 Hours, a 2008 New York Times bestseller, author Gladwell says that the difference between success and non-success, genius and mediocrity amounts to performing at least 10,000 hours of practice. Plus, obviously, some intelligence and talent. (Melanie McDonagh, London Evening Standard, November 19, 2008)  

Gladwell contends it takes this amount of time for a talented person to master a cognitively complex skill. He offers numerous examples of such mastery with many famous people from the Bill Gates to the Beatles. In fact, Gladwell contends in their early career the Fab Four would play eight hours a night, seven days a week while in Hamburg, so by the time they hit it big, they had performed live an estimated 1,200 times --  more than most modern bands play in their careers. (

On his site (, Gladwell  explains that "outlier" is a scientific term used to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. He offers this example: "In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be "outlier." And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold."

Gladwell in interested in people who become outliers, for one reason or another, become so accomplished and so extraordinary that they are puzzling to the masses.

Steven Swinford (, October 19, 2008) reports Gladwell's book argues that there is no such thing as a “self-made man." Instead, the years spent intensively focused on their area of expertise place the world’s most successful people above their peers.

Swinford notes examples such as the tennis prodigy who starts playing at six is playing in Wimbledon at 16 or 17 [like] Boris Becker or the classical musician who starts playing the violin at four is debuting at Carnegie Hall at 15 or so.” The obsessive approach is particularly evident in sporting icons. Jonny Wilkinson, the rugby player, Tiger Woods, the golfer, and the Williams sisters in tennis have all trained relentlessly since they were children.

As Gladwell, himself, points out, it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become good at almost any activity. The good news is that people can become good at almost anything they set their mind to. The problem is that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is about 10 years of practicing 3 hours a day. Of course, it is very difficult to think of any markedly successful individual who has succeeded without tons of practice - though attributes such as cunning, ruthlessness and consuming self-regard also help.

The essence of this argument was made long ago by Samuel Smiles in his book, Self-Help. "Strenuous individual application," he declared in 1859, with plentiful examples, "is the price paid for distinction; excellence of any sort is placed beyond the reach of indolence." And Thomas Edison backed up this premise with the familiar maxim that "genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration." (Melanie McDonagh, London Evening Standard, November 19, 2008)

The actual 10K figure comes from the research of Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State, who in the early 1990s studied violinists at the Berlin Academy of Music. His current research concerns the structure and acquisition of expert performance and in particular how expert performers acquire and maintain their superior performance by extended deliberate practice. (Ericsson, 1998; Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993; Ericsson & Charness, 1994; Ericsson & Lehmann, 1996; Krampe & Ericsson, 1996, Lehmann & Ericsson, 1998a).

 Some Surprising Findings Associated with Outliers 

1. Success must line up with being at the right place in the right time. “Demographic luck” can be critical in business. According to Gladwell, being born in the 1830s or 1930s benefited future entrepreneurs. 
The book begins with Gladwell's research on why a disproportionate number of elite Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year. The answer, he points out, is that since youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year, children born on January 1 play in the same league as those born on December 31 in the same year. Adolescents born earlier in the year are bigger and maturer than their younger competitors, so they are often identified as better athletes, leading to extra coaching and a higher likelihood of being selected for elite hockey leagues.

This phenomenon in which "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" is dubbed "accumulative advantage" by Gladwell, while sociologist Robert K. Merton calls it "the Matthew Effect," named after a biblical verse in the Gospel of Matthew: "For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."

Or, take the case of Dustin Hoffman (as well as his peers and his close friends from the time Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall) who arrived in the movie business at the moment the studio system was imploding. At that time, Hollywood was finally willing to accept a certain measure of nontraditional casting, and the gritty naturalism of the '70s played to Hoffman's strengths as an actor. (Rachel Abramowitz, The Los Angeles Times, December 23 2008)

2. Society is not giving people the right incentives. We do often reward intelligence, but ignore stubbornness, which is arguably more important. (Fabrice Grinda,

3. Outliers must have aptitude, not just the 10,000 hours of practice. Gladwell ponders whether aptitude is just the desire to want to be an outlier or whether aptitude is a separate quality of physical ability. (Rachel Abramowitz, The Los Angeles Times, December 23 2008)

4. Gladwell takes demographic luck a step further. Ability, Gladwell contends, is just one factor in success. Work ethic, luck, a strong support base and even being born in the right year play a far larger role than ability is success. (Steven Swinford, October 19 2008)

5. For an outlier to develop, a person must survive almost daily doses of rejection and humiliation. Many never make the required hours for success. "There is so much talent that can't survive that," says Hoffman. "They quit. It's just a candle that burns out."

6. Gladwell says the most surprising pattern uncovered in the book relates to plane crashes. He says, "It's probably the chapter nearly the end of Outliers where I talk about plane crashes. How good a pilot is, it turns out, has a lot to do with where that pilot is from—that is, the culture he or she was raised in. I was actually stunned by how strong the connection is between culture and crashes, and it's something that I would never have dreamed was true, in a million years." (

7. When people become outliers, they do not achieve this just because of their own efforts. It's because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think. An amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea! "No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone," writes Gladwell.

To illustrate this point, Gladwell speaks of  Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. Gladwell argues that Oppenheimer's upbringing made a pivotal difference in his life. Oppenheimer grew up in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan, was the son of a successful businessman and painter, attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School on Central Park West, and was afforded a childhood of "concerted cultivation."

Outliers explains that these opportunities gave Oppenheimer the chance to develop the "practical intelligence" necessary for success. Gladwell then provides an anecdote: "When Oppenheimer was a student at University of Cambridge, he made an unsuccessful attempt to poison one of his tutors. When he was about to be expelled from the school, he was able to compromise with the school's administrators to allow him to continue his studies at the university, using skills that he gained during his cultivated upbringing."

  A Final Piece of Knowledge

Most of society does not like to admit that many variables are involved in an individual's success. (Deirdre Donahue, November 18 2008) Gladwell does not believe that everything that happens to a person is up to that person. (Donna Bowman, November  18, 2008) Gladwell noted that, although there was little that could be done with regards to a person's fate, society can still impact the "man"-affected part of an individual's success.

Summarizing the publication, Gladwell notes that success "is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky,"


On the guitar and virtuoso Jimi Hendrix:

The guitar was an extension of Jimi Hendrix, a fifth limb he relied on as much as others would a leg or an arm. He played during set breaks or on the bus, recorded or jammed after shows, played along to Bob Dylan records during interviews and slept with the guitar at the edge of the bed. 

"Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you'll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you're gonna be rewarded."  -- Jimi Hendrix

Post a Comment