Steve Martin, Great Banjo Player, and the “Malcolm Gladwell 10,000-hour rule”

When does an author “arrive?’  When an idea he or she writes about becomes part of the national vocabulary.  And, by the way, the author who made the word or phrased popular gets the credit, even if someone else originally came up with the idea…

Steve MartinCase in point:  This week, Steve Martin played a concert with his blue grass band, The Steep Canyon Rangers, at the Meyerson Symphony Center to benefit Central Dallas Ministires.  (Larry James is the CEO, and Central Dallas Ministries sponsors the Urban Engagement Book Club, at which I speak monthly).

Steve Martin is known as a comedian/writer/actor, and those of us old enough to remember know him as the “wild and crazy guy” on Saturday Night Live.  But he is a life-long banjo player, and apparently pretty good.  (I was not able to attend the concert).

Here’s an excerpt from the D Magazine Frontburner blog shout out:
Martin is a master entertainer, and he makes it look effortless. But anyone who’s read his memoir of his early days can attest to the fact that he’s a perfect example of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule.

By now, most of us know the Gladwell book Outliers, and its primary premise that it takes 10,000 hours to get really, really good at something/anything.  I’ve posted about this quite a few times before, and mentioned Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated and the need for “deliberate practice” as a good companion volume.  But now, the phrase 10,000-hour rule has entered popular culture as “Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule.” This is quite a feat – he popularized the phrase “The Tipping Point,” and now the “10,000-hour rule.”  (And he came close to adding the phrase  “a blink decision” into the vocabulary).outliers

I think he deserves the credit, even though the idea was borrowed from others.  K. A. Ericsson may have been the first, though even that is in dispute.  Read this and especially this for background and discussion.

But – it is definitely Gladwell who spread the word, backed up with great illustrations in the book, that 10,000 hours is what it takes.  As I said in my handout of my synopsis of this book:
• centerpiece to this book is the 10,000 hour rule… — with much intentional practice!
• “Practicing:  that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better”
It really does take a lot of hard, hard work – the 10,000-hour rule really is close to an actual rule!


You can purchase my synopses of Outliers and Talent is Overrated, with audio + handout, at our companion web site,

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