So, as I have watched a few of the events from the Olympics, and I’ve been thinking about the 10,000 hour rule. And I am ready to state the obvious: putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing.
First, a refresher. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, described the 10,000 hour rule. To summarize, it takes 10,000 hours to get really world-class good at anything. (Gladwell got the idea/concept from Anders Ericsson).
And then, in the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, we learn that just any old 10,000 hours is not good enough. You need to put in “deliberate practice” — lots and lots of deliberate practice – in order to get better and better. In other words, you practice with the intent to get better. This kind of practice is exhausting, and almost always needs a very knowledgeable coach, with terrific motivational skills. (A coach who “can correct with creating resentment.” John Wooden).
Now, back to the point of this post: I am ready to state the obvious: putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing. Here’s what I mean.
As we watch the Olympics, we see pretty clearly that some athletes have developed a work ethic superior to others. But there are plenty of athletes who put in pretty much the same kind of time, had the same high level work ethic, as the “winners” who beat them when the starter pistol went off.
So, putting in 10,000 hours guarantees nothing. In sports, you need the 10,000 hours, plus the right coach, plus a little luck, plus maybe the right genetic makeup, plus…
Plus, plus, plus…
The more we learn, the more we learn how critical the next “plus” might be.
Now, let me back up. If we were not so fixated on winning the gold, we might come closer to admitting that the 10,000 hour rule does in fact guarantee success. Even making an Olympic Team; or, even being good enough to compete in an Olympics Trials Qualifying Event to try to make the team, takes massive skill. So, why is that not “success?” It certainly should be.
And we do know that in many cases, coming in second is every bit a “win.” Did you see the depth of emotion on the faces of Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston after they won the Silver Medal in Synchronized Diving? They may not have won the Gold, but, it was the first diving medal at all for the USA since 2000, and the first ever medal for the USA in this particular event. Yes, the Chinese duo were better. Noticeably better. But these two young women were the second best in the world, and their 10,000 hours paid off.
Maybe we could say this: maybe 10,000 guarantees nothing. But a failure to put in 10,000 hours does guarantee something – you won’t make it to the top without putting in those 10,000 hours.
Now – the other challenge. One reality about this kind of world-class accomplishment is that these athletes show up, every day, with a coach watching and “coaching” every moment. Wouldn’t all of us get better at our jobs if we had that kind of individual coaching, motivating, “pushing us to the limit” daily encounter? I think so.
Work ethic, plus coaching, plus deliberate practice, plus constant feedback, plus measurable goals, plus… The road to true success really is a challenging road.
I have spent 13 years reading business books and presenting synopses of these books to folks ready and willing to learn. It took a while (I’m not all that sharp!), but I think I am beginning to learn some things myself. In fact, I think I am ready to state, for certain, that there are 2 ways to guarantee mediocrity (if not outright failure):
1) Have a poor work ethic
2) Don’t have regular (team/executive team) meetings.
#1: Have a poor work ethic.
The sources are too many, but let’s start with the 10,000 hour rule (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers). I summarize it this way in my presentation:
…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” (Outliers).
Or, to put it another way, putting in 10,000 hours does not guarantee that you will reach the pinnacle of success; but, not putting in the time practically guarantees that you won’t reach that pinnacle.
In other words, to remind us all of the obvious, it takes work, hard work, to be successful.
#2: Don’t have regular (team, management, executive team) meetings.
This is the one that has most captivated me. I am looking for this everywhere I speak, in every book I read, and everywhere else I can.
The insight hit home after reading the Verne Harnish book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, but it took a while to see it in action. Now I am looking for it, and finding it, everywhere I look.
The Rockefeller “habits” are Priorities, Data, and Rhythm: an effective rhythm of daily; weekly; monthly; quarterly; annual meetings to maintain alignment and drive accountability (“until your people are mocking you, you’ve not repeated your message enough”).
In the book, Harnish points to this:
Mastering the Daily and Weekly Executive Meeting
(Structure meetings to enhance executive team performance).
• meetings overview:
• daily & weekly – execution
• monthly – learning
• quarterly and annual – setting strategy}.
This is the discipline, the habit, that I am looking for, paying attention to, and have become convinced is a (maybe the) critical key to genuine success. Assuming that a company or organization has hired competent, passionate people (admittedly, this is a big assumption), then it is imperative that these people get together in regular meetings to tackle those key goals/priorities for the organization. I wrote about this as practiced at Mighty Fine Burgers (see this post), and here is a clue from Zappos, from this article:
For instance, Zappos.com, the shoes and clothing e-retailer now owned by Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has agents meet about once a week for hour-long, one-on-one coaching sessions in which a supervisor and agent each take a call. The two then discuss what the agent did well and what could be improved the next time around.
Of course, you need to pay attention to what occurs in such meetings, but don’t miss what comes first: weekly meetings! The rhythm of weekly, regular meetings!
As I said, I am asking around about this a lot. I find absolute consistency – excellent teams, excellent organizations, spend intentional, regular times in meetings. They do not skip those meetings. It is part of their routine, their ritual, their “rhythm.”
Yes, yes , I know… a lot of people sit through a lot of bad meetings. And that is a problem. So, yes, learn to run your meetings well. If you are a leader, learning to run a good meeting may be the next important skill for you to master. And, always, don’t forget to have an agenda, with something important to discuss/work on/accomplish. The most successful organizations meet about the same thing over and over and over again. It takes that kind of “long haul” attention to get really good at anything.
But if you want a sure fire path to mediocrity (or outright failure) just try getting by with no meetings. That is a guaranteed path to failure.
You accomplish what you meet about! Yes, you do!
It has been a while since a book has sparked such interest, such controversy, such applause and disdain, and almost furor, as Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Yale Professor, and mother, Amy Chua (currently #5 on the overall list of bestsellers on Amazon). If you haven’t heard about it, you really must be living in a cave… Here’s a paragraph from the review by Janet Maslin from the New York Times:
Ms. Chua was not about to raise prizeless slackers. She wanted prodigies, even if it meant nonstop, punishing labor. So “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” chronicles its author’s constant demanding, wheedling, scolding and screaming. It describes seemingly endless piano and violin sessions that Ms. Chua supervised. (Her own schedule of teaching, traveling, writing and dealing with her students goes mostly unmentioned — and would require her to put in a 50-hour workday.) And it enforces a single guiding principle that is more reasonable than all the yelling suggests: “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.”
Amy Chua, and discussions of her book, have been everywhere – I’ve heard her on NPR, read about her in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, yesterday in Points in the Dallas Morning News.
I’ve got three observations/reflections about this whole discussion.
#1 – I think I probably (ok, make that definitely) could have been more disciplined – make that, demanded more discipline – in raising our two sons.
#2 – After all the angst and disagreement and argument over her specific approach, I think she is simply saying this – it takes time, lots and lots of time, to get good at anything, and to get children to put in that kind of time, the parent has to put in that kind of time. I think she is saying that to learn to master anything can develop the ability to master other things in life.
I thought of a woman I know. She heard me present my synopsis of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and she was intrigued by the 10,000 hour rule — the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to get really, world-class good at anything (Gladwell did not “develop/discover” it – he is always the great popularizer. Dr. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University is apparently the one who came up with the concept, after his extensive study of expertise). This woman earned her Ph.D. in some field of Business, and teaches at the graduate level. But in her “first life,” she was an accomplished pianist, playing at the top level. She told me that she did a quick back-of-the-napkin calculation after my presentation, and figured out that she put in well over 10,000 hours on the piano, and now puts in the same kind of time in her business research and writing.
In other words, the discipline of discipline, once learned and mastered, carries over into additional endeavors.
#3 – I remembered a story from a book by David Halberstam. The book, The Reckoning, tells of the rise and fall of Ford, and the rise of Nissan (up to the point the book was written – it came out in 1986). It is a terrific read. In the book (my apology, my copy is in storage – so this is from memory), he described a conversation he had with a man in Japan who worked at Nissan. He described how in America, life had gotten “easy,” and the people had lost the hunger that drives the discipline needed to be the best. He observed that this hunger (almost a sense of desperation) led to Nissan’s ascendancy. But, then a warning – he had already seen this hunger begin to lessen in Japan, and he saw it “transferring” over to Korea. The formula – hunger leads to discipline leads to success – is one that I remember vividly. I think this Tiger Mother may have captured a piece of that.
I have not yet read the book. But I think that it points us to a fear – a fear that we simply lack the discipline needed to get good at anything, and then later to get good at other things. And I suspect that a whole lot of people are reading this book feeling just a little bit scared.
Yes, I did read David Brooks column, Amy Chua is a Wimp. I think it’s cute. I really like Brooks, but in this case, I think he may be off-target. There are a whole lot of people who excel at sleepovers who never excelled, and may never excel, at much of anything else…
Discipline is hard – harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
The list of posts on this blog referring to the 10,000 hour rule, the need for deliberate practice, the books Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, is long. We have chronicled the ascendancy of, the centrality of — call it what you will – “work ethic,” “it take s10,000 hours to master anything…” thinking.
The quote that indicts me personally, in a way that I cannot escape, is the one from Gawande: “We can’t even keep from snacking between meals.”
With the exception of our military, we are a flabby lot, and I’m not just talking about girth. We are merely disgusting in that department. I’m talking about our self-discipline, our individual will, our self-respect, our voluntary order.
Note the operative words: self, individual and voluntary.
We don’t need bureaucrats and politicians to dictate how to behave; how to spend (or save); what and how to eat. We need to be the people we were meant to be: strong, resilient, disciplined, entrepreneurial, focused, wise, playful, humorous, humble, thoughtful and, please, self-deprecating. We have all the tools and opportunities a planet can confer.
We are a flabby lot. And it shows – not in a good way. We’ve read all about 10,000 hours, but how many of us actually put in the work?
As always, we are back to the “knowing-doing gap.” We know, we just don’t do…
Take inventory. Be honest with yourself. Are you flabby, undisciplined, unfocused? If so, you’ve got your work cut out for you (as do I). Let’s get to it.
Legendary is not a strong enough word. Here in Dallas, whatever punch the word “legendary” carries, it is not enough to describe the name Roger Staubach. The winner of two Super Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys, Roger Staubach is simply the man. And his success on the field carried over into a vast Real Estate success. When I moved to Dallas in 1987, it seemed that the name Roger Staubach was always staring at me from one corner or another.
We have always known that athletic contests build some kind of inner something that carries over into life in ways that are almost too numerous to mention, or even fully grasp. Now researchers are trying to find those ways.
And it is true for women as well as men. In a fascinating article on the Daily Beast, Female Jocks Rule the World by Danielle Friedman, we learn quite a bit about this. Here are a number of excerpts. (I will follow with a few observations of my own).
Athletic women make more money and hold more upper-management positions than those who shun sports—and their numbers are growing. Danielle Friedman on why it pays to play.
But the young entrepreneurs have undoubtedly carried lessons from their days as varsity athletes into the boardroom, attributing many of their managerial skills to their sporty pasts.
“Our coach always had us write our goals on the back of our hands to be constantly reminded of them, to give one example,” says Jenny Carter Fleiss, who was captain of her track team in Riverdale, New York. “Today, I still keep a list of my personal goals posted right in front of me—and encourage everyone else at Rent the Runway to do this—as a constant reminder of the bigger-picture things we’re working on.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Carter Fleiss and Hyman are in good company. Former high school and college athletes of all abilities hold positions of power in an array of arenas, from Sarah Palin (basketball) to Ellen DeGeneres (tennis). Eight-two percent of executive businesswomen played organized sports after elementary school, according to a 2002 study by mutual fund company Oppenheimer, and evidence suggests that figure will likely rise over the next few decades, as more post-Title IX babies enter the workforce.
“There’s a whole lot of anecdotal evidence that disparities between women and men in the workplace are caused by a lack of athletic training and experience,” says Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College. “We’d now like to do the research to prove it.”
In addition to gaining valuable skills, women who played (or passionately follow, for that matter) sports gain unique access to “boys” networks that they’d otherwise be excluded from, experts say. Also compelling: The Oppenheimer study found that one in six adult women identify themselves as athletic—but the figure rises to almost half of women who make more than $75,000.
Stevenson found that ramping up girls’ participation in sports had a direct effect on their education and employment, explaining about 20 percent of the increase in education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for women ages 25 to 34,
“It’s not just that the people who are going to do well in life play sports, but that sports help people do better in life,” Stevenson told Parker-Pope. “While I only show this for girls, it’s reasonable to believe it’s true for boys as well.”
…evidence suggests that participating in an organized sport can benefit nearly all women, deeply instilling lessons from the value of practice to teamwork, says Kolbert. It provides participants with a peer group, and a feeling of inclusion. And perhaps most importantly, it helps cultivate resilience.
I was a tennis player. (The operative word is “was”). I was ranked fairly high in Texas my Senior year in high school, had a great, great experience on my tennis teams, both in high school and in college, and my college degree was substantially paid for by my tennis scholarship. I was good – not anywhere near great (I could not challenge the best – and in my years, the best was Trinity University), but good.
To this day, when I run into an old tennis buddy or opponent, my heart beats faster, and the conversation just starts flying.
In my years studying business success, the wisdom of a good coach or athlete seems to lift the level of the thought and conversation. On this blog, the single most viewed article we’ve ever had (fueled somewhat by his death) was about John Wooden – simply the greatest coach who ever lived. (Here’s the article: Wisdom from Coach Wooden: “A coach is someone who can give correction without creating resentment”). And blog posts about Peyton Manning, Coach Bear Bryant, Tony Dungy, John Madden, all have brought more than the average number of page views than articles about the other mere mortals in business seem to generate.
And in one area of business endeavor, the illustrations just seem to come in an avalanche: the 10,000 hour rule, and the need for deliberate practice, is simply best explained by athletic discipline success stories (though music stories, dance stories, and many others, could certainly make the point in powerful ways also). Though Malcolm Gladwell includes stories of Bill Gates and the Beatles in his discussion of the 10,000 hour rule in Outliers, he begins it with stories of Canadian Junior Hockey and international junior soccer competition.
And if you want to understand the impact of, the power of, work ethic and discipline and the need for constant improvement, you may as well just bow down to the legendary practices of such athletes as Michael Jordan and Jerry Rice and Peyton Manning and Nolan Ryan and…
And if you want the best cautionary tales, just check into stories of athletes who could have been great, but lacked those qualities that could have kept them on the path to such greatness. (For one such cautionary tale, just consider the tale of one-game-wonder Clint Longley, the “mad bomber.” A great quarterback that never was…)
The article I quoted above offers a lot to help us understand the power of such athletic undergirdings to business success. But here’s something else to throw in the mix. When I read about deliberate practice, the place/role of a good coach, the 10,000 hour rule, I do look back on my athletic successes, but my athletic failures and disappointments are what I really remember. And in remembering those, I feel somewhat driven to do better at this chapter of my life. Maybe the challenge of athletic disappointment drives us to do better at doing better later in life.
I guess all of this is my way of saying that I am not surprised at the evidence that athletic endeavor — practice, teamwork, competition, the role of a good coach — all help lead to success later in life.
And for women to rise as fast as they have after the adoption of Title IX — well, let’s just say we shouldn’t be surprised.
This is possibly the first in a series. Ultimately, I plan to post the videos together on a separate site.
Yes, the production values are low. They are made on iMovie on my iMac. I am not an expert!
My intention is keep each video about 2 minutes in length (this one is 2:02). It is intended to be a a simple, quick definiton of a key business concept.
Please let me know what you think. And, let me know what other concepts you would like me to tackle.