Tag Archives: 10000 hour rule

Outliers, Talent Is Overrated, And Others – Creating Conversations About Success

I’m a little fuzzy on “the point” of this article in Slate.com.  But I know this, she is right about the popularity of Outliers, and the overall subject.

Here’s the article:  Give It a Rest, Genius — What the new success books don’t tell you about superachievement by Ann Hulbert.  Of the books discussed in the article, I have presented synopses of two:  Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

She describes the (relatively) new-found fixation on the 10,000 hour rule.  She is right to say that Colvin’s Talent is Overrated is more specific, more “demanding” than Outliers.  Here are a couple of paragraphs from her article:

In their calculus of success, these books endorse perspiration over inspiration as the key to extraordinary performance. The prevailing term is “deliberate practice,” introduced by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist cited in every one of these books for research that has led to the “10,000-hour rule.” That’s how much intensely focused training it takes to reach the expert level, in any field. Coyle’s more New Age coinage is “deep practice.”

Higher expectations can indeed work wonders for anyone, but truly relentless drive is a rarity. Amid all the recycled material in Bounce, Syed offers a sobering firsthand reminder from the sports front: The necessary fanatical commitment to mastery is most commonly inspired by competition, which has a way of winnowing ruthlessly. But in an era when plenty of American workers feel we’re running in place and just barely keeping up, the mixed message of this genre is one we’re understandably more eager to hear: Maybe we don’t have to become magnitudes more frenetic than we already are—just a whole lot more focused—and we, too, stand a chance of zooming ahead.

I remember this thought from Lewis’ Moneyball.  By the time a baseball player is a young adult, it is simply too late to teach him not to swing at a ball.  Here’s the quote:

What most scouts thought of as a learned skill of secondary importance (the ability to take a lot of pitches) the A’s management had come, through hard experience, to view virtually as a genetic trait, and the one most likely to lead to baseball success.

The A’s acknowledged that it probably could be taught – if you could begin at about age 5…

So, what does all of this say to us as adults in the actual pursuit of current and future success.  I think two things:

1.  You may not ever be world class, but you can get better with deliberate practice. For example, do you speak, and is speaking a key part of your path to success?  Then watch yourself on video, hire a speech coach, scrutinize every part of your speaking, from content, to delivery, to gestures, to eye contact.  Extrapolate this principle into any work you actually do.  Watch yourself do it.  Hire a coach to catch your flaws (you’ll probably not be able to see them – and, I hate to tell you – you do have some!).  You have to work hard at developing the talent needed to excel.

2.  Every job requires this kind of attention to get better. You know that line “this call might be monitored.”  I wonder if anybody who monitors such calls is doing so to help the people on the calls get better, or are they just trying to catch them doing something wrong?

Help yourself, and others, get better – day in and day out — by focusing on getting better.  That may be the take-away message of these books!


You can purchase my synopses of both Outliers and Talent is Overrated, with audio + handouts, at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

Peyton Manning is Exhibit A of the 10,000 hour rule

It had to happen.  And Slate.com has done it.  Peyton Manning is truly exhibit A of the 10,000 hour rule.  And who wouldn’t think of him?

First, a reminder.  Malcolm Gladwell (borrowing the idea from Dr. Ericsson), popularized the finding that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something.  And his book, Outliers, is filled with examples, Bill Gates and the Beatles notable among them.  (It also has to do with the age at which a person starts playing a sport, and the birthdate of the kid dictating when he/she starts).  It is a fascinating concept, one of those “blinding flash of the fricking obvious” concepts.  Well, of course, this makes sense.  People who work the hardest, and the longest, at something are going to be better at it than those who do not work as long or as hard…

So – here is Stefan Fatsis (a “sports voice” I know and love through NPR) writing Peyton Manning Is a Genius:  The Super Bowl quarterback is also a huge pain in the ass.  The very title of the article sounds just like Fatsis.

The article describes how Manning can be a pain, a hard guy to like, but not a hard guy to respect.  He simply works his way into the respect column of friend and foe alike.  (I heard that on the flight to the Pro Bowl, he spent the entire flight watching video of the Saints defense).

He apparently started all this by at least the 6th grade.  And here’s the best quote from the article:

“He lives, eats, breathes, smokes, snorts, chews football,” says Adam Meadows, a starter on the Colts’ offensive line during Manning’s first five pro seasons. “He’s just a machine. That’s all he wants to do.

Now – here’s a question:  why does the 10,000 hour rule lend itself so strongly to athletic illustrations of the rule?  Maybe because we all know athletes, and we know that there are so few truly great ones, and so many mediocre ones.  When one rises to the top of the top, as in the case of Manning, we are rightly wowed.  (Even if we think they are borderline, or not so borderline, unbalanced).

For those mere mortals among us, the 10,000 hour rule always seems  so abstract.  I don’t have video to watch of my opponent…  I don’t have training camp…  I don’t have the week-after-week test of a game…

So,  here is the question that we all have to ask:  “what do I care about enough to invest my heart, my soul, my energy into getting really, really good at it?  (What am I willing to eat, smoke, snort and chew…?)

With Manning it is football.  What is it with you?

Paul Nicklen, one of those “10,000 hours” photographers, capturing our world in great photographs

I was in my car today at just the right time.  I heard a terrific interview conducted by Kris Boyd of Think on KERA with National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen.  He told of the work. the patience, the long-term commitment he had to get just the right photographs.  He has spent countless hours in the Arctic looking for those photographs.  It is a great interview.

Here is an excerpt about his new book (from his web site):
In this spectacular work, National Geographic photographer and biologist Paul Nicklen breaks new ground with stunning images of life in the polar reaches, and delivers critical new insights into animal behavior and the climate change that threatens the ice and its inhabitants.

I kept thinking about the 10,000 hour rule.  You know, the rule that says that it takes 10,000 hours of work (including a lot of deliberate practice) to do the best work possible.  This man has certainly spent more than 10,000 hours in search of these perfect photographs.  So, I rushed in to look at his web site.  What a treasure.  Just take a look at this photograph:

Listen to the interview from KERA here.  Check out his photographs here.  And consider buying his new book, Polar Obsession.

What a treat.

What will the best-selling books teach us in 2010?

This is a “let’s think about a question together” blog post.

It’s hard, probably impossible, to figure out just what books will be “big” for the coming 12 months.  Bob Morris, our blogging colleague, reads and reviews very many books for Amazon and other sites.  (I suspect he has passed 2000 books by now).  So he is the one with the best overview of what the themes are…  But to predict the true best-sellers, that is tough.

It appears (from its time on the NY Times best-sellers list and other lists) that the best selling business book of 2009 was Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a book that popularizes the work of others (especially Ericcson).  But is its sales success a reflection of the need for this book, or simply the fact of the cachet, the popularity, the story-telling ability of Malcolm Gladwell?  (and, as readers of this blog know, I am a Gladwell fan).

A while back, I wrote a post about the book that I felt needed to be written — about the need for companies to focus on providing and maintaining work for the people in our country.  But if somebody wrote the book, would it sell?  I don’t know. The most read blog post from this blog in 2009 was A Jobless Recovery and a Slip Down Maslow’s Hierarchy.  It included this line:

“While just a brief time ago we were a nation looking for self-esteem and self-actualization in our work, we may be back down to physiological needs and safety needs.  We need to pay the bills and survive this jobless recovery, and self-actualization will have to wait a while.”

I talk to a lot of people, as do most of you.  I think there is a great level of uncertaintty – even fear – among many.  I hear that the job-seeking networking groups are overflowing, and people are discouraged, worried, afraid…  There are plenty of books that fall in the self-help category, calling for positive imagery and positive thinking in the midst of difficult times,  but I don’t yet see books that help leaders know how to build companies that can address such fears.  (News item:  “Zero net job creation in the last decade”).

I think there is one obvious theme developing – business leaders are learning from an ever-expanding universe, and anyone who can write about such an expansion will find an audience.  For example, one current theme is that business has much to learn from the arena of design.  (I am presenting a synopsis of one such book at the February First Friday Book Synopsis, The Design of Business by Roger Martin.  Bob Morris is very high on this book).

What will be the best-selling business books of 2010, and what will they teach us – what will we learn from them?  I don’t know.  But we at the First Friday Book Synopsis will be ready to present our synopses, and maybe help you identify the problems, and the solutions, to take you through to 2011.

Reinforcement for that 10,000 hour rule and the Power of Deliberate Practice (from Coach Wooden, Gladwell, Colvin, and Levitt & Dubner)

I first learned of the 10,000 hour rule — it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at/to truly master any skill –from reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  Then I learned more about how to spend the 10,000 hours in “deliberate practice” from Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.

Here’s more.  In Superfreakonomics, Levitt and Dubner refer back to the “father” of the 10,000 hour rule, K. Anders Ericsson.  And yesterday, at a lunch gathering, I presented my synopsis of Wooden on Leadership, by the great, legendary, best-ever-coach John Wooden.  Though he does not refer to the concept directly, he provided the true “deliberate practice” model, with each session of his practices planned to the minute…

So — here are a few reminders from each of these authors, with brief comment a time or two:

From Wooden:
Have a definite practice plan – and follow it.
The coach must never forget that he is, first of all, a teacher.  He must come (be present), see (diagnose), and conquer (correct).  He must continuously be exploring for ways to improve himself in order that he may improve others and welcome every person and everything that may be helpful to him.
You must have patience and expect more mistakes, but drill and drill to reduce them to a minimum.

From Gladwell:
The people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.

In my synopsis of Outliers, I added these reflections:
• 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”
• Some “observations:
1.              It really does take a lot of hard, hard work – the 10,000 hour rule really is close to an actual rule!
2.              Hard work requires much intentional practice.
3.              Success is the result of “accumulative advantage.”

From Colvin:
There is absolutely no evidence of a ‘fast track’ for high achievers.
Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration.  This is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.  Continually seeking exactly those elements of performance that are unsatisfactory and then trying one’s hardest to make them better places enormous strains on anyone’s mental abilities.

From Levitt and Dubner:
If you don’t love what you’re doing, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good at it.
“Deliberate practice has three key components: setting specific goals; obtaining immediate feedback; and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.”  (K. Anders Ericsson)

(I wrote this in a blog post about Ken Robinson’s The Element:  How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything a while back:
So — here is the question that we each need to ask: What do I care deeply enough about that I am willing to put in significant time, over the long haul, to get better at it? Even if the time I put in is not necessarily fun.

So, we’re always back to this challenge — where are you investing your 10,000 hours?

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, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.