I am in the middle of reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a non-fiction story about success – specifically he explores why he thinks certain people excel far beyond the average. (In statistics, something that is far outside the norm is an “outlier”.) He talks about the Beatles and Bill Gates, Michael Jordan and Chris Langan. His main objective seems to be to say – yes there is talent, but there are other influences like seized opportunities, special experiences and particular upbringing that has been handed down for generations. He tells a number of memorable stories to make his points. Some critics say that’s all his writing is good for – a good entertaining story. Well, it worked with me and got me thinking.
Early in the book, Gladwell talks about IQ and that after a certain threshold it really doesn’t how high your IQ is. There are other factors after that threshold that separate people – like imagination and work ethic. He said it’s like saying that the taller you are the better you are at basketball. Yes, someone who is 6’6” is generally better at basketball than someone who is under 6’, but about 6’6” versus 7’?
In the same chapter, Gladwell says once talent is established that time invested in learning, practicing, exploring is crucial to becoming “world-class”. The threshold there is 10,000 hours. In looking at violinist, studies found children who started at the same time learning the violin and made a career in music were separated by the number of hours they practiced until employment. The virtuosos were 10,000 hours, the good musicians were 8,000 hours and the music school teachers were 4,000 hours.
10,000 hours is 20 hours a week for 10 years. That’s daunting to say the least. No wonder those of us out of our childhood think that learning something well is out of our grasp. Yet since I turned 35 years ago, I’ve been starting up with all the things that I always wanted to do. I never expect to be world class at the level of Bill Gates or the Beatles. But what makes my head spin, is considering what could happen if I could give 10 hours a week for 10 years that’s 5000 hours – or even 5 hours a week for 15 years is almost 3800 hours?
I can’t change the talent, I can’t change the upbringing or the past. I can only work with what I have right now and what I can control is what I invest my time in.
What would you spend 10,000 hours on?