Monday, June 9, 2014

Success, and the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’


Do you consider yourself successful? What would you cite as necessities for someone to achieve great success?

Whenever there’s a discussion of what constitutes success, opinions are plentiful. Innate abilities, sometimes also referred to as “giftedness” or aptitude, can certainly make a huge difference. Education and training usually are significant contributors. And you can’t discount the level of one’s determination and perseverance – willingness to continue pressing forward in the face of obstacles and adversity.

As someone has said,
before trying to climb
the ladder of success,
make certain it's
facing the right wall.
Years ago in Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell examined success from many perspectives. He introduced the “10,000-Hour Rule” as a key factor for attaining high levels of success. Drawing from Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson’s research, Gladwell proposed spending at least 10,000 hours practicing a specific skill as a prerequisite for mastering it.

Predictably, Gladwell’s declaration met criticism from experts arguing time and repetition alone can’t guarantee success. The saying, “practice makes perfect,” falls flat if you practice making the same mistakes again and again, they noted. Maybe that’s why the adage was later amended to “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

In reality, both sides are right – and wrong. Large quantities of time will produce success only if practice and repetition are done with quality. And practice, even if done with precision, will foster success only if done in sufficient quantities to make excellence almost second nature.

Thinking about Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule, only a handful of things I’ve done over the years would qualify. When I took Personal Typing as a junior in high school, learning the “home row” seemed impossible, and I couldn’t imagine typing without looking directly at the keys. After many years of work as a journalist, learning to think and compose at the keyboard, I became very proficient as a typist. In fact, my typing surpassed many of the secretaries and administrative assistants wherever I worked.

I couldn’t begin to calculate how much time I’ve spent writing, over more than 40 decades as a newspaper reporter and editor, magazine editor, book author, columnist and blogger. But the hours must total tens of thousands. On happy occasions when someone is kind enough to compliment my writing skills, I’m thankful. But it also occurs to me, “Well, I’d better be a pretty good writer. I’ve spent enough time doing it!”

Contrast that with pursuits I’ve enjoyed but never invested enough time to perfect. It was fun playing the drums in high school, but after a couple of years of formal lessons, my percussion practice consisted only of random “bang sessions.” As a result, I never became the drummer I would have liked to be.

In college I spent many hours on tennis courts playing recreationally. Over time I became reasonably skilled given my athletic limitations, but because I never invested the time demanded to become a good player, I never advanced beyond mediocre. Ten thousand hours practicing tennis? Not even close.

So what’s all this got to do with anything? Well, for one thing, the mantra, “It’s the quality that counts, not quantity,” is a copout. For instance, in parenting, children want quality time – but they like it in quantity. If you want to have a good, growing marriage, you need to give your spouse quantity time – not an occasional quality hour or two. Successful parents – and successful partners – aren’t afraid to invest whatever time is necessary. Maybe even 10,000 hours or so.

Spiritually it’s much the same. The average Christian seems to think attendance at a worship service and maybe a Sunday school class or small group is sufficient for spiritual maturity. “Hey, God, I gave you a couple of hours on Sunday. What do you want?”

Granted, we have work, family obligations, time for eating and sleeping, maybe a few community activities thrown in. And we need time for TV and just chillin’, right? But how can we experience success spiritually if we spend more time eating chips than we do speaking and listening to God?

In reality, He wants us 24/7. That doesn’t mean we walk about with hands folded and heads bowed. But the Bible does say, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which means doing that in the classroom, during a business meeting, while disciplining our children, cooking meals, even driving the car. Praying does not require closed eyes or opened mouths.

The verse preceding that tells us to “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This applies to good times and bad, victories and defeats, happy times and sad. Because being successful spiritually involves trusting the Lord is with us no matter what.

Do you really want to know God? It’s going to require a lot more than reading “the verse of the day” that arrives by email every morning. King David understood this from personal experience when he wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9,11).

Imagine if, over the course of your lifetime, you were to invest 10,000 hours or more in prayer, Bible study and meditation. Do you think that might result in spiritual success? It sure would be worth a try.

2 comments:

Kostas Mandilaris said...

I do agree with you, it's quality that matters. I also think that dedication and passion is equally important. It's the same thing as a job really. Put a man to do a job that he hates or dislikes, he will be mediocre or average at most because he is not willing to put the effort. He can work for 100 years and still show no progress after a while. Put the same man on a different job doing something that he loves and his productivity, efficiency and durability will increase very fast.

It also depends on what success means to you? Loads of money? Financial independance? Power? Women? Try seeing what Andrew Carnegie replied when interviewed by Napoleon Hill about success 100 years ago.

One portion of my blog is about the pursuit of happiness and success. I am glad to see that someone has the same interests and questions as me!

Bob Tamasy said...

Thank you for your comments and observations, Kostas! Passion is a very important ingredient for success, not just materially, but also in terms of receiving satisfaction and fulfillment.