10 000 Hours…or the Truth?

Malcolm Gladwell introduced us to the idea that 10 000 hours is approximately what it takes to be successful  – an expert – at a pursuit. Carol Dweck’s book on Mindset confirmed that the “growth mindset” is most effective for human performance: a pattern of thought that reinforces that effort, rather than talent or entitlement, is what counts. This is profound, and essential material for reflection. It is, however, not the full picture, according to some of the latest research.

It seems that, while dedicated practice accounts for a fair proportion of expertise, other factors play as large a role. The researchers encourage us to simply see the writing on the wall if we are putting in the hours and not seeing the desired reward: it could be that our hours will best be spent elsewhere.

As an entrepreneur, consultant and semi-professional musician for many decades, I can attest to this from my own experience. Your own experience of reality shows such as Idols should bear this out, too: some folks should really have listened to their friends sooner. I am delighted to be growing in my musical proficiency, yet I am very clear that this is my hobby, not my career.

Jim Collins elucidated the Hedgehog concept in 2001, and perhaps a brief reminder would be good. His research showed that companies that sustainably beat their competitors thrived at the intersection of what they were passionate about, could be world-class at and would be economically rewarded for.

To be clear, then, what we are deeply passionate about displays our aligned values and interests. If this can be done excellently, to the point where we can potentially become respected in our “field of dreams”, we have a hobby or fledgeling practice. Only when combined with a ready market, who will gladly pay for us to do our life’s work, do we have a career. Adding in “conscience” elements, such as ethical behaviour, community-driven and environmentally-sensitive practices is suggested by Covey and would likely make it a sustainable career, too.

Seth Godin’s excellent recent book, The Dip, speaks to the need for quitting “cul-de-sac” and “cliff” growth paths, in favour of ones that will make our work “scarce” and thus valuable- “nqabile” in our local isiXhosa. This means being strategic in our quitting: seeing which avenues will NOT be worth sinking our time, finances and effort into. The pursuits that remain will be worth persevering in, knowing that our 10 000 hours will be time well spent. We will then be building resilience, or – as Diane Tice says, growing “longer legs for bigger strides”.