Outliers is a classic book on what makes up success by Malcolm Gladwell. He argues that highly successful people – the outliers – do not succeed just by simply working harder. Being there at the right place at the right time, among other factors, is critical too.
Gladwell describes the “Rule of 10,000” which says that it takes about 10,000 hours of practicing a task for someone to achieve mastery in it. It can be music, computer programming, writing, sports – anything (and certainly for knowledge work!).
“… ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.” — “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell
Doing the maths, practicing for 40-hours in a week and 180 hours in a month, it takes about 5 years to achieve mastery in it. Obviously, what it means to be a master and what the world of mastery is can vary, but in general the rule models the effort required to become really good at something. Gladwell gives examples of The Beatles, Bill Gates and Paul Allen to prove the theory. All of them put in 10,000 of practicing music or programming before they really became masters at it.
Stop reading this post and open up your calendar. Take a look at what it had for the last three weeks and what it holds for the next three.
Well, probably it looks booked and you very busy (which is true!).
However, what you probably did not notice was that your calendar is filled with meetings and commitments that are either:
1. Added by others through an invitation
2. Added by you by invitation to others
In essence, your calendar is most likely a journal of your commitments with others. It is a document which you refer to, to find out whom you have to meet or talk to next. It chronicles how and where your time is owned by others.
So, what’s wrong?
This is a Guest Post from my dear friend and ex-colleague, Majd, from whom I have learnt and shared a great deal over past 10 years. An excellent manager of knowledge workers and one of the best software testing minds you can find. He maintains a blog at http://knowledgetester.org/.
It is a lesson from a barber shop approximately twelve years ago but it still sticks to my mind. I was spending my days in those years at a bachelor flats accommodation in Lahore (those flats are Pakistani equivalent of an US condo), and there were many shops around those flats. One of the barbers was my point for the haircut and beard trimming. The master of the shop had a worker boy and the two of them seemed to have good coordination but on one of my regular visits, I found out that the master had fired that worker. I asked him what was the reason as that boy seemed to be a good help for you and now you are all alone to do your work. The barber replied: “his work was not attractive” (in Urdu/Hindi: uss kay kaam main kashish naheen thee). From that day since today, I want to do work that is attractive and I go to barbers who have attraction in their work.
Change is hard. It’s difficult. It sucks!
Well, it’s not really that hard. It’s hard because of how we deal with the change.
We hate change. We detest it. We resist it. We procrastinate. We put it off. We do whatever we can to avoid it. We make a herculean effort to avoid the potentially small effort required to make the change.
That is how we are hardwired. If our current state has some sort of equilibrium, a sense of sanity and acceptance of where we are, we would resist change. Even a change that is for better.
It is not because we do not like to make things better. We all like to be richer, happier and more satisfied.
It’s the process of change that we hate.
The more I learn about child development, the more fascinated I get at the similarity of the fundamentals between adult professional growth and child development.
Consider the following advice from Baby Center on helping your child develop fast:
It’s important not to frustrate your child with toys and activities that are way beyond his abilities, but a little struggling goes a long way toward learning new skills.
When an activity doesn’t come easily to your baby, he has to figure out a new way to accomplish the task. That type of problem solving is the stuff better brains are made of. If he’s attempting to open a box, for example, resist the urge to do it for him. Let him try first. If he continues to struggle, show him how it’s done, but then give him back a closed box so he can try again on his own.
Setting a goal or target, which is not unrealistic but certainly a stretch, and letting the child figure out how to get there, is the primary premise of learning. I wrote an earlier blog post about the Creative Stretch as well.
This child development model is similar to how the knowledge professionals should be groomed, matured and trained. Give a challenging goal and let them figure it out themselves.
If you had read my three-part series on Getting Things Done (GTD) and my implementation of it, you would know that I am a GTDer.
David Allen describes the following three stages to become a GTDer:
1. Understanding – You understand the distinct differences in the five phases of mastering workflow. You understand a project versus a next action. You know how to transform what you’ve collected by asking the key processing questions, clarifying what something is, and what you want to do about it.
2. Implementation – You have installed at least the basic gear to support a GTD system, including ubiquitous collection tools, functioning reference systems for your non-actionable information, and seamless buckets with “clean edges” for tracking your projects and next actions.
3. Behavior Change – The five phases of mastering workflow are second nature to you. You have changed the way you think and work and are achieving stress-free productivity on a regular basis. When you “fall off” you know what to do to get “back on.”
The first two stages are relatively simple. The third one is the most difficult.
On August 23rd, 1973 two machine-gun carrying criminals entered a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. Blasting their guns, one prison escapee named Jan-Erik Olsson announced to the terrified bank employees “The party has just begun!” The two bank robbers held four hostages, three women and one man, for the next 131 hours. The hostages were strapped with dynamite and held in a bank vault until finally rescued on August 28th.
After their rescue, the hostages exhibited a shocking attitude considering they were threatened, abused, and feared for their lives for over five days. In their media interviews, it was clear that they supported their captors and actually feared law enforcement personnel who came to their rescue. The hostages had begun to feel the captors were actually protecting them from the police. One woman later became engaged to one of the criminals and another developed a legal defense fund to aid in their criminal defense fees. Clearly, the hostages had “bonded” emotionally with their captors.
— Dr Joseph Carver, “Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser”
This emotional attachment and protective behavior of an abused or captive person towards his captor, abuser or tormentor is known as “Stockholm Syndrome” and is coined after the 1973 Stockholm robbery incident. Though seemingly illogical and unnatural, this syndrome is common among hostages and those who are victims of abuse in a relationship. They exhibit behaviors that are protective and empathetic to those causing harm to them and ensuring to maintain the situation where they keep getting abused.