Thursday, May 26, 2011

10,000 Hours

In Malcolm Gladwell's NY Times bestselling book Outliers The Story of Success, he repeatedly refers to a "10,000 Hour Rule", claiming that that the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing in that field for a total of around 10,000 hours. To back up his claim Gladwell points to successful artists and businessmen like the Beatles and Bill Gates. Gladwell also points out in Outliers that successful people never make it all by themselves; that circumstances, community, upbringing, family and other forces factor into achieving ones success. As an example Gladwell cites that although Bill Gates is a very intelligent and motivated person he had an unique opportunity to access to a computer (which was not very common at the time) at the age of 13. This access gave Gates not only the time to practice for 10,000 hours but also an advantage over other people who did not have computer access at that time (late 1960's).

The first chapter of Outliers talks about how a majority of the best Canadian Ice Hockey players are born during the first few months of a calendar year. Canadian youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year. Kids born on January 1 play in the same division as those born on December 31 of the same year, making the January child a full year older, more mature physically and mentally than then December child. The January kids are then better players who get more attention from Tournament coaches and All-Star teams. These additional elite teams assist the kids in obtaining their 10,000 hours with the best coaches the league has to offer. Gladwell calls it "an accumulative advantage",  the better kids keep getting better and the not so good kids never get the chance to improve. Or so the theory goes.

Part of Gladwell's theory of success is also about being at the right place but more importantly being at the right time. For instance out of the 75 richest people in the history of the world 14 of them were Americans born between 1831 and 1840. Go here for an explanation as to why. Gladwell also proposes that the best time to have been born to be a computer/technology billionaire was between 1952 and 1958. This would make a person old enough to be working in the field but young enough to take risks (ie no family obligations) at the time computer technology started to expand.

I think about the 10,000 Hour Rule often and how it pertains to my kids. When I was a kid the only thing I ever spent 10,000 hours doing was reading comic books. I wonder if there is any one thing my kids would be willing to invest their 10,000 hours besides watching Wild Kratts or Cartoon Network. Sports? Computers? Academics?

What will be their decades' next big thing that they can take a risk on? I know each one will have to find their likes and dislikes but according to Gladwell it takes many people, a community, to provide the right opportunities. My job as their father, and a member of the community, is to seek and provide the opportunities for the kids and encourage them to succeed.

Recently I talked Max into trying out for the baseball tournament team. Not that I think he is going to become a pro ball player but I wanted to give him the opportunity to get better coaching than me or at the least different coaching than me. Max is an average player for his division and the tournament team was a division higher.  For the tournament try-out he was one of the youngest players. Max did not make the cut. There were some younger players that did make the team (Go Z.G.) but their natural ability and focus on the game will enable them to start their 10,000 Hours earlier than Max. Maxfield did not seem upset about not making the team but I can't help but wonder if he is now going to lose his "accumulative advantage" in a sport he seems to enjoy.

Max has been taking piano lessons for just under a year. His teacher Mindy has been doing a great job. Lauren has been excellent in making sure he practices. I do my best to encourage him. Recently Max played the piano in his school's talent show. It was great to see Maxfield's reaction to the audience applauding him. I know from experience that there is no better rush than that of performing in front of a live audience and doing well. I think out of the 20 or so acts there were only 3 that involved a child playing an instrument. I did not think anything of it until...

The other day I was listening to the Michael Smerconish radio program, his guest was an economist who stated that there are everyday things that people can look at to determine how the economy is in their specific geographical area. They pointed to things like high-end restaurants being slow (people choosing to eat more at home and stretching their dollars) to Lowes and Home Depot being busy (people now need to do their own home projects rather than pay contractors). It was a very interesting conversation. One of the "small town" indicators they discussed on the program was the fact that private lesson music teachers are one of the first things families cut in their budget. There are less and less private music lessons happening in a slow economy.

I find it somewhat sad that one of the first budget cuts a school will make is in the art or music department. I find it unfortunate that families have to cut music lessons from their discretionary spending in a slow economy. It is upsetting that there is a possibility that this decades' generation of kids will not have artistic influences in the early developmental parts of their lives.

But as sad and unfortunate this all is I can't help but smile thinking that Max may become the only piano player in his whole school. Will he practice for 10,000 hours? Who knows. Will he become a rich and famous musician? Maybe.

I think I may have found something worth sacrificing for now to give my kids the accumulative advantage over other kids in the future.


Melissa said...

yea Max...i loved he stood up to play. is that how he normally does it?

i am envious...i have taken so many piano lessons (as a kid and an adult)and he blows me out of the water.

i hope he does get his 10000 hours.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I've read that book and found it fascinating. I've spent countless hours lying around being a bum, so I guess I'm getting really good at that!
Max might be more awesome than the Kratt brothers. Keep fighting for those music lessons and music in your schools.

SciFi Dad said...

I enjoyed that book as well.

We're a musical family (my wife is teaching my daughter piano right now, and she also plays clarinet; I play saxophone) so fortunately our children will continue to be exposed to it, regardless of the economy.

But, I know what you mean.

Anonymous said...

I wish my brother George was here

James (SeattleDad) said...

Hey I know of one piano player who actually married a super model...

Anonymous said...

YAY, Max!

Anonymous said...

What about the 10,000 hours you spent playing with your light saber?

mindy said...

It's the best gift you can give your child.