The First 10,000 Hours

I just started reading Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers," and only one section in have been struck by one trait Gladwell suggests is critical to success -- essentially, he notes, practice does make perfect. And timing, he adds, is everything.

In a nutshell, Gladwell says that getting in hours of practice at something -- or 10,000 hours -- appears to be the difference between being good and being great. His new book argues that there is no such thing as a “self-made man”. Instead, the years spent intensively focused on their area of expertise place the world’s most successful people above their peers. “What’s really interesting about this 10,000-hour rule is that it applies virtually everywhere,” Gladwell told a conference held by The New Yorker magazine. “You can’t become a chess grand master unless you spend 10,000 hours on practice. “The tennis prodigy who starts playing at six is playing in Wimbledon at 16 or 17 [like] Boris Becker. The classical musician who starts playing the violin at four is debuting at Carnegie Hall at 15 or so.”

Gladwell's observation makes me think about my immersion into the world of training and facilitation. In 2000, I was primarily focused on internal communications and project management at Luck Stone Corporation, where I had been working for about four years. The organization launched a major training initiative -- at least 40 hours of training a year for at least 80% of its 900 employees. That works out to a minimum of 28,800 hours of training -- or 150 training days (with 24 people in an eight hour class). We had a training team of two at the time, which meant that I was recruited in short order to help deliver training. In the span of three months, I delivered more than 40 days of training to hundreds of employees -- which is perhaps 40 days more than I'd ever delivered in my life. I went from nervous wreck to semi-competent in the span of three months, and spent the next several years delivering a few days of training a month. Fast forward to 2003. Luck Stone went on another bender -- the introduction of a set of core business values and a self-awareness instrument called Insights to more than 300 managers and key influencers. Smaller groups, faster pace. A team of five of us delivered five days of values training to groups of 24 employees over the span of a year -- about half as many training hours (13,000 total training hours or 70 training days), but sitting atop the regular training curriculum. The pace continued as we took pieces of that training out to employees in the field, developed an intensive leadership development program for groups of managers, and began doing one-on-one and small team coaching. By my calculation, I'm only about 3,000 hours into a Gladwell-prescribed path toward facilitation expertise. But what a difference 3,000 hours makes.