Apparently, I touched a nerve with last week’s blog, The Truth About Effort, on the subject of whether we, as a nation, have lost our willingness to apply the effort necessary to retain our competitive advantage. I mused about whether or not this is a generational issue, as some maintain, or whether it is something broader. I appreciate the thoughtful posts from Howard, Liz, Susan, and Mark.
Something Mark said in his blog post really got me, and that is that younger people don’t necessarily have faith in a “dues paying system” where you put forth time, money, and emotional commitment in the hopes of a payoff at some point in the future. At Convergence, we see this manifest itself in the public accounting workplace with pressure to compress learning and the path to partner in order to retain key people. We also see it in the discomfort Gen X and Y up-and-comers experience when contemplating the investment of effort and money required to become a partner in so many firms.
Let’s face it, those of us under 50 paying Social Security “dues” hardly believe that we’ll receive a payoff for that investment in the future. We want to be hopeful and full of faith, but the mathematics don’t add up. The cynicism our younger people feel about the “invest now, reap rewards later” culture is the product of our own doing. And when you think about it — isn’t everything?
What can we do about our cynicism? Mark suggested that cynicism diminishes when we experience the rush of pride, hope and elations that occurs when our hard work and effort produces a truly transformative result. And if I am not sure that will ever happen, the only way to help me see that it’s possible is to cajole, strongly encourage and inspire me to try it and see. This is the “leap of faith” that you witness if you have ever watched NBC’s “The Biggest Loser”. Show contestants raise their hand as interested in losing weight and getting healthy, but the effort required to do so is so great that they need strong support and pushing from their trainers and others to do the work required to meet their lofty goals. For those that put forward the effort, watching their mental and emotional transformation is as exciting as their physical one – as they begin to see the direct connection between effort, action and desired result. This is the magical “Aha!” that I’d like to spark in all of us.
As it relates to the 10,000 hour rule discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, where Gladwell asserts that true mastery requires 10,000 hours of practice or effort, I was discussing this with my 11 year old, who read the blog and had some concerns. She calculated that at her current rate of practice of 6 hours per week, she would have to swim 30 years to be good enough to “earn a scholarship or take state.” We agreed that she might reach a certain level of success with fewer hours of effort, but that true mastery of her craft – like Olympic-level performance – would come from mornings, evenings and weekends in the pool. Whether she chooses to pursue such commitment is entirely up to her – but sheer time in the pool is as important, or maybe more important, as any potential God-given swimmer’s talent she may have.
This is the conundrum of the effort debate. While we want to work smarter, work differently, pursue more efficiencies, apply leverage, work flexibly and do all of those things that will help us accomplish more with less resources, this still doesn’t change the fact that true success is at least, in part, due to sheer time spent at practice. When my children review their spelling words each day, they perform better on the weekly tests. When they write the words a few times during the week and we practice a test each morning, they achieve 100%. When they put in the time, they reap the reward.
To me, putting forth the effort means:
- Thinking about your “thing,” even when you’re not doing it
- Planning and goal setting for your thing, envisioning what you’d like to get accomplished and establishing clear ways to measure success
- Learning about your thing by reading blogs, web sites, magazines, books and attending classes, conferences and other meetings where people who know about your thing aggregate
- Scheduling the time to work on, or practice, your thing and not allowing other priorities to keep you from putting in that time
- Sacrificing by sometimes staying up late, getting up early or putting forth effort on the weekends to further your thing
- Communicating with others about your thing – sharing your vision and goals with others and enrolling their support (and accountability) to help you achieve your thing
I will continue to mull this issue of effort and welcome your further feedback and ideas on the issue. In future blogs, I plan to write about more Outliers insights on success – unless your posts draw me into something else, that is!