– Thomas Jefferson
If there is something that truly troubles me these days, it’s a nagging fear that our nation is losing its competitive edge and that, once lost, it will take a Herculean effort to regain. While this issue is as complex as any we’re facing, part of our challenge crystallized for me when I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (http://tinyurl.com/ylzzrla) earlier this year. I’ve been wrestling with “my findings” from this book and am now at a point where I want to talk – and blog – about some of them. So, in this first of a series of blogs on the subject of our nation’s competitive advantage, I’d like to explore the role that effort plays in our success.
In Outliers, Gladwell seeks to explore the secrets to success by relaying the stories of those who have over-achieved in their given field, including Bill Joy, the Beatles, Bill Gates and even Mozart. According to Gladwell, these winners – and others like them – all have a common element to their success: 10,000 hours. Gladwell asserts that to develop mastery and rise to the top in your chosen field – software development, composing, performing or even accounting – you have to invest 10,000 hours of practice or effort working at your craft.
Gladwell cites a study of musicians conducted by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin’s Academy of Music. The study set out to examine whether innate talent was the key to musical success – or whether it was something else. After studying a group of musicians, the findings suggest that, “once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.” Gladwell goes on to suggest that the people at the very top don’t work a little harder – they work much, much harder than everyone else.
There is much conversation in the U.S. today about “younger generations” and whether they are willing to work hard – to put in the effort needed to truly succeed. At ConvergenceCoaching, we study and teach on the subject of generational differences and there are certainly many dimensions to this discussion. To their credit, young people want to leverage technology and challenge old norms to ensure they are working smart, too. Perhaps this is being mistaken for unwillingness to put forward the effort.
However, much has been written on the subject of how we, as a nation, have over-parented our children for decades now, enabling them to gain much without much effort. We have substituted physical tasks with technologic ones – television, video games, internet, e-mail, and text messaging – making physical tasks feel burdensome and mundane. In our great desire to ensure that our children “have it easier” than we had, we may have made their future – and the future of our nation – much, much harder.
10,000 hours of effort is considerable – especially if it is effort that is outside of your typical work day. It constitutes years of investment and hard work to reach a level of mastery. What I’m grappling with is this: Are we losing our ability to put forward this kind of effort? And, if we are, what can we do to reinvigorate our entire nation, refocus our energies, roll up our sleeves and go beyond the degree of effort that is comfortable, balanced – even easy – to regain our nation’s position on the world stage?
I welcome your thoughts, answers and potential solutions on this subject. Please share your feedback – we can all benefit from this dialogue!
“Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all.”
– Sam Ewing