Archive for February, 2011

Putting in the time matters

Ever since reading Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, I have been thinking about the notion of “putting in the time.” He says that 10,000 hours are required to reach a master level of expertise. He gives some very compelling examples:

  • The Beatles apparently performed in Germany more than 1,200 times over a period of 4 years (1960-1964).  That’s a lot of time on stage – over 10,000 hours of playing time.  Gladwell says that all of that performing time created their “brand” and accelerated their success.
  • Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours programming on a mainframe computer in 1968, at age 13.  Gladwell interviewed Gates, who said that early access to a computer contributed to his success.

So how do these examples translate to us in the everyday?  If we recognize that success and excellence require practice, then we take the mystery and “the luck” out of succeeding. Not that I do not believe in mystery and luck… But I do believe that success in a chosen field or endeavor requires commitment, discipline and fortitude.

Think of someone who for years has been championing a cause as a leader of a nonprofit organization. On a daily basis the role of Executive Director of a nonprofit can be exciting and feel intensely worthwhile. But some days, it’s a job, a slog. Doing the work, day in and day out with the accompanying setbacks of scant resources and political turmoil can be exhausting and discouraging. But over time … putting in the time day after day matters. Over 10, 15, 20 years, that everyday slog is an investment in mastery. And it isn’t only mastery. That time also represents an enormous commitment, wisdom and depth of understanding worthy of respect and regard.

Putting in the time to reach that level of mastery and wisdom means staying with the effort even when our energy flags, showing up even when we don’t want to be there, disciplining ourselves to learn something new or partner with someone with new and different ideas. Maybe there are days when we lose sight of the purpose, become tired of the political battles and find ourselves with low energy for writing the funding proposals. Those days require the discipline to stay with it anyway as well as the wisdom to know when to take a break – talk to someone with a fresh perspective, go for a walk in the woods, do whatever it takes to replenish – and the vision to know when it’s time to reconsider the project’s viability.

Working with an idea or a dream or for an important cause takes the courage to stay with the intention. I think that the success of an effort or initiative unfolds slowly. It is not a mystery and although some luck may be involved, change and success are the results of fortitude and “practice.” Putting in the time matters. We don’t often see the achievement on a daily basis; we see it when we look back. Day after day, sometimes slogging, sometimes gliding, sometimes having a breakthrough, sometimes just going through the motions. It all counts. It all matters.


Martha Lask’s Blog

Occasional musings about books, articles or tools that might be of interest; I welcome your comments.

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