Wednesday, May 20, 2009

OTR: 10,000 Hours

I just read Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers: The Story of Success. One of his premises is that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice or effort in a particular craft to be considered expert. He goes on to provide a variety of somewhat anecdotal examples (ranging from the Beatles to Bill Gates) that lend credence to this theory, but it is a compelling argument.

Back in the day, when I played sports (not well) rather than spectated... I had coaches who believed that you needed to drill and drill and drill in the fundamentals. They referred to it is "muscle memory". They wanted us to instantly react to a situation, rather than think about what needed to happen. Once you get to that point, you perform better and often more safely. That point was never more clear to me than when I was learning a technique to split a double team block as a defensive lineman on my high school football team. The coach showed us the technique, then we practiced it a few times in slow motion to get the footwork and body movement correct. Then it was time for full speed. The whistle blew and my brain engaged... "where are my feet, which way do I move, where do my arms go... " Well, by the time my brain was registering where my feet needed to be, one of the blockers had stepped on my foot and I was being pushed over backwards. My next memory was the sound of ligaments snapping as my ankle was seriously sprained. That cost me three weeks on the sidelines. Lesson learned: the less your brain has to worry about technique, the more it can be aware of other things that add value.

Think about it. when you learned how to drive, you had a million things to think about.... where your feet were, maintaining your lane, watching for traffic, looking at the next stoplight, checking blindspots, etc. Today when you drive, do you even think about all of those things? Hardly. In fact, I would hazard to guess that many of you drove to work today and if I asked you if the first traffic light you came across was green or red, you probably couldn't immediately tell me. Your brain simply reacted to whatever color was showing and unless something unusual happened, you never gave it a second thought.

So it goes in the professional world. Think about how long it has taken you to feel comfortable with your job. Think about how long it takes to build an internal network in your workplace. Yep, same idea and I would suggest that you need at least five years to really start to feel comfortable and really start moving forward. Interestingly, five years tends to correspond to the amount of experience that someone needs before being qualified to sit for a certification exam in some professions. Guess that is more than a coincidence, don't you think? So the next time that someone points to a certificate that they got after 30 hours of training and a quick test they took, I'd suggest that they will need to show you some additional proof of their expertise. Because at that point, they are probably still trying to figure out where their feet go and are not able to step up and add value.

1 comment:

pakurilecz said...

Years ago I worked for a major foreign oil company. They wanted to increase the number of their citizens in key jobs and decrease their reliance on expat professionals. They hoped that they could fastrack their folks, but it turned out that it did take at least 5-10 years to gain the necessary expertise and knowledge.
Watch a professional golfer, they go to the range everyday to practice certain shots hitting hundreds if not thousands of balls until it is locked into their muscles.