Ubiquity And Accessibility
June 3, 2014
We look for reasons for failure and success. Breaking down the truth of success is more difficult since no one spends much time reviewing a plan that works. In his book "The Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell achieved a breakthrough -- if defining the reality behind success matters (and it should). It's too easy to ascribe luck or destiny to highly successful people; some of whom fall under the "outlier" definition. Out-li-er: 1. Something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main body. 2. A statistical observation that is markedly different in value from others in the same sample. Consider the following.
Every May, the two best Canadian Hockey League teams meet to determine the national champion. The CHL is the finest junior hockey league in the world featuring future stars; 17, 18 and 19-year-olds who have been skating and shooting pucks since they were toddlers. One year, Canadian sociologists set out to determine possible connections that explained why these players achieved inordinate success. Their study led to one astounding discovery: Seventy percent of the players were born between January and June. But these players' accomplishments had nothing to do with Astrology, nor is there anything magical about the early months of the year. It's simply that in Canada the eligibility for age-class hockey is January 1st. So if a kid was born on January 2nd, playing alongside a kid who doesn't turn 10 until the end of the year, there is a big difference in preadolescence physicality. In turn, advanced players make the "rep squads" where they get better coaching and physical training. In short, they're way ahead.
Compare this annual tradition to American basketball. There is a huge difference -- basketball courts, unlike ice hockey rinks, are everywhere and young players can engage 12 months a year, thus closing the gap in age and physical maturity. So the myth of why someone playing hockey in Canada is just naturally endowed with special gifts is a false reading. Seventy percent of the players born between January and June are better players because of their birthdays and within that age-bracket are ahead of the field.
Transfer this to schools. Students born in early year months tend to score better academically. Conversely, say scientists, suicide rates among students is higher and correlates to being younger and somewhat less mature in their early academic years, sometimes leading to depression and a sense of failure. What if both the Canadian Hockey League and American schools changed the way they use the calendar for admittance? Schools could put students born between January and June in one class, July through December in another. We could do it that way but we don't, and why? Because we cling to the way "we've always done it." Is it possible more achievers could emerge?
The 10,000-Hour Rule
In "Outliers," Gladwell points to some high-profile people most of us know, but who come from very different backgrounds. In an earlier Motivator column we've mentioned these phenomenal successes and it's worth revisiting because ever more evidence is emerging which goes right to the heart of the "gifted and talented" business. Bill Gates is often remembered for his meteoric arrival and uber-success in the software business. Many look at people like Gates -- regardless of their field -- and rationalize, "Oh, it's easy for some ... they just have that magic DNA. I don't have it."
It's a natural response when we don't understand someone's massive success (sorry, Miley Cyrus doesn't make this club). The Beatles did, however. Pop history would have us believe the Beatles came out of nowhere; unknowns to superstardom thanks to a TV show and changing American music tastes. In fact, few realize the group played for six or seven hours a night in a smoky club in Hamburg, Germany. The band did this for three years before returning to England for their early recording success. They acknowledged they labored about 10,000 hours, night after night, slogging away in relative obscurity. Ten thousand hours.
And let's look a bit deeper at Bill Gates. Growing up in an upscale Seattle suburb, Gates attended the highly regarded Lakeside School, one of the earliest schools to introduce kids to computers.
While in high school and while his parents were asleep, Gates was sneaking out of his room to take the bus to the University of Washington campus where he made a deal with the university; he would in-put data for them in exchange for his overnight use of U-Dub's mainframe computer. When pressed by Gladwell about his early computing experience, Gates affirmed "yeah, probably a good ten thousand hours."
There are many more similarly documented cases suggesting there's something about the "10,000 hours" threshold that may offer us membership in a special club. Performing talent should consider this discovery.