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Your Next 10,000 April 17, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
Tags: , ,

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell explores why people are really successful.  I’ve included the book on my reading list, but can save you the full read by cutting to the chase: Luck and timing.

OK, to be honest, there are a few other factors that make the book worth reading.  One of them is the magic of 10,000 hours.  Gladwell found that, regardless of the field, it takes about 10,000 hours to get good at something.  Violin, hockey, computer programming: whatever the skill, the very best put in 10,000 solid hours of practice before achieving real success in their field.

This holds true for leadership as well.  For years, I’ve noticed that job postings for management positions often require a minimum of five years management experience.  Hmmm.  Five years is equal to 10,000 hours of management experience.  While not explicitly stating it, people have intuitively recognized the 10,000-hour rule for a long time.

Getting your 10,000 hours takes commitment, no matter what your field of expertise.  My concern is not with the 10,000 hours you’ve managed to amass at this point, but with the 10,000 you’ll need to get to the next stage of your career.

Are you content with your current position?  Do you aspire to take on more responsibility and to accomplish more things?  Most people, no matter how happy they may be, desire to do more and contribute more.  Among those with such aspirations, some actually have a plan to get there.  But I fear that even among those with a plan, few have realized that they need to amass 10,000 hours to be really good when they get there.

If you are a technical contributor who aspires to be a manager, how are you accumulating 10,000 hours of management experience?  If you are a team leader who hopes to lead larger groups, how are you getting your 10,000 hours of managing other managers?  If you are a CIO who hopes to take on other operational responsibilities, how are you getting 10,000 hours of finance or operations experience?

10,000 hours is a lot of time, especially when your current job occupies 2,000 hours of time each year.  How do you make this happen?  Even if you put in an extra 4 hours a day, it could take 10 years to get those hours!

First the good news: you probably don’t need the full 10,000 hours to make a career transition.  But you do need some experience, probably on the order of 2-4,000 hours, to make a successful change that will let you get the remaining 6-8,000 at a faster pace.  Even so, 2-4,000 hours is a big investment of time.  How do you do it?

First, simply recognizing that you need it is a good first step.  Armed with that daunting realization, you can develop a formal plan to put in your time.  While some people have jobs that allow them to take on additional responsibilities independent of their main commitment, most of us do not.  In that case, you need to seek out opportunities to combine your current job with your desired job.  The technical contributor should look for project management opportunities, while the team lead could seek out ways to lead their peers.  C-level executives can look for cross-organization openings, and CIOs in particular can often find ways to get deep exposure to other parts of the company. And anyone can volunteer in a local charitable organization; that’s a whole different kind of leadership experience that would serve anyone well.

It won’t be easy, but success never is.  That’s the other side effect of the 10,000-hour rule: only those who really want it badly enough will get the hours.  Everyone else will fall by the wayside.  And that is one of the other big lessons of Outliers: success comes to those who work really hard for a long time.  Are you up to it?  Are you an outlier?

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1. Heather Hollick - April 17, 2009

I read the first chapter of Outliers yesterday and was blown away! I haven’t gotten to the chapter on 10,000 hours yet but the opening of the book drives home the importance of looking carefully and deeply for talent. Because of the way we arbitrarily set cut-off dates for school enrollments or sports leagues children born at the wrong end of the year are at a considerable disadvantage to those with birthdays closest to the cut-off dates. Those born closest to the cut-off dates are “lucky.”

But we have to make our own “luck” . . . and help other people become “lucky” whenever we can.

All this is to say that talent is often right in front of our eyes if we look diligently for it. Take Susan Boyle, the latest Internet sensation, as an example. She too had talent, but no one discovered it until late in the 4th decade of her career.

I’ll report back once I have read chapter 2 in Outliers 😉

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
How many people in our teams have undeveloped and under utilized talent? My primary definition of leadership is the ability to spot this under valued talent and bring it to light.

2. Steve Pope - April 21, 2009

I’ve read Outliers and The Tipping Point (Outliers is better.) and thoroughly enjoyed both. Malcolm Gladwell has a unique talent for observing seemingly insignificant data and translating it into meaningful information. I wonder, Chuck, what your thinking is on why Asians are so good at math? I thought Gladwell’s analysis was fascinating. In your CIO role, have you discovered that his analysis is correct?


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