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10,000 Hours

Earlier this year, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, ‘Outliers’ and after thinking about it for a while, I believe that this is a must read for anyone who owns a business. Mr. Gladwell studied the backgrounds of a number of extraordinarily accomplished people from all walks of life and found that the reason for their success had less to do with their innate talent and far more to do with their circumstances and their work ethic.

One of the most fascinating insights that Gladwell offers is that the time of your birth can be a far more important factor in your overall success than any other variable.  From Canadian hockey players all born between January -June (early birthday gives you a huge advantages in your youth when body development and coordination skills are most pronounced) to computer entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Scott McNealy all born in 1955 (the perfect birth year to take advantage of the personal computer revolution that came on line in the middle 1970’s) to superstar corporate lawyers all born in 1930 (who came of age just as mergers and acquisitions were becoming the norm of American business) – when you were born was more important that who you were.

But lady luck was not the only factor necessary for achievement. Skill, honed by 10,000 hours of work was the other crucial component of success. Talent was needed to be sure, but it was really a baseline. Any reasonably bright person could qualify. The key was developing your skill set, and the dividing line between those who were good versus those who were great was 10,000 hours of practice. It didn’t matter if you played the violin, programmed a computer or practiced corporate law- you did not achieve true proficiency until you had 10,000 hour under your belt.

For entrepreneurs, these findings are great news. Just think about it. Technology has eliminated almost all the barriers to entry. Transaction costs are low and going lower. Execution speeds are fast and getting faster. The information that we need to run our businesses is more readily available and more efficiently disseminated. Also, digital marketing is still pretty new and creating endless opportunities.

But, success doesn’t come quickly. It takes time to develop the necessary skills. If Gladwell is right in that it takes 10,000 to succeed, then you need to brace yourself for it because this is equal to 4 years worth of study. That’s just to get proficient.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed and ready to quit, just think back to the number 10,000 and remember you’re not alone. You’re running a marathon – not a sprint.

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