Genius requires 10,000 hours of practice

Just been reading ‘Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm “The Tipping Point” Gladwell. An interesting read with the main hypothesis that expertise is substantially down to practice. Many of the people we regard as geniuses have three things in common: a minimum threshold of intelligence / aptitude, circumstances including when they were born…..and 10,000 hours of practice.

It cites a number of examples such as the 18 months that the Beetles spent in Hamburg often performing 8 hours a day, 7 days a week or Bill Gates who had the rare opportunity in early 70s of spending much of his teenage years programming a mainframe computer.

This is put forward as a theory as to why an overwhelming majority of current Premiership footballers were born during the winter months. It is commonsense that this is not because being born during the winter makes for a more naturally gifted footballer. It turns out to be because the age group cut off date for English football is 1 September each year. So young boys born during September are up to a year more physically mature than other boys in the year group. Naturally, they will stand a better chance of being selected for their football team. As a consequence over their childhood they will receive more coaching and playing time (and presumably a confidence that they really are more naturally gifted than other boys in their year group). As a consequence winter-born boys are more likely to gain the requesit 10,000 hours of practice compared to their summer-born counter-parts.

Gladwell analyses academic studies of the annual international maths testing. For many years it has put nations such as Japan, China and Korea well ahead of Western nations. He hypothosises that maths is one of those subjects that requires lots of practice and persistence to grasp (I can vouch for that throughout my studies in Applied Physics!). The Far Eastern nations mentioned spend up to 40% more hours schooling their children than we do in the West. Are our children trained to have a go before (too) quickly asking for help when they are stuck? Incidently, it is interesting to note that each of these maths tests is accompanied by a 120-question questionnaire that asks in detail about each child’s education and home circumstances including parents’ education. It has been found that there is not just a correlation, but an exact match between the thoroughness with which a child completes the questionnaire and the maths test. An extra-ordinary finding.

So what, I hear you ask, has this got to do with marketing? Well I would contest that successful marketing is substantially about persistence and detail. Yes, the ‘Mad Men’ world of big ideas and creativity is important but it cannot work without sustained effort of tracking and optimising campaigns, listening and engaging frequently to customers and measuring returns? The trend in the world of sophisiticated Google algorithms, instant publishing on social media channels and lowered barriers of entry from competitors we’ve yet to hear about is likely to make this more important. So let’s watch out for Chinese marketeers matching their South Korean and Japanese peers.

10,000 hours is about 6 years’ of full time working weeks. So have a think about how much time your organisation is putting into becoming expert marketeers. May be you need to consider buying in external expertise to support your in-house marketing team.