How to be extraordinary (if you have the time.)

When I first read about Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours I didn’t expect to be living some of them myself, minute by tortured minute.

I am having a bit of a Gladwell moment. His name is never far from my lips, sometimes bracketed by expletives, as I scrape the snow from my windscreen on the way to another of my daughter’s 6am training sessions.

For those of you not familiar with his work Malcom Gladwell has made a name for himself explaining the ordinary in an extraordinary way. In ‘Blink’ he looked at the social science of first impressions, in ‘The Tipping Point’ he documented the way ideas can go viral and in ‘Outliers’ we meet the concept of the 10,000 hours.

Basically 10,000 hours is what it takes to make someone exceptional at what they do as opposed to just talented. You can apply it to the Beatles who played relentlessly in their early years or to Bill Gates and the hours he spent programming. There are other fascinating ideas in the book but you must read those for yourself.

What interests me, is that I have a daughter, a county level swimmer, who trains 4-5 times a week and I am the one who takes her. Together we clock up hours at the pool and several more preparing to go. But I worked out that on the basis of Gladwell’s thesis my girl would have to keep this up for another ten years and would still have only have got 2,000 hours on the clock, by which time she would be 20.

This rather dispiriting calculation  leads me to the conclusion that ;

  1. Said daughter just doesn’t have what it takes to be the next Rebecca Adlington.
  2. I need to get up at 5.30am some more…a lot more.

But wait. Is this what we want ? Am I swim mom ? or just a rather tired parent trying to do her best by a child who has turned out to be quite good at something ? Just because a genius journalist/social scientist has told me why people excel above all others doesn’t mean we have to, does it ?

I think my conflicted position may be explained by British attitudes to failure (it’s not really that bad is it ?) but I know that won’t play well with the Association of British Swimmers. So to them, I do promise to try harder.

Meanwhile I am looking forward to Malcom Gladwell’s book of collected essays, in particular the one about Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan and yes since you ask, I do have a dog,no pressure then.

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2 responses to “How to be extraordinary (if you have the time.)

  1. Enjoyed your post, which I reached via a twitterer named Jem Stone. His tweet to you seemed to hint of a mutual regret of the loss of Simon Mayo to Radio2. If so, it is one I share.
    Anyway, You have told me of Malcolm Gladwell. I was aware of Tipping Point and the 10 000 hours notion but had never taken the time or trouble to research further. I will now.
    I don’t think you are a swim ‘mom’ – do they say ‘mom’ where you live? I always thought it was an American term. People in Yorkshire say ‘mum’ or ‘mam’ but never ‘mom’.
    Here’s another little thought. Have you totted up Rebecca Adlington’s hours? I’m wondering if she’s reached the 10 000 despite her undoubted dedication. Then again, is winning Olympic gold an equivalent of being Bill Gates or a Beatle?
    Thanks again. I’ve signed up to your blog.

    • Thank you ickledot. I reckon Rebecca Adlington can’t be far off her 10,000 hours depending on how hard she trained as a child.
      ‘Swim mom’ was a reference to the American ‘hockey moms’ who stand at the sidelines and shout at their off-spring, argue with the trainers and cart their kids to matches all over the country.
      I used to work with Simon Mayo at Five Live and he was a really hard-working man. At one point it was my job to book his guests and make sure he read his briefs, he was very thorough.
      I signed up to follow Jem Stone as he also has a BBC connection and lives near where I grew up, seems like a nice man. Nice to meet you !

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