I’m not a huge professional basketball fan, but I do watch some of the NBA playoffs. Last month, the talented, but youthful and inexperienced, Boston Celtics lost their playoff series to the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. In describing Boston’s losing effort, a commentator said, “They looked like they hadn’t put in their 10,000 hours.” I knew what he meant by the comment. Those 10,000 hours are important.
The date was February 9, 1964. That Sunday night, we all (well, 70 million of us) sat watching “The Ed Sullivan Show,” trying to hear the music over the screams of the girls in the studio audience. It was a band most of us had never heard of called the Beatles.
The next day at school everyone in my fourth grade class was talking about John, Paul, George and Ringo. We weren’t the only ones. The Beatles had become an overnight sensation that would have a lasting effect on music and culture. Boys let their hair grow longer, much to their parent’s dismay. Many a band was started hoping to be just like the Beatles, with their screaming fans and fame.
And many a band would find out, the Beatles’ music could not be easily duplicated. The band still holds the record, with 20 number one hits on the music charts, and is easily the best-selling band in history, with over 600 million units sold.
The band had talent, and was at the right place at the right time inorder to be in a position to succeed. But probably the reason they were such a hit in 1964 was that they were not the “overnight sensation” that many thought. In his excellent book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell profiles the Beatles, among others, that succeeded because of determination and practice. Lots of practice.
Paul McCartney and John Lennon had been playing music together since 1957. In 1960, they were invited to Hamburg, Germany, to play in some clubs in the seedy part of that city. They became so popular that they often ended up playing eight hours a day, seven days a week! The band made five trips to Hamburg between 1960 and 1962, for over 270 days, most always playing in clubs for over five hours a night. Overall, it is estimated that the Beatles performed over 1200 times by the time they landed in New York City on February 7, 1964. That’s a lot of practice and hard work before becoming an “overnight sensation.”
In his book, Gladwell also profiles computer giants, Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems and Bill Gates of Microsoft. In both cases while in high school, these technology pioneers spent hours and hours in computer labs learning systems and code. In “Outliers,” Gladwell quotes Gates concerning his early high school years. Gates states, “It was my obsession. I skipped athletics. I went up there at night. We were programming on weekends. It would be a rare week that we wouldn’t get twenty or thirty hours in.” That’s while he was in high school!
Nearly everyone agrees Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of our generation. Woods has fourteen major golf championships and was well on the way to breaking the record of eighteen of Jack Nicklaus before physical injuries and personal problems got in the way. Woods turned professional at the age of twenty and won his first major championship, the 1997 Masters, within a year. But few in golf circles would ever call him an “overnight success.” Trained by his father, you may have seen tapes of Tiger hitting golf balls on “The Mike Douglas Show” at the age of two. That’s right, at two years old! So there were countless hours of practice and competition before Tiger Woods became a professional golfer at the age of twenty.
The Beatles, Bill Joy and Bill Gates, and Tiger Woods are successes in different professions, but have much in common. They are talented in their areas of expertise that most aren’t. And looking back at their lives, you can see opportunities that came their way, and people who helped them on their way to success. But what is most common among them is the amount of time and effort in the preparation for that success.
In his book, Gladwell estimates that it generally takes ten years and 10,000 hours of practice for a person to become truly proficient in what they do. (That’s where the 10,000 hours comment comes in.) And not just in music, business and sports. In our personal, work, and spiritual lives, growth takes time and effort inorder to achieve the desired result.
The truth is 10,000 hours is a lot of time and a lot of effort that most of us are not willing to give. But, what if we started to dedicate more time and effort in improving those areas of our lives that are most important? You may not be another Paul McCartney, Bill Gates, or Tiger Woods. But, you’ll be a better you. And I’ll be a better me.