OUTLIERS

7 years ago I decided that I wanted to be an evangelist. I didn’t actually know what an evangelist was back then, but I knew that I wanted to talk about technology to people who didn’t fully understand it. I assumed that mostly that involved writing books and giving keynotes, in order to hopefully inspire others to find enough purpose in technology that they might create something meaningful themselves.

 

I was asked recently by a friend of mine how long it took to find my “voice” and end up in a dream gig. Pretty much 7 years I explained. I worked it out quickly on a napkin.

 

  • I worked 48 weeks a year (Because everyone needs 4 weeks for family time and a couple of decent holidays).
  • I worked on average 30 hours a week. (The other 10-20 hours each week were on admin and [mostly unnecessary] meetings).
  • During those 7 years I moved from owning an agency, being one of Europe’s first heads of social media, running social strategy at Adobe, Salesforce and ultimately ending up with Watson at IBM.
  • I knew that I needed a stage to help inspire people but I nobody knew who I was. So I decided I needed to write a book so that I could get invited to conferences as a speaker, but publishers wouldn’t give me a book deal (why would they?). So I self published my own book and hey presto, I was suddenly perceived as an “author” and things very slowly started to change. (Whether the book was any good or not, to some booking agents, seemed beside the point. Strange but true).

 

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Quite a run.

 

Strangest thing about that run?

 

If you add up those numbers you’ll discover, like I did this week, that 48 weeks x 30 hours x 7 years = roughly 10,000 hours.

 

If you’ve read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, this observation might be a big deal to you.

 

If you haven’t (and you should), not so much.

 

According to Gladwell, it usually takes 10,000 hours to make it to the top of your profession and put you in a position where you can start to make a significant impact across your industry.

 

I still have a long way to go personally, but at 44, with some great brands and 10,000 hours behind me, I think I’m set up pretty well. I’ve won a few awards and had some nice accolades, but I still have a lot to do. In many ways, I’m only just getting started.

 

The moral of the story is that there are no shortcuts to success.

 

Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter) once told me that it took 10 years of hard work to make Twitter look like an overnight success.

 

Tom Peters (one of the world’s finest management consultants) once told me that there are three things you need to do to succeed in your career:

  1. Always work harder than everyone else.
  2. Go into every meeting more prepared than everyone else.
  3. Always have a clever (and relevant) piece of research up your sleeve.

 

I share these things not to gloat or come across like some douche who’s pretending that he’s made it, but to make you question yourself – in whatever pursuit it is that you are doing.

 

Have you put in the time?

 

Have you paid your dues?

 

Have you dedicated 10,000 hours to specializing in the one thing that you know you really should be doing?

 

If not, what might the next few years look like? And how might you split up those 10,000 hours to get closer towards your goal?

 

Good questions, no?

 

If this post achieves nothing else, and you still have no idea why 10,000 is such a BIG number, please make it a priority to read Gladwell’s book Outliers, if only to figure out whether you agree with it or not.

 

 

Evangelist @IBM • IBM Watson • Travel Around Talking about AI, Big Data and the Future of Marketing • Lover of Old Business Books and Good Bourbon • Based in London, UK.

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