A virulent meme of the moment is 10,000 Hours – the idea, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, that brute force persistency is the route to greatness.
In his best-selling book, Gladwell examines the factors that
contribute to high levels of success and acclaim. Looking at everyone from Robert
Oppenheimer to Bill Gates, he concludes that success is largely predicated on
having the stamina and determination to work at a task for a total of around
10,000 hours – what he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule.
One of his examples is The Beatles, who Gladwell
points out spent much of their early days in a daze, in Hamburg, playing and
playing and playing. Having read about their exploits in Germany, it’s actually
amazing they even survived the experience, never mind rose to acclaim. But to
say that the critical ingredient that led to their fame was being on stage
together for months on end is, at best, misleading.
There’s just so much more to account for.
For one thing, The
Beatles adroitly (or fortuitously) surrounded themselves with great talent. To
take an example, their producer on most of their recordings, George Martin, was
enormously influential on their musical development, making the studio an
instrument in itself and pushing the band to explore more complex sounds. Then
there’s Brian Epstein, who took their raw talent and turned it into a mop-haired
product for worldwide consumption. Oh, and in case we forget, Lennon and
McCartney wrote some pretty good tunes, a talent that transcends anything they might have picked-up at the
Perseverance is undoubtedly a characteristic of greatness.
So is its near-neighbor, obsession. I’d actually argue that the real driver
here is passion, an ardor for what you do. But this is never enough and to
argue otherwise is an oversimplification.
Gladwell can’t be entirely blamed – although some, like
scientist Stephen Pinker, have claimed his whole argument is flawed. Gladwell’s
idea is more nuanced, but the popular interpretation is a reduction to a direct
cause-and-effect: If only we all tried harder, we’d be rock stars.
It’s a very human failing to try and account for all results
by isolating a single variable. In marketing, we do this all the time – be it attempting
to understand what led to a sale, why that video went viral, or what caused our
competitor to beat us on a deal. It’s too easy to say it was all down to the
salesman, or the clever script, or the fact we didn’t have that one specific
feature in our product. Usual this reductive reasoning is all wrong.
In marketing, don’t expect simple answers. And don’t
anticipate that repetition and persistence alone will drive success.