In his latest book, Outliers, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell answers a question we've all asked ourselves: What does Bill Gates have that we don't? Why did he succeed so spectacularly where others, equally smart, rich, and talented fizzled out early on?
Gladwell claims there is no such thing as "instant," "overnight" success or a "lucky" break. Truly successful people, he says, are not necessarily so because they are the smartest, strongest, or wealthiest, although these things can enter the picture somewhere along the way. Real winners are more often than not the happy victims of fortuitous circumstance. Born in the right place at the right time, and provided with the exact correct recipe of opportunity and persistence, anyone who is merely smart enough can break through that invisible barrier and truly excel.
Real winners are more often than not the happy victims of fortuitous circumstance.
But there's one key caveat that separates the men from the boys. True ‘outliers,' whom Gladwell defines as those whose value is remarkably different from others with similar characteristics, distinguish themselves by the Ten Thousand Hour Rule. This means that all other circumstances being equal, the one who is going to break rank and pull ahead of the pack is the one who puts in the most time towards achieving his goal.
So what was the secret of Bill Gates success? According to Gladwell, while Gates' intelligence and privileged upbringing could certainly not be denied, that's not what put him over the top. Gates' leg up actually came when, at the age of ten, the private school he was attending at the time installed a computer terminal that was connected to a mainframe in nearby Seattle, Washington, providing Gates with, what was then nearly unheard of, virtually unlimited access and opportunity to learn, practice, and master the complexities of computer programming.
This was back when computers occupied entire rooms and took hours to complete simple operations. By the time everyone else woke up and realized what a brave new world computers were going to herald, Gates was already way ahead of the game, having long ago logged in his ten thousand hours of practice makes perfect. He was able to hit the ground running before anyone even knew how to turn the thing on.
Gladwell is hitting on something true, but from a Jewish perspective, there is a crucial difference. First of all, there is no such thing as coincidence. What may appear to be a random string of events is actually an exquisitely tuned life symphony composed and orchestrated especially for us by the Maestro Creator. Every pause, nuance and crescendo has been intelligently designed in order for us to realize and actualize our potential.
And it's up to us to reach out and touch it, to recognize the unique opportunities that come our way and take advantage of them. That means being committed to putting in ten thousand hours -- a huge amount of time.
Ten thousand hours is a little more than 416 days straight, without eating, sleeping, or anything else. Someone putting in an average six hours a week practicing the piano would need to keep at it for more than 1600 weeks in order to get very far, according to Gladwell -- that's about 30 years. Gladwell checks out the figure with other successful professionals, and they all seem to concur that ten thousand hours is the magic number.
Anyone can be an outlier if we have a burning desire to excel and are willing to put in the time and effort to get there.
This is not a new idea. Jewish tradition teaches that no obstacle can stand up to someone's burning desire to reach a goal. It assures us that anyone can be an outlier -- if we have a burning desire to succeed or excel and are willing to put in the time and effort to get there. Whether we choose to view the ‘ten thousand hours' literally or as a litmus test of how willing we are to do our part, it's clear that commitment and motivation are the first giant step towards success.
The Sages teach that God assists a person to go in the way that he chooses. That means once we are deeply committed to a goal or direction, God will ‘assist' us to get there by creating the perfect circumstances and opportunities for maximum success. You will just ‘happen' to meet that exact right person, or be in that exact right place at the right time --all those ‘lucky breaks' that create an outlier. If you're so dedicated that you're willing to put in ten thousand hours, God promises He will give you a hand to reach your goal.
Gladwell doesn't tell us which of the varied opportunities set before us on the smorgasbord of life should be the one we pursue. We need to look inside ourselves for that, and see what we're drawn to and what we're good at. And whatever it is, if you have that burning desire propelling you to invest ten thousand hours, you're on the path to becoming an outlier.