Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Had Your Hamburg?

The last thing I needed was to buy another book. A book's title that intrigued me... "Outliers"... but not enough to spend money on an addiction I'm trying to learn moderation in: owning more books. A year or so ago, I had heard of the book, visited the website of the author, read about the book...

Then a couple of months ago, I had like 3.5 hours to kill and I ended up sitting on the couch in the Bookmark area of the BX. Purposely leaving my money in the car, I felt safe picking up a couple of books to read, one of them "Outliers," another on negotiating or something like that. But I read the first three chapters of the former, leaned over to my son who was himself absorbed in a book, and whispered, "Hey! Would you do me a favor, Zeke? Will you go get my wallet from the van?"

A well-spent $7.99 and a stamp on my buy-5-get-the-6th-free card, and I walked out of the store with a brain-buzz just from the first few chapters.

outlier (out-lie-er) noun 1: something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body 2: a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample

To summarize the book is too overwhelming for me at this point. (I'm thinking I'd like to live the experiment and give you the results later.) The author, Malcolm Gladwell, takes all these case studies (that's translated stories to me), gives in-depth statistical evidence (yeah, that caused some serious brain-cell stretch!), and gave "tried and tested" "fact" which he challenged with questions like, "Or are they?"1

Do you know how the Beatles got their beginning? "In 1960, while they were still just a struggling high school rock band, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. ...And what was so special about Hamburg? It wasn't that it paid well. It didn't. Or that the acoustics were fantastic. They weren't. Or that the audiences were savvy and appreciative. They were anything but. It was the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play." He goes on to tell about the hours of playing time during their visits to Hamburg, eight hours at a time, seven days a week... "The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart. ...They weren't disciplined onstage at all before that. But when they came back, they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them."

And, so, I've pondered 10,000 hours for the last couple of months. From Mozart to World Champion Czech and Canadian hockey players to Bill Joy, Bill Gates, and the Beatles... 10,000 hours.

Did you know that Bill Gates used to sneak out of his house at night, walk or take the bus up to the University of Washington and practice computer programming in their medical center and physics department? 10,000 hours.

"The Hamburg crucible..." 10,000 hours. Roughly 10 years.

Moments. Lots of them. Focused. My own lack of follow-through (a self-boundary issue that needs healing)... Just thinking of 10,000 hours of exercise to reach the fitness level I'd like to achieve sends me sprinting in marathon-ic proportions for the plate of brownies in the kitchen.

"'The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert -- in anything,' writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. 'In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn't address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.'"2

The Chinese have a saying, "No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich."3 Persistence. Doggedness. Willingness to work hard... meaningful work.

Attitude. Chances. Opportunities. Grit. Self-control. Family. Community. Cultural legacy. Words Gladwell used in his book.

All this brings me to... oh, mercy... I've tried to condense my thoughts over the last two months into some kind of concise, articulate expression of how passionately I feel about this topic. I guess one of my questions is this: What am I investing "10,000 hours" in? What kind of legacy are my moments leaving? Of course there are things I'd like to become a world-class expert in... piano, Spanish, Italian, cooking, anthropology, writing. Parenting. Marriage. Friendship. One day, I'll give an account. Sobering thought.

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) What would happen if I fixed my gaze firmly on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of my faith (Heb. 12:1), investing 10,000 hours (I'll start there... {wink}...) practicing a life of seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness?

And here's my other question: Doesn't it stand to reason that the earlier one gets started the better? This is why I've changed my paradigm in the last couple of years regarding the adolescent years! Alex and Brett Harris urge teens to take advantage of the "spring board" years during adolescence to "Do Hard Things" that will make an impact on our world. They urge teens not to waste those years, but to step out, take risks, follow God-guided passions of eternal value. With that in mind, I'm trying to feed the fires that Spirit is igniting in my children. (This is a constant prayer plead for me as I'm trying to change a lifetime of low-risk, low-faith everyday living while my children list their visions for touching a broken world.)

So what about you? What do you think? Have you been in a crucible for some time now? Have you already had your "Hamburg"? Is there something you'll start today that will be the beginning of your 10,000 hours? Is God asking you to do something seemingly small, yet tedious, something that will require the faithfulness and discipline of "rising before dawn three hundred sixty days a year" in order to accomplish something of Kingdom proportions later on?

I'd love to dialogue with you about this! If you prefer to e-mail me, my address is .

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." --Seneca, Roman author who lived from about 4 B.C. to A.D. 65

1. page 18, chapter 1.1
2. page 44, chapter 2.2
3. page 279, chapter 8.4


  1. Okay, I stopped reading after the definition of outlier. I am going to the library!

  2. I came back to see if you would tell me that I can indeed read the rest of this post without ruining the book...and noticed that last Seneca quote...which made me laugh my you-know-what off, given the day I had yesterday.

    So the idea of becoming rich and famous based solely on the fact that I am a one-man comedy of errors is would somehow make yesterday bearable.

  3. Sharon, I took Outliers on CD out of the library and listened to it while in England in October, loving it! What a fascinating book. I loved "The Tipping Point" and "Blink," by the Malcolm Gladwell, too, and just started, "What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures." I'm afraid that I may be fuelling your book addiction! Ha ha!

    I loved the idea of 10,000 hours to perfect a craft. It made me realize the importance of focusing more narrowly on what God has called me to do; letting go of the myriad of distractions. I'm simplifying and finding greater peace in becoming less freneticly busy.

    I would say that you are perfecting the craft of writing with your blog. The passion to write makes it easy to do. You have to love whatever you end up spending 10,000 hours on!

  4. Oh, yes, yes, YES!! This is one of my ALL time favorite books. The thing I loved about the 10,000 hours was how it was finite. It's not like you have to do something FOREVER to be come excellent. A simple and measurable 10,000 hours and you cannot help it, you will be among the BEST in the world. Wow. So really, it's more about just keeping on, and suddenly one day you wake up with the unmistakable impact of your hours. That's what Bill Gates did. We all do it every day. Just makes me want to keep making the installments. Personally, I think consistency is more important than large installments. It just sort of becomes a part of you then. You almost forget about the goal and start to love the practice. It has to be sustainable.

    Oh, write more about this book! Love it.