Malcolm Gladwell, a native Canadian, has been accused of holding Canadian views on the factors behind high achievement. Success, he contends, stems from more than just latent talent and a rugged individualistic desire to succeed.
Whether these views reflect Canadian or American values, I do believe they fall close to the truth.
Success does not stem from raw talent alone. Indeed, Gladwell says a number of psychologists specializing in expertise research have determined that there is an especially significant factor associated with high achievement — one that Gladwell calls the 10,000-hour rule. Simply put, great creators throughout history have spent a minimum 10,000 hours, or 10 years, working diligently to perfect their skills.
Gladwell describes this phenomenon in his bestselling book Outliers: The Story of Success.
Every great composer, for example, has composed for about a decade before he writes his master work. Mozart, considered by many to be the greatest of all, was no exception.
“Mozart is composing at 11, but he’s composing garbage,” Gladwell says. “He doesn’t compose anything great until he’s 22 or 23.”
Gladwell says the research he’s done into this phenomenon has driven home a vital lesson: that society is not allowing sufficient enough time to for people to master complex skills.
“We are far too impatient with people,” he says. “We assess what it takes for people to do a certain job. We always want to make that assessment after 6 months or a year and that’s ridiculous.”
“The kind of jobs we require people to do today are sufficiently complex that they require a long time to reach mastery. What we should be doing is setting up institutions and structures that allow people to spend the time and effort to reach mastery, not judging them prematurely.”
Consider the number of people throughout history who, while possessing tremendous potential, were passed through educational institutions by educators who either did not readily discern their gifts or simply lacked sufficient patience.
Speaking as a Cooperative Extension professional, this raises an intriguing question: Could 4-H help fill this breach by providing children with the levels of immersion they need to acquire these high-level skills?
I think the answer is obvious. The findings of expertise researchers present 4-H and other publicly and privately supported grassroots organizations with tremendous opportunities to fill this breach.