Outliers and Transformations

   I'm a huge fan of Outliers... great book by Malcolm Gladwell, if anyone hasn't read it yet. It's enormously insightful and very entertaining, but it has, IMO, an important flaw: most of the stories leave me saying "I could never do that." Because the point of most of the book is that there are very specific advantages that certain noteworthy people had that others simply did not.

   Contrast that with Michael Graves' four words that changed my career, when asked what was the secret of success in architecture: "extraordinary singleness of purpose." My thought in response was "I can do that!" Because I greatly enjoy encouraging other people, I'd much rather tell a story to which someone can respond "I can do that," rather than "I can never do that." Because we all have extraordinary attributes of some sort, telling a story resulting in the latter response might make me feel good, but it's far better to tell a story that possibly empowers many other people, rather than a story that only entertains me, IMO. Think how quickly we'd all tune out if we started swapping stories of things each of us can do that the rest will never be able to do... that would quickly get boring, wouldn't it?

   The one exception in Outliers was the 10,000 hour rule, because anyone can do that. I can vouch for that personally. The last two years I kept timesheets (2000 and 2001) I averaged 5,000 hours of work per year. It had been building up to that for several years, after averaging about 4,000 hours per year in the mid-1990s. So in just those 2 years, I logged over 10,000 hours. Had I been brilliant, I'd have changed the world as a result. But in any case, those years around the turn of the century were the difference between being a completely ordinary architect in a small southern town that nobody ever heard of, and a guy who gets to hang around with all his heroes. But the big point is that anybody can log those hours... you've just gotta decide to, that's all. And trust me... if you decide to, it's impossible to spend that much time doing chores... you've gotta spend most of it doing inspiring things, which is the work that will transform you.

© 2012 The Guild Foundation Press