David v Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell – author of renowned books Tipping Point and Outliers – still has his day job at the New Yorker. His most recent piece is an analysis of the underdog and an endorsement of decision making in real time. It makes for interesting reading.  Here’s a bit to whet your appetite – it’s quite long.

David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.

10,000 Hours

10,000 hours. 416 and two third days. That’s how long it takes to become prodigiously good at whatever it is you do. Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote tipping point – a book focused on what it takes to get an idea to the point of zeitgeist or epidemic. I enjoyed Tipping Point, so I’m glad to hear Gladwell’s new book is out. It’s called Outliers

I plan to get a hold of it for some light holiday reading – but in the meantime there’s this idea in there that I found quite interesting. Here’s a review on the chapter in question from the simple dollar (which is a pretty useful blog in its own right).

The 10,000 Hour Rule
Here, Gladwell continues with the birthdate theme, but argues that sometimes the year is important. Gladwell gives two examples: the generation of “robber barons” (Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, and so on) who were all born in the 1830s, and the generation of computer entrepreneurs (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and so on) who were all born in the 1950s. Sometimes, it requires being born in a certain period to have the opportunity for exceptionalism.
The more important (and interesting) part of the chapter, though, discusses the huge role that nearly-obsessive practice plays in making people great. Gladwell uses The Beatles and Bill Gates as examples here, showing how they both were able to take advantage of stupendous amounts of practice time to become very, very good at what they did. In each case, Gladwell estimated that it took 10,000 hours of practice for those individuals to hone their natural raw talents and become world class – roughly ten years of multiple hours of practice (3 or so on average) every single day. Gladwell offers many other examples of how this practice pays off, but that magic number of 10,000 hours pops up again and again.

I’m not sure I’ve spent 10,000 hours on anything. And I’m not sure what I’d like to spend 10,000 hours on. Any ideas?

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