marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Monday, July 26, 2010

Are you an expert? or Where do I put in my 10,000 hours?

I few months back I spoke with a young marketing intern, and I asked him how he was preparing to enter the job market and land a marketing job. He responded “I’m reading alot”, and then proceeded to name some online magazines he was reading on a weekly basis. He then expanded on how he attended two webinars the previous week on viral marketing. Fast forward to this past week, when I just finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s “Outliers”, which has a section on expertise and gurus.

Gladwell speaks about the the sheer number of hours of practice the experts put in, citing the 10,000 mark as some commonly accepted level. Somehow, by sheer force of will and desire, the examples in the book put in 10,000+ hours to become recognized experts - the truly exceptional. Gladwell places Bill Gate, Bill Joy, and even Wozniak and Jobs in that group. Now 10,000 hours is alot, that’s about 5 years of practice 8 hours a day or 10 years at 4 hours a day. It’s possible, and somewhat realistic, then, that software developers and coders that I’ve worked with could have reached their 10,000 hours around 7 years of full time work, if they only wasted 1-2 hours a day in meetings, code reviews, QA, etc. Fortunately, most web developers work in only one to three languages, and the coding principles are highly leverage-able between languages.

So I asked this fellow who would he would hire - someone who read alot, or someone who was actively trying to test the things that he learned in his reading. He said that the person who practiced what he learned would be a more valuable hire. His words “you take the guy who probably screwed up elsewhere, so he won’t screw up on your dime.”

So how has my simple questioning impacted my young friend? The next time we met, he had joined a group that was creating and implementing a marketing launch plan for a non-profit. They were meeting every week and slowly moving the project forward. When I pressed for details, he added “this is nothing like the webinars - the team has so many conflicting priorities and resource constraints that nothing can be done in a step-by-step fashion”. I asked if he learned anything. He said he did, and that next time he could avoid the mistakes his team was making now.

While it’s only a start, my young marketing friend has started his journey toward the 10,000 hours of practice he needs to become the expert he wants to be. More importantly, he’s started to learn that experience is more than reading and watching webinars, and that getting his hands dirty gave him a new and marketable perspective.

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