Skipping the 10,000 Hour Rule
There’s b.c. and a.c. “Before coronavirus” and “after coronavirus.” When the entire world shut down, everything turned upside down. Tens of millions lost their jobs, lost their careers, and suddenly realized that nobody was loyal to them. When the economy came back, so many people were left unemployed. So many businesses had just disappeared.
Society was reinventing itself. And nobody wanted to be left behind. But how do you find what you love? And how do you get good at it quickly? Is it going to take 10,000 hours? You might be thinking “I don’t have 10,000 hours. I have to feed my family now!” For the first time, the entire world is in the same situation. We all have to figure out what we are going to do next. And how will we do it? And how will we succeed at it?
The key to skipping the line is to constantly live in the world of “not knowing.” To constantly be curious but not threatened by what’s next. To live in the world where everyone else is scared but you are so comfortable with the land of not knowing that you can still navigate the rough waters.
You are the beacon and the lights are on. You help people to shore. This is not the end of the line. This is the beginning.
The 1 Percent Rule
10,000-Hour Rule—the rule that says if you work at something for 10,000 hours you will be among the best in the world at that thing. That rule no longer works, if it ever did. James found that in his own life, being able to construct experiments to quickly try out ideas, learn from them, and move on from them beats the 10,000-Hour Rule. He calls it the 10,000 Experiments Rule.
It’s a way of approaching change and crisis by using a set of tools to help with creativity, execution, persuasion, productivity, and leadership—all of which, when working together, will catapult you higher than you ever thought possible and at a speed that everyone will tell you is impossible.
Dick Fosbury was a high jumper in the 1960s. He was mediocre at best. The technique for high jumping then, the “upright scissors technique,” involved running straight toward the bar while facing it, jumping, and then lifting your legs higher than the bar while you leapt over it.
Fosbury simply couldn’t do it. His legs were long, so he’d always clip the bar and never get to the heights everyone else was reaching. He did an experiment one day. He jumped backward. He approached the bar with his back toward it and then leapt with his back still facing the bar—completely the reverse of everyone else.
His high school coach begged him to stop. “It won’t work. You can’t do this.” He wouldn’t let Fosbury use it in official competitions, but when he saw Fosbury flip backward (in what is now known as the “Fosbury Flop”) in a freshmen competition, he said, “OK, let’s try it.”
Fosbury went from mediocre in high school to winning the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics just a few short years later. First everyone laughed, then everyone told him not to do it, and then every high jumper switched to his method.
He used his knowledge of the sport to create a unique perspective. He won a gold medal. And he changed the sport forever. He didn’t do it by practicing 10,000 hours more than everyone else. He did it not by falling into line but by stepping out of line. He skipped it.
And you can too.
Every Day Matters
The first technique to master is the 1 Percent Rule. Understanding this principle shows how with a tiny effort every day, you can develop the tools needed to quickly become among the best in the world in any field you want. Here’s how it works.
If you have $1 in a savings account and the account pays 1 percent interest per day, then in 365 days you will have $37.78. In other words, your “investment” of $1, compounding at 1 percent per day, would make you almost 3,800 percent within a year.
Let’s apply it to your career, your passion, your skills, whatever you want to apply it to. If you want to get 1 percent better every day at cooking, then this means you will be almost 3,800 percent better (or 38 times better than I was) within a year. What does that even mean? It’s hard to measure cooking skill, for instance. What does it mean to be 1 percent better at cooking? But it’s a way of thinking about things.
Of course, it’s hard to know what 1 percent of a skill is. But just imagine that you are putting the same determination and focus in each day and there is a way to measure your skill, and now, today, you’re going to get 1 percent better than you were the day before.
There’s something else you should know. You can also lose 1 percent a day. You can say, “Aww, it’s only one day. Don’t pressure me!” But if you decrease in knowledge by 1 percent a day, then at the end of the year you’ll have only 3 percent of the knowledge that you once had. You will have lost nearly all of your skills. It may seem trivial: 1 percent up or 1 percent down. But your decisions about how you spend each day sneak up until they come to define you.
Every day matters.
You can borrow hours by applying skills you learned in one field to another. This is a huge advantage. But without knowing that the skills needed overlap with ones you already have, it will take you a long time to make the direct translation.
How did Pelé, perhaps the greatest soccer player ever, get so good so fast? He didn’t start playing seriously until he was fifteen years old, an age by which many professionals would have already had a decade of experience and 10,000 hours under their belts.
He grew up in an impoverished family and didn’t have access to the facilities or equipment that he and his friends would need to play soccer. Instead, he played another sport popular in Brazil called futsal. Smaller balls and a condensed field of play force players to do a lot more footwork and passing. “Futsal makes you think fast and play fast,” Pelé said. “It makes everything easier when you later switch to football.”
In addition, Pelé would often play barefoot on the hard street, making the later transition to a grass field (with actual sneakers) much smoother. His hours playing futsal as a child easily translated into hours practiced when he switched to soccer, and he almost instantly became the best in the world. He’d borrowed hours from one sport to apply to another.
Whatever you are interested in, break out a pad and list at least ten microskills needed for success in that field. For each skill you write down, now you need to think of some experiments to start learning those skills.
Take writing for example. There are many microskills involved: storytelling (which by itself has many microskills), language play, understanding the different genres, character development, editing, dealing with writer’s block, learning how to sell and market your work, etc. Chess involves knowing openings, middlegames, endgames, open positions, closed positions, tactics, positional play, etc.
Here are some of the microskills in business: sales, negotiation, idea creation, execution, leadership, management, marketing, selling the business, project management, follow-ups, networking and delegating. And there are many more. You don’t have to be good at all the skills to run a good business. And being good at one of these skills doesn’t mean you are good at any of the others. You have to study and focus on each of the microskills.
Plus, Minus, Equals
Frank Shamrock is one of the most successful mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters of all time. He was named “Fighter of the Decade” for the 1990s by the Wrestling Observer. The Shamrock development system is Plus, Minus, and Equal.
Plus: Get a good mentor. If you don’t have a mentor, get a virtual mentor. Get many virtual mentors. “Plus” is all of your mentors, virtual mentors, any person you can learn from.
Reading lets you absorb not just one life but thousands. You have all the memories and even some of the skills of every author of every book you’ve read if you go through the process of reading carefully, taking notes, rereading, repeating. Reading turns every author into a virtual mentor. And James says virtual mentors are sometimes even better than real-life mentors.
Minus: Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it.” Your “minus” is someone with fewer skills than you that you can teach. Because if you can’t teach the basics so a beginner can understand, then it turns out you don’t yet fully understand them yourself.
Equals: Not all life is a competition, but we each want to flourish. And the way we can compare where we are in the hierarchy of whatever it is we are trying to learn—and every area of life has a hierarchy—is by comparing our progress with those on or near the same level in the hierarchy.
Exercise the Possibility Muscle
There are two types of failure:
Omission: If you don’t try at all, then you’ve failed. Particularly if it’s something where all the clues suggested you could potentially be passionate about it.
Commission: You go up onstage, write that novel, drive that race car, come up with that business idea, and you lose, or people don’t like it, or you lose money, or you lose the race.
Only failure of omission is real failure. Because if you don’t do something, you can’t learn from your experience. Every experience is a teacher, filled with enough lessons to carry you to the next level of your education in any field.
The habit of constantly experimenting in all facets of your life will bring you enormous success. With each experiment you are either adding to your knowledge or you are succeeding and propelling forward in the hierarchy of that interest/passion/career.
Find the Conspiracy Number
For instance, if you want to write a book and make a lot of money from it:
- You have to write the book.
- A very good agent has to like it.
- A publisher has to like it enough to acquire it.
- The marketing team has to be enthused to sell it to bookstores.
- Bookstores have to want to display it.
- Finally, a lot of people have to buy it.
So, six things have to conspire for this strategy to work out if your goal is money. That’s too many! Even if you decide to self-publish a book, the number of things that have to conspire for you to make a significant amount of money very quickly could be too great.
- You have to write the book.
- You have to have a good social media platform to sell the book.
- Self-published books are priced more cheaply, so you will still make about the same amount of money per book.
- Again, you will probably have to sell 100,000 copies to make money.
When considering your options for which ideas to pursue and how to pursue them, you can use this approach to help you identify ideas with the most upside and the least downside.
- List all the possibilities.
- Use conspiracy numbers to analyze each one. Again, how many things need to conspire for you to get to the goal you want?
- Pick the decision with the lowest conspiracy number. It should be so low that the downside/upside ratio should look like an experiment.
Give People Power to Decide
People don’t like being told what to do. So don’t tell anyone what to do. Instead, give them the freedom to decide.
For example, someone approaches you with an offer to buy your company: “Well, we’d like to buy your company. How much do you want?” You reply, “I have been so focused on building this to be the best company, I don’t even know what the value of the company is. And I can see this growing ten times with a partner like your company. But you’re like the grandmaster at this. You do deals like this all the time. I’m like an amateur.” And you ask, “What advice would you give me in terms of how I value this?”
It may seem like you’re giving the other side too much power, but it’s the reverse. You’re putting them on your side. You’re in the same tribe and you are fully acknowledging their status in that tribe. By asking for advice you acknowledge their superiority in this decision.
If you ask for their advice, and acknowledge the other person’s status, serotonin (the happy chemical) will spike up in that person’s brain. They will be happy, aggressive, and more willing to take risks. Like taking the risk of buying your company, hiring you or going out on a date with you.
Give them the power to help you. And they will.
Exit the Line
Jobs offer little comfort in good times, but as we all painfully learned during the Covid-19 pandemic, a job won’t protect you. What protects people is an ability to find new pursuits and new meaning in their lives, and to quickly get good enough at these new endeavors to provide for themselves and their families.
If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to make a move, ask yourself the following questions. If you land more on “yes” than “no,” you have your answer.
- YES/NO: Will it improve my relationships with others?
- YES/NO: Will it improve my mastery of something I love?
- YES/NO: Will it increase my freedom and my ability to make more decisions for myself each day?
At a job, you are forced to be friends with people simply because they are in the cubicle next to you. At a job, skill acquisition is limited to the particular micro-niche your company has assigned you to. At a job, you have rules about what to wear, how to speak to the opposite sex, what time to come into work and what activity you have to do for fifty weeks of each year.
So what’s the better alternative? How do you get started?