Posted by: Knightbird | July 9, 2010

Purposeful Effort and Achievement

In his popular book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell attributed levels of achievement by hockey players in Canada as dependent on birth dates and the attention they received by the hockey establishment based on those dates. A particular group of players selected received greater instruction and ice time, which improved their skills. This progression followed the player throughout their career, but the initial assessment of talent was based on birth date. Younger players in the same year did not have the same opportunity for greater instruction and ice time, so they were not as well represented in the higher amateur and professional leagues. Gladwell attributes the older players successes to the 10,000 hour rule.

The 10,000 hour rule is based upon the achievement research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University. In an article published in the online version of the Harvard Business Review, it was said that “New research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill.” 1 Successful individuals like Bill Gates, the Beatles, Mozart and J. Robert Oppenheimer are mentioned by Gladwell as achieving success because of their 10,000 hours of effort.

In a relatively new book titled “Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success,” by Matthew Syed, the concept of 10,000 hours of effort is advanced further through Sayed’s discussion of his achievements in table tennis, particularly in representing Great Britain in the Olympics. I was particularly interested in Syed’s discussion of “purposeful effort.” One interested in world class performance needs to approach a level of awareness through ever increasing levels of efforts designed to make reaction to the stimuli for their discipline almost automatic and even anticipatory. Two stories by Syed are particularly captivating.

In one story he discusses the sexing of chickens. It takes about six weeks before a chicken shows external signs of sex. Yet there are observers who can tell sex by looking at a 1 or 2 day old chick before the external signs emerge. This comes through long experience. The second story discusses his experience taking tennis serves from one of the worlds best male players. With serves coming in at 130 miles per hour, he is totally unable to react. Who would be able to? Well, other world class tennis players actually do return serves at that speed. The reason, they have typically spent their 10,000 hours of purposeful effort and their mind picks up clues that they react to so they reach the ball even before they know it is leaving their opponents racket.

I am convinced that effort allows us to achieve in all areas, including academics. In an amazing tale by Dr. Barry Chavis about the Oakland, CA American Indian Charter School (Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City, NAL Hardcover 2009), the amazing turnaround from troubled school to one of the highest achieving schools in California is attributed to giving the students more time to master the academic material. Surprise, purposeful effort pays off. Gladwell mentions this in Outliers when he talks about the achievement of oriental students in math being attributable more to increased hours of effort than to innate ability.

So why am I discussing this topic in a blog about Lean Management? The reason 10,000 hours of effort works to develop world class expertise has to do with time dedicated, challenges accepted and effort that is purposeful. We cannot expect our employees to immediately learn and become successful in Lean tools and thinking. We need to train, we need to give them time to absorb and think about the tools, it needs to be repeated and higher levels of achievement pursued. They need good instruction, opportunity to perform and motivation. Chugachmiut knows that for our employees to achieve, they need to do, and do many times with ever increasing effort. For us to achieve world class performance in our chosen fields, time spend pursuing perfection with purposeful effort is critical.



  1. Patrick,

    Thank you for posting this. I think you’re right that to achieve we need to “do.”

    I agree it takes time and opportunity to learn and use new skills. It seems that to create a world class performance, we must create a world class learning environment.

    I look forward to learning more about Chugachmiut’s journey.

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