“Insanity,” it is often said, “is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.” This overused cliché (apocryphally attributed to Albert Einstein) still has some wisdom that can be tapped into, especially in these seasons of technological disruptions, social upheavals and turbulence in the business world.
One writer of renown put it this way, “Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things.” While this was written in reference to evangelism, the principles outlined therein are readily transferable to other spheres of human existence, namely to study, plan, devise methods and act out of the common course of things.
One of the most popular self-help maxims of the 21st century is what is commonly referred to as the 10,000-hour rule. The logic is simple: 10,000 hours of practice will, based on statistics, put you in the upper percentile of world-class performers. In industries that are relatively constant, the 10,000-hour rule works perfectly: the longer a pilot flies, the harder an athlete trains, the more hours a violinist puts in, the better they become. Makes sense, right? It must be stressed, however, that it is deliberate practice, not merely putting in the hours, that matters. Not everyone who sits in front of a computer typing away for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year for 10 years morphs into Ken Thomson. Neither does everyone who churns out articles on a daily basis become the next Biko Zulu. Which musician becomes a Mozart? It is he who puts in deliberate practice, and this means setting targets, practicing, incorporating a feedback loop with self-evaluation, external criticism and correcting mechanisms.
But in a constantly changing world, merely putting in the hours doesn’t always cut it. Every path has a destination; consequently, following a known path gets you to a known destination. Period. Subsequently, slogging hours and innovation make strange bedfellows. In the scientific method, in which the crux is to formulate a hypothesis, subject it to a test, measure and analyze the results, and draw a conclusion, we find the perfect analogy for what has been dubbed the 10,000-experiment rule. It is a mindset built on trials, on research. For both committees and individuals, it is about brainstorming, methodically putting ideas to the test, measuring their progress, tweaking what can be tweaked, retiring unsuccessful ones and enhancing seemingly successful ones, ad infinitum. This follows the Pareto principle, in which 20% of the ideas generate 80% of the intended effects. Try more, gain more.
Is Failure Acceptable?
This mindset, however, is predicated on the ability to accept failure, which is something we have been cultured to avoid at all costs. But we can borrow a lesson or two from courtship. If courtship is defined as a relationship between a man and a woman in which they seek to determine if it is God’s will for them to marry each other, does it not implicitly presuppose the possibility of failure? Yet the apparent failure is a measure of success because in a sense, a broken courtship still meets the objective of the endeavor – to determine if it is God’s will for the union to proceed to marriage. This may sound trite, but Thomas Edison was once asked, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?” To which he replied, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.” That’s about it.
What Are We At?
What are we at? Experimentation is not about recklessly throwing ideas at the wall just to see what sticks. Nay, rather it is about studying, planning, devising methods and acting out of the common course of things. It is deliberate. It is researched.
10,000 is just a number. Start your 1 experiment today.
Evangelism, page 122-123
Outliers: The Story of Success