By now, many have read, seen, or heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. In the book, Gladwell demonstrates how innate talent, and even genius, are not the necessary roots of success. Instead, success is often a derivative of a series of circumstantial subtleties that together can shape good fortune.

For example, the book begins with Gladwell demonstrating how most of the elite and accomplished Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year. The youth hockey leagues determine player eligibility by standard calendar year cut-offs. At a young age, children born earlier in the year on average tend to be bigger, more developed, and better coordinated than children born later in the year by laws consistent with natural development. Consequently, at a very young age these children are identified as better athletes, and are thus coached better and selected for preferred positions, teams, and leagues, etc. Gladwell calls this phenomenon “accumulative advantage.” In this case, Gladwell is demonstrating how success was as much dependant on the organization of the selection process to identify talent, than on the athletes’ natural talent itself.

Among the many interesting sociologic phenomena identified in the book, is a recurring theme Gladwell calls the “10,000-Hour Rule.” Gladwell cites many examples to support his claim that greatness requires an enormous time commitment. He talks about how the Beatles, by quirky circumstance, performed live in Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time there. This time shaped their talent into a sound that was like none other by the time they returned to England.  Similarly, Bill Gates benefitted from the 10,000-Hour Rule after gaining access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spending 10,000 hours programming on it. The idiosyncratic circumstances that allowed for this, were in large part responsible for the birth of his future success. In the book, Gladwell notes his interview with Gates, who basically agrees that without that unique access to a computer at a time when they were not commonplace, his magnanimous success would have been less likely.

I personally believe in the validity of the 10,000-Hour Rule, and to an extent, even quantifiably. That is, reaching 10,000 hours committed to a specific task or skill is a key to excellence. This in many ways has shaped my professional career, and has structured my solid belief in core competency. I prefer to focus on 10-20 clinical, medicinal, anatomic challenges with a commitment to something approaching mastery. In addition to reading, and lecturing, listening, and studying, and critical self-examination of outcomes and results, comes the direct need to put in time, and more time – 10,000-hours worth. This is one of the reasons I truly believe a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon is often best equipped to precisely control and predict the anatomic challenges of facial cosmetic or reconstructive surgery. A focus on the face alone “shrinks the world” tremendously, and combined with a diligent and rigorous work ethic, true excellence can be achieved.

The real challenge, of course, is meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule professionally, while at the same time  being a great dad, husband, son, friend, and guitar player.

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