Get Shouty

the forest and the trees
December 1, 2008, 9:36 am
Filed under: Zeitgeist


Would you call you clients experts in online?

Would they have spent 10,000 hours devoted to this understanding ?

How about you? Have you spent 10,000 hours?

Malcom Gladwell’s latest thinking in his book Outlier describes the conditions which bring about expertise. I think this can help shed light on why it can be so difficult to get an “I see. I agree” from a client.

It might be this experience lag- not an unwillingness to learn, not a love of another media channel, not an inability to grasp the concepts- that is preventing the uninitiated from embracing new ideas.

The biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work. There’s an awful lot more that goes into it than we admit.

This idea – that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice – surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.

You couldn’t say that it was a rocket science style observation that practice makes perfect, and that concentrated diligence on a task goes a long way to achieve mastery. For me the question is: how can you get people to understand new ideas when the experience gap is so large?

Cramming. The answer has to be: Tutor. Tutor. Tutor. You have to give your clients experience. So that they can get your experience. They won’t have time to practice.

“People don’t rise from nothing,” he writes. “They are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot … It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”

You need to be the beneficiary for your clients, build extraordinary opportunities, be the hidden advantage to their success and help make sense of the world in the way that others can’t.

We’ve been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that’s the problem,” says Gladwell.  “Because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We’ve been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looked at the forest.”

Do more than look at the forest for the seeds of success. Plant one.


9 Comments so far
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Just started to read his New Yorker piece on this tonight. Haven’t got that far but be interested to see how he articulates success.

Comment by Kate Richardson

Hi Katie

Such an interesting perspective; love the mix of your and Malcom’s thoughts. Lots of good lessons in there.

I particularly like the idea that we need to tutor and gift our knowledge and provide experiences. I think also, when we’re open to it, we can learn so much from our clients too.

P.S And yay for Katie’s and Kates!

Comment by Katie Harris

Even if when there is no chance of our clients immersing themselves in a new concept it sounds like Malcolm has put together a very strong argument on why the client should trust us to lead the way.

Comment by Nathan Bush

Seems there is a blog forest growing on this topic! Did you see Mack’s post at:

Comment by Gavin Heaton

Firm believer that real organizational change comes from 2 key things (as far as ‘digital’ goes):

1. Make someone’s career depend on it
If a GAD has built a career on TV and radio and has no personal, vested interest (other than irrelevance) in online, why would they change their ways? Path of least resistance.

2. Getting people to use the stuff is better than preaching at them with a nice presentation you pulled from (or created for) on Slideshare


Comment by Mark Pollard

Totally agree with the points made in your post Katie, and the comments above.

It’s funny, but when people bemoan the inability of their clients to get it, they rarely recognise the simple fact that somewhere in the communications between them and their clients something has broken down.

Rather than apportioning blame, this simple realisation should trigger a desire to find the point in the communications where things broke down, and to address it with a more concerted effort to communicate.

Ultimately as well, we should always remember that in communication we have to employ empathy to understand the problems our clients face. Putting ourselves in their shoes means trying to understand the best way to communicate with them to reach the desired solution.

Comment by Scotland Drummond

Great post Katie & a nice intro to Malcolm’s concepts. All too often we’re quick to point out how little clients ‘get’ of the digital space and yet we spend infinitely more time exploring & navigating our way through than they do (not to mention applying our own skill set to the space). It’s surely our job to help map out that path for clients and find those experiences where they can not only “get across it” but get as excited as we do about the real potential it holds.

Comment by jen

I’ve spent 10,000 watching TV, and where has that gotten me? No where!

Comment by Mike Hickinbotham

[…] curious about the provenance of that velvety crema, there is the collective sum total of well over 10,000 hours of dedication just a question […]

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