Want to succeed? You need 10,000 hours…


Trevor Sorbie’s Tom Connell, manager of the brand’s Art Team, explains why every ambitious hairdresser should read ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell

“The more I practice, the luckier I get,” is a spot-on quote. Are fantastic hairdressers just born that way, or is there something we can do to become that great? Is that level of creativity innate? Can it be learned? Is it a matter of circumstance rather than down to the individual?

I think I might have the answer. I recently read ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell, a book that looks at the theories and myths around success and, more importantly, talent. The lessons I learned in this book all translate into my hairdressing – some of the theories reinforced what I already do and some showed me a new approach.

The 10,000 Hour Rule is the big concept everyone talks about after reading this book: the idea that 10,000 hours is the amount of time a person needs to spend ‘purposefully’ practicing something to achieve excellence. A great example is The Beatles. They lived for a year in Hamburg, playing together for eight hours per day, seven days a week, in strip clubs! It didn’t pay well, but it gave them more playing time than any band on the planet – 270 performances in 18 months. When they returned to the UK, they had transformed into a slick, disciplined, finely tuned machine that sounded like no one else.

What I took from this was the idea of ‘purposeful practice’. To be disciplined enough to have a goal and use ‘purposeful practice’ to reach it. It has taught me to work to defined goals, rather than playing around with the hair and seeing what happens. Now, I make sure I practice something so much that I go through periods of loving and hating it numerous times before it comes close to an end result that I’m satisfied with… and even then, most of the time it doesn’t.

Circumstance is another key element to success identified in the book. Microsoft pioneer Bill Gates’ path to success was littered with opportunities. When his school built a computer room, Bill was immediately drawn to this new technology and from that moment ‘lived’ in there, putting in his 10,000 hours. He had time to practice, to accumulate enough skill in this field that he was streets ahead of the competition… but only because that computer room gave him the right opportunity.

The idea that circumstances out of our control play a massive part in our success was something I had never considered. And if I’m honest, I don’t like the sound of that – I have always liked the idea that as long as we work hard enough, things will happen. However, Gladwell made me realise that it plays a much bigger part than we’d like to admit. Circumstances will happen, some good and some bad; our responsibility is to work hard enough on our skill and to perfect our craft to the level that, when those opportunities do come along, we are more than prepared to take full advantage.

‘Outliers’ is a book that looks at everyone from athletes to lawyers, showing how they got to the top and how these lessons can be translated into our own lives and goals. Every lesson I’ve been able to apply to my hairdressing. It strips back the myth of ‘genius’ and supports a belief Aristotle held dear: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

 Also check out…

‘Davide & Goliath’ by Malcolm Gladwell – How creativity can overcome any problem

‘Damn Good Advice’ by George Lois – Advice on the search for new ideas by advertising’s wild man

‘Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen’ – This documentary illustrates how to remain focused and push through boundaries when trying to create an extraordinary piece of work.