Sunday, November 16, 2008


    The Beatles - Indra Club, Hamburg, August 17, 1960.  With Stu Sutcliffe and original drummer Pete Best.

Malcolm Gladwell's new book is about success.  Here is an extended excerpt from The Guardian.  After reading the article, I'm not sure I need to read the book.

Gladwell makes two interesting points.  First is that to acheive expertise in anything, you need around 10,000 hours or 10 years.  He examines the Beatles and Bill Gates to show they amassed such expertise at young ages.  He also talks about luck.  This factors into career success in two ways.  First, in atheletics, those who are born earlier in the year have a significant advantage over their younger comrades born later in the year.  He doesn't mention it in the excerpt, but Wayne Gretzky was born in January.  Second, those lucky enough to be in the right field at the right time can catch a wave.  He notes that the first personal computer appeared in 1975.  People born aroung 1955 were best placed to ride the computer wave.  They were old enough to have gained expertise, but young enough not to have already become part of the old system.  Bill Gates was born in 1955.  Paul Allen, 1953.  Steve Ballmer, 1956.  Steve Jobs, 1955.  Even more dramatic, in a Forbes compilation of the 75 richest people in history, 14 were born in the USA between 1831 and 1840.  Out of all the humans that have ever lived, 20% of the richest were born in one country in one decade.  Several more were born elsewhere, but emigrated to the US.  They became, of course, the robber barrons. 

Its hard to discuss, but all this makes me feel better.  I've never acheived the kind of career success I wanted or expected.  From a macro point of view, I guess it shouldn't be a suprise.  I entered the photography business at a point where it suddenly became impossible to earn a living from Canadian magazines.  I expanded into architectural photography at the beginning of a real-estate bust.  Had I gone into computers rather than photography, I might have caught the end of that wave.  But when I started getting interested, it was between the inital computer revolution and the Internet revolution.  By the time I got into the Internet business, the bust was at hand.  My current position was a port in a storm.  Because of my health issues, I can't feasibly look for anything new.  But Gladwell gives me some optimism.  I've acheived expertise in more than one realm, and still have time to do it again.  The Chinese say a man has time in his life for three careers.  I think Gladwell has described what they meant.