Monday, January 4, 2010

10,000 Hours

[The following post offers a brief excerpt from the upcoming Breaking Barriers book:]

Most efforts to explain the process of acquiring expertise in a given skill or endeavor include reference to a certain number of hours dedicated to intentional practice. Usually this number is 10,000, which represents the total investment required to form the vast superstructure of neural connections, habits, and patterns of attitude and action that signal the highest level of proficiency in the given undertaking.

The thought of attaining this level of expertise for most of us is overwhelming and (if we're honest) out of reach. We often project this gap because the demands of daily life leave precious few “extra” hours on evenings and weekends to pursue our truest ambitions. However, there is an activity that each of us could benefit from greater expertise. Conveniently, the nature of this activity also provides room for the timing and practice required for our 10,000 hours. I am referring to the practice of continuous learning and performance at work.

Let me put the incentive for this in terms of my own demographic: Considering the current life expectancy for Gen X’ers like me, as well as the current downward trend in the economy, if I keep my health and wits about me then I will most likely work until I am 75 years old. If we consider the implications of current bio-technology research and medical advances that could improve health and sustain quality of life beyond current levels, the millennial generation and those that follow are likely to perhaps live and work well into their 100’s. Even for me, these 60+ years spent in the workplace make an absolutely definitive statement about the truth of the adage life is work and work is life.

So, here we all are – destined to fulfill a working life with increasing pressure on ourselves to remain employable. Breaking Barriers offers a set of integrated models that can serve as a road map to navigate the challenges and pitfalls of work. When integrated fully, the system of personal and professional development can pervade every aspect of how good work is done - from the simple interactions between colleagues to the major activities and decisions an organization engage in. If you commit to full immersion into Breaking Barriers, then your path to proficiency is a lot more realistic.

Instead of the inconsistent half-hour each evening and a few hours on the weekend to inch closer to excellence, I am suggesting that the workplace can be your workshop where your full-time devotion to learning the art and practice of Breaking Barriers and improving performance can dramatically accelerate the path to expertise.

The average full-time employee works around 2,080 hours per year and in this regard getting to 10,000 hours of hard-earned practice will take less than five years. If you are going to spend 70 years in a working life, isn’t it worth the investment to set a trajectory of optimal performance and increased personal success?

Make no mistake; there isn't a short cut to this kind of proficiency - everyone must earn these 10,000 hours if they wish to experience the benefits of mastery. However, I believe that the development of meaningful excellence at work is something that each one of us can attain. The benefits include greater personal and professional success, as well as a high-demand skills set that will go with us as careers and jobs evolve into an unknown future.

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