In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he writes eloquently about those individuals who have achieved an extremely high level of success and accomplishment in their chosen fields of interest. Outliers are those people whose achievements fall well beyond the range of normal experience.
His examples are of those who have made the very most of their potential. He points out that there were a number of critical factors in their ability to accomplish what they did, among them being what he refers to as the “ten thousand hours” of practice that enabled them to master their chosen field. He used the ten thousand hour figure literally, not metaphorically. Outliers can exist in any field including the arts, sports, business, or entertainment. Although extensive practice is essential to the process of becoming an outlier, there must, of course be a strong innate interest and potential present on the part of the individual in order to fuel their passion for success. It’s safe to say, however, that most of us use only a fraction of our capacity and that for many, our true potential remains largely untapped. Estimates of the percentage of the potential that most of us utilize ranges somewhere between 10% to 20%.
Gladwell claims that “achievement is talent plus preparation.” Psychological studies of those that are deemed gifted reveal that innate talent plays a smaller role in the process of their development than does preparation and practice. What appears to set outliers apart from the general population, is not their innate talent, but it’s the intensity of their motivation that pushes them to the heights they attain. That motivation generates a degree of self-discipline that compels them to immerse themselves fully in the process. They commit themselves to their journey with intense passion and dogged determination.
Gladwell illustrates his point by describing the early phase of the career of the Beatles, when they played in clubs in the early 1960’s in Hamburg, Germany eight hours a night, seven days per week, performing 270 nights in eighteen months. By 1964, the year they were finally recognized as a huge phenomenon, they had performed live over twelve hundred times, more than the amount of time that the average band spends performing in their entire career!
The researcher Anchers Erickson conducted a study of violinists and pianists in which he concludes that the ones with the highest levels of achievement are not those with the greatest talent, but rather are those who logged the greatest number of hours of practice. They practiced their instrument for an average of ten thousand hours over a period of ten years. Erickson concluded that those at the top of their fields don’t just work harder than everyone else; they work much, much harder!
Another study was conducted by Daniel Levitin who did a survey of the research of high achievers in the performing arts, athletics (including baseball, soccer, ice-skating), chess players, business, and even mastermind criminals. He also found that the magic number in all cases was 10,000 hours. Each study confirmed his conclusion in regard to what it is that is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert. The conclusion being that it takes the brain a great amount of time and many thousands of repetitions to realize true mastery. Practice isn’t the only thing you do that makes you good at what you do, but it’s the most important thing.
Gladwell does not speak in his book about couples that have a deep desire to share a mutually fulfilling, loving partnership, but the same rules apply to them. If we define success in a more expanded way, not just money, status, power and fame, but in the depth of loving relationships, there are many couples that are clearly outliers and they got there the way other outliers did. The very same characteristics that determine accomplishment in other fields apply to highly successful couples as well. Just as outliers are men and women who are exceptional in their chosen fields, highly co-creative couples achieve high levels of excellence in their relationship. Like other highly accomplished outliers, couples that are driven by a passion to achieve the richness of a life of shared love, trust, and open-heartedness are rewarded for their efforts.
Charlie and I have come to similar conclusions in our observations of those couples that have created exceptionally high levels of fulfillment in their relationships. They too, are possessed by an intense motivation. They recognize that this achievement requires the willingness to prioritize their relationship and to make the sacrifices necessary to optimize it. As most of these couples have discovered, support is an essential aspect of this process. It takes a village to raise a marriage as well as a child. No one has ever mastered any chosen worthwhile endeavor without support.
What they have also discovered in this process is that the creation of a strong, solid relationship requires more patience and perseverance than they expected it would. In a culture in which most of us are accustomed to immediate gratification, the challenge of spending years or decades cultivating relational skills can be a daunting one. Fortunately, the benefits that are inherent in making the required effort begin to show up early in the process. We don’t have to wait until all 10,000 hours have been logged.
Some of the abilities that couples who shared deeply fulfilling relationships included highly developed communication skills, conflict management skills, a willingness to assume personal responsibility, a spirit of good will, a desire to cultivate inner strengths and a commitment to integrity.
It is in integrating one’s heart and soul into the practice of relationship building over time, that competence and expertise become more fully developed. Even those of us who consider ourselves “ordinary people” can achieve high levels of success in this arena. The attainment of exalted heights is available to us, and the payoffs can often be greater than we have ever imagined.