Go From Good To Great, One Half-Hour at a Time

November 6, 2009

Clock.The Mozarts, Bill Gateses and Tiger Woodses of the world aren’t as successful as they are by plain accident, Malcom Gladwell argues in his 2008 bestseller “Outliers: The Story Of Success.” Yes, such peak performers are naturally talented, and, usually, relatively privileged. But they also invest a tremendous amount of time honing their craft.

Try 10,000 hours. That’s the amount of practice Gladwell says the best of the best put in. I’m under no illusions I’ll reach this threshold in my newly chosen field of interactive media. Extraordinarily few do. That’s Gladwell’s point. But, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t practice as much as can. To that end, it’s safe to say I’m behind on my hours.

To my credit, I’ve kept my head above water in an accelerated master’s program with my physical and mental health in tact. I’ve even taken on extracurricular projects, exercised regularly, and, I like to think, maintained some semblance of a social life — the fact that I’m blogging on a Friday night notwithstanding.

Getting in that little extra professional practice, however, that which separates the good from the great, has been difficult. But it doesn’t have to be. Like with physical exercise, short, intense mental workouts can pay large, long-term dividends.

In the time it takes to watch a “Seinfeld” rerun, I could be making my way toward great. I envision occasionally completing this routine toward the end of the day, but it could be done anytime:

  • 11:00 p.m. to 11:07 p.m. — Browse a favorite news source. It can online, or off, mainstream or alternative, professional or amateur, about interactive media or about something else, so long as it’s something you’re interested in.
  • 11:07 p.m. to 11:11 p.m. — Pick a story that especially captivated you and share it via social media. It’s fine to just favorite it on Delicious or Tweet a link to it, but try to add value. What did you like about it? What didn’t you like? What did you learn? What were you confused by? How does it relate to another concept? Also, try to favor tools you’re less familiar with. Always Digging your favorite links? Give Reddit a try.
  • 11:11 p.m. to 11:17 p.m. — Pick an interactive media problem that is vexing you — Web site color scheme, advertising tagline, interaction design snafu — or the industry — monetization of online content, information overload, the digital divide. Try to brainstorm 50 solutions. Yes, 50. There are no bad answers. Just keep writing.
  • 11:17 p.m. to 11:23 p.m. — Think of a skill you would like to improve. Ask an expert you know in this area to teach you a bit about it. (E-mail, Tweet, Facebook, text message or call, whatever seems most appropriate.)
  • 11:23 p.m. to 11:27 p.m. — Go to Pandora or grab your iPod and put on some favorite tunes. Now, just think. Don’t read anything. Don’t write anything. Don’t surf the Web. Throw your mobile on other side of the room if you have to. Just let yourself have a uninterrupted stream of conciousness for four minutes.
  • 11:27 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. — On a Post-It write two new things you want to try tomorrow. Sign the bottom and put the note in a place where you’ll see it the next morning. This is a mini-contract with yourself.

I’m yet to test run this exercise, but will share my experience in this space once I do. If you try it out, let me know in the comments how it went.

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One Response to “Go From Good To Great, One Half-Hour at a Time”

  1. Paul Wagner Says:

    Nice work and interesting, too. Love your lead with Gladwell.
    I’m still stuck in re-run land myself…but, you’re right.
    The journey of a 10,000 hours begins with the first one, eh?


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