Tag Archives: 10 000 hours

The Complications of Spoken Confidence

Sometime last year, I came across a speech from the 2015 Toastmasters World Champion, Mohammed Qahtani. If you have a few minutes, I really suggest you take the time to watch it. OK, let’s say you only have a couple of minutes: just watch the introduction.


While I’m not a fan of Qahtani’s parenting style (either option), I’m going to skip over that for now, as it’s not the main reason for writing this post. I’m also going to skip over the stereotypical portrayal of scientists, again, as it’s not the main reason for writing this post (but I will say that I’ve never meant a scientist who confirms that ‘stereotypical portrayal’). The main reason for writing this post is the first few minutes of the video. The startling anecdote that Qahtani shares about smoking and diabetes. Be honest — did you believe him when he said, “the amount of people dying from diabetes is three times as many dying from smoking?” Based on the audience’s response, I suspect that there are probably — at least — some of you who didn’t know this. To be clear, it’s not my aim to make you feel bad about this. If this isn’t a piece of data you’ve been exposed to at some point in your life, you probably have little reason to know. (Unfortunately, smoking is part of my family history, so I knew Qahtani was up to something when I heard him make that statement. Oh, and if you’re curious, WHO posits that smoking is the leading cause of death where 1 in 10 adults worldwide [!] die as a result of it, whereas diabetes is ‘only’ the 7th leading cause of death in the US.)

Circling back to the video… conviction. Did you notice the conviction with which Qahtani parroted the statistics about diabetes and smoking? He said it so assuredly that it almost makes you want to believe him (or at a minimum, question whether what you thought you knew about those two pieces of statistics was true or not). When I saw him do this, it reminded me of the hundreds of articles you see published each year that advise people on how to sell themselves or their company. The infamous elevator pitch.

Invariably, when you read articles (or books!) about how to give a good elevator pitch, you’re going to find that it’s very common that one of the most important things you can do in that elevator pitch is to be confident (or passionate or some other synonym that fits nicely into the author’s acronym). Don’t get me wrong, confidence is certainly important when it comes to making your elevator pitch, but in seeing Qahtani express himself with an air of confidence, it made me wonder about the human fallibility, with regard to elevator pitches.

Sure, I suspect that for people who’s job it is to listen to elevator pitches on a constant basis will tell you that they have a finely tuned BS-detector, but what about the rest of us who haven’t spent 10,000 hours listening to elevator pitches? I bet you’re thinking that you don’t have to worry about that when it comes to your field because you’re an expert. OK. Let’s accept for a moment that you are — what about all the other fields that you haven’t achieved “expert” status in — what do you do there? Well, I suppose you/we could perfect y/our BS-detector, but I suppose there’s still the possibility that you might make a type I/II error (depending upon your perspective). That is, there’s still the possibility that you might miss the BS for what it is and it’s also possible that you might incorrectly assess something as BS when it’s actually gold!

On that note, I want to leave you with the powerful words of Dr. Maya Angelou, on words:

If You Want to Succeed, You Must Heed

I’ve been thinking about Malcolm Gladwell and the 10,000-hour rule. This is a concept that comes from one of his books, Outliers. Recently, this idea came under fire after an article in Time earlier this year in May. After some time, Gladwell wrote a response (a few days ago) that seems to adequately account for the critiques in the Time article. Nonetheless, it got me thinking about the idea of 10,000 hours and what it represents.

In case you’re not familiar, the 10,000-hour rule is the idea that in order to be “great” at something, one has to put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. After the 10,000 hours (approximately), one will likely be at the pinnacle or very near to, of the field. Ten thousand hours.

That’s 20 hours a week for 10 years.

You have to really like something — a lot — or really want to do well at something, in order to remain committed to the goal of becoming an expert. Twenty hours a week. Ten years. Nowadays, people might not even spend that much time at the same job (if we compress it to 40 hours a week and 5 years)!


Then I got to thinking about Daniel Day-Lewis. Certainly one of the premier actors of our time. Since 1989, Day-Lewis has appeared in 11 movies. Of those 11 movies, he’s won the Academy Award for Best Actorthree times — making him the only male actor to win the award three times. He was also nominated for Best Actor two other times. So, of the 11 movies he’s been in during the last 20+ years, he’s been up for the award for Best Actor five times. From what I understand, most people are pretty happy to simply have been nominated once, much less 5 times — and then win three times!

Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly someone who is at the top of his field. He has put in the hours and done the work to become one of the best actors.

And then there’s Meryl Streep. She’s received more nominations for Academy Awards (17) and more nominations for Golden Globes (27) than anyone in the history. She’s also won 3 Academy Awards and 8 Golden Globes. Clearly, someone else who is at the top of their field.

But why have I highlighted both performers?

They continue to win awards. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for Best Actor back in 1989. And then again in 2007. Do you think he ‘rested on his laurels?’ No, how else would he have been able to pull off such a convincing Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s flick last year. And Meryl Streep won her first Academy Award in 1979. Again, in 1982. She wouldn’t win again until 2011 for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Between 1982 and 2011, she was nominated 12 other times. 12!

Both of these performers are stunning examples of the idea that even though you’ve won, even though you’ve made it to the top of your field, that doesn’t mean you can’t still keep working. That doesn’t mean you can’t still keep getting better. Practicing. Perfecting.

If you want to be good at something, really good at something, you’ve got to put in the work even if you think you’ve already made it. If Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep don’t rest on their laurels, what makes you think you can?