Mastering Creativity

December 11th, 2008

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Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers: The Story of Success

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The first time listening to this talk by Malcolm Gladwell at the 2008 AIGA Business Design Conference was eye opening. The first few minutes of the video pulled me in as Josh Liberson steps onto the stage, introduces himself, and then proceeds to tell us of how Malcolm knows nothing of design. Malcolm then comes to the stage and starts speaking about Fleetwood Mac–I’d never heard of the band at this point–and I began to wonder where he was going with the topic.

It’s not until the second and third time listening in that you’ll really start to process what Malcolm is saying and how to apply it. So lets back up and look at his points main points:

Mastering Creativity

Dedicate at least 10,000 hours to whatever it is you’re trying to master.

Only 10,000 hours? Well, yes. If you look at the time it takes to master something, it takes about 10,000 hours–that’s roughly four hours a day for ten years. It’s not to say that creativity and mastership of a profession can’t be had overnight or in a shorter period of time, but it just doesn’t happen for most people unless they’re solving a problem that can be summed up that simply.

Mastering Creativity
Malcolm then goes on to say that the choice of profession is not trivial–I agree. The example that Malcolm uses is that if you decide to be a teacher, being a great teacher is not something that simply happens. It is something that comes out of an investment of your time (10,000 hours) and the things you’re a part of. You can’t just walk in and become a teacher and be great at it. It simply doesn’t work like that. The same goes for being a designer, photographer, or a profession in any other field. It takes time to learn and and develop each of the creative tasks and then solve them.

Additionally, someone could invest a large amount of time to a profession and still be terrible. You have to take into account the quality of the time and the underlying intent for spending that time.

Mastering Creativity
Here is the link to the video again as well as a transcript of it word-for-word so you can gather more information from his enlightening talk.

Posted by on 12/11/08 in Inspiration, Video

8 COMMENTS   »  Leave your Comment

  1. Nate Treat says:

    I don’t necessarily agree with him on some points. There is something to be said for trying and dedicating ones life to a certain task. 10000 hours isn’t that long when you think about it. If you chose to be a dress maker, for instance, and you studied sewing and dresses and thread and fabric and peoples bodies would you still make good fashion? I’m not sure. Just because you dedicate your life to a cause, doesn’t make it the right cause. And if you’re too focused on one thing, say your career, are you spending those ten thousand hours on something that is worth more than the three hours a day you could spend with your kids?

    What struck me as real is that you’re going to start somewhere. But I don’t think picasso was a genius right off either, he could draw, but what he was fascinated by was the African art being brought back to europe. Picasso was the spearhead of a social movement, one of the intelectuals who lead the way into modern thought by looking at Western culture from without.

    Creativity cannot be practiced. I don’t believe that some people can learn it. They just aren’t cut out for it. But if you are creative, and you have the capability to do masterpieces, than you certainly will only if you are dedicated. That’s the only way to succeed.

    Practice make perfect and you learn from all the fuck ups along the way, more so than you do by succeeding at first shot. I guess what I’m worried about is thinking that you need to lock yourself in you’re study and devote ten years to design. If you don’t live and breathe, than you won’t understand the significance of the very problem you’re trying to solve.

    But on a lighter note, it’s absolutely true. Nobody made it big after six months. That last band to make it big from nothing was Panic at the Disco, and where the hell are they now? Spent, and overrated. They hadn’t even played a gig before they got signed. But the Beatles will go forever with me to my grave.

    But it’s not because Paul had an amazing voice. It’s not because Ringo laid down beats that make your spine tingle. It’s not because george was so dreamy or that Lenin was so smart.

    If the Beatle were to spend ten thousand hours making gospel music, would they have been as famous? Certainly not if they played gospel in a strip club. It’s also the person that makes the design, and what the design has to say. If you don’t have anything to say than you’re just another voice in the lunchroom of the dedicated tenthousand hoursers.

  2. Mark says:

    Four hours a day for ten years?

    I’ll stick to being diversified.

  3. Interesting thoughts Shelb. I dig it. That is the longest comment I have ever seen in my life.

  4. Jason says:

    Nice read!

    A new Gladwell fan? If you like this talk, you may enjoy his books. I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘The Tipping Point,’ but I recommend ‘Outliers.’ In this read, he talks about the relationship between most Hockey players having birthdays in January, why asian kids and their math ability may be linked to ancestral DNA of working on the rice fields, yadda yadda.

    He’s a bit sterotypical and does a real nice job at pointing out the obvious, and also has a way of making the not so obvious make complete sense, even when it’s bullshit.

    Sometimes paying too much attention in targeting your blog can be a bit too obvious. I know a lot of blogs on the interwebs that do a real good job at posting whatever it is that is on their mind – a day in the life of, new technology, travel, food/dining – making the not so obvious make complete sense. Hence, increasing traffic and viral propagation.

  5. Kristan says:

    In other words… practice practice practice? :P

    I agree, though. You can’t be great overnight. I mean, you can, but that’s usually sensationalism, not true talent.

  6. Andrew says:

    I buy it. It might have something to do with me reading an article about this a couple weeks ago, but I’m pretty sold on the cause. Every person that I look up to in journalism has practiced just about the same thing.

    I’d much rather be the best in the world at one thing than able to speak spanish kinda, design kinda and write kinda.

    Still, I’m not sure it’s saying that you can’t be diversified. This isn’t talking about being ‘good’ at something, it’s talking about mastering something. You can go to community college and get decent at design after a couple years. Becoming good at it however requires hours and hours of dedication.


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  8. Thank you for the awsome article. I’ll keep an eye about your own blog, i allready added it to personal list :)

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