The King and the 10,000 Rule
Mike Loukides of O’Reilly Radar wrote an excellent article about innovation and developer mindshare with respect to Sun, Java, Android, and Google. This part of the article stood out in particular: (especially the lines in bold)
Sun has been good at coming up with great ideas, but abandoning them half-finished if the followers didn’t show up. Think about Android again. Back in the early days, Sun used to talk about JavaOS, now a “legacy system”, according to Wikipedia. But it took Google to build a true Java-based OS, and what’s more, it took Google to make developers care about it. Think about GWT. GWT must be an acquired taste—I admit, I don’t get it. But Google has been riding that horse for some time, and it’s finally paying off for them. If it were Sun, it would be dead by the roadside, like JavaMedia.
This made me think of the 10,000 rule that Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his book Outliers. The rule says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something - be it 10,000 hours of piano practice, 10,000 hours of programming, 10,000 hours of basketball practice, etc. Mozart is revered for being a musical prodigy at such a young age, but what are considered his best and most famous pieces weren’t composed until towards the end of his career. So what was going on before that? 10,000 hours of composing piece after piece and perfecting his craft. Basically, to be really good at something, it doesn’t just take hard work. It takes really, really, REALLY, REALLY hard work. And discipline. As good as he is now, people forget that Kobe Bryant came into the league in 1996 as a scrawny 18 year old. It took about 4 years until he won his first championship, but Shaq was really the leader and the dominating force. How long until Kobe won his first championship as the leader? That just happened this past Sunday. Until then, there was a 7-year drought for Kobe with no championships… and likely 10,000 hours of practice. The critics that once doubted Kobe’s ability to lead a team have now shut up. Kobe didn’t get to where he is today on talent and hard work. He’s the player he is today because of REALLY REALLY hard work.
Silicon Valley is often compared to Hollywood or Vegas - everyone’s waiting for the next big hit, the next Google or YouTube or Facebook. Relevant quote from this blog:
“Too many entrepreneurs treat their start-ups like Hollywood relationships: the affair begins with a lot of passion, is great for headlines, and might even lead to deals, but as soon as things get a little rocky — or something better comes along — the entrepreneur is outta there faster than you can say “Renee Zellweger”…”
The reality is that the Googles and YouTubes are outliers. The vast majority of startups are nowhere near as sensational, which doesn’t mean they can’t become successful and profitable businesses in their own right. Unfortunately, everyone is impatient for “the next big hit”. In this day and age where technologies rise and fall so quickly, people easily dismiss products as failures if they aren’t boasting millions of users after 6 months. They fall out of favor with the media, who quickly move on to whatever looks hot and sensational. And to me, this is wasted talent. There are a lot of great ideas out there, but the entrepreneurs behind them are too focused on being discovered and trying to be the next Hot Startup To Be Acquired In A $XBillion Deal. This is not unlike aspiring dancers whose career goals are to become famous or the next Mikhail Baryshnikov. If that’s their goal, they’re going to end up very disappointed. They should choose dance as a career because they love the art and can think of no better way to express emotion than through a grande jete.
This brings me back to the O’Reilly article quote and how Google has been working on GWT (Google Web Toolkit) for some time until it finally got more attention this year with the announcement of Google Wave. GWT definitely is not the sexiest product out there compared to the social media phenomenons that the media drool over, but it works really well. And it’s all due to some 10,000 hours of coding, testing, and refining by the GWT team over the last few years.
Patience is a forgotten virtue.