I recently graduated from business school. Like any good education, it teaches you more about what you DON’T know than what you do. Ultimately it’s merely enabled me to ask more interesting questions.
Now, more “interesting” is in the eye of the beholder, but just like learning a new language, education, especially one specializing in a certain field like business, gives you access to a new vocabulary. This new vocabulary in turn enables new ways to describe and interpolate the environment.
So in this vein I wanted to talk about my life’s “10K”.
A 10K in the business world is actually the filing that every public company must provide to the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission). It is, in a nutshell, everything an investor would supposedly need to know before buying or selling stock in the company.
If you’ve never read a 10-K, you should do it at least once. Aside from the detailed financials, they can be pretty fascinating reads. They will cover the company’s core businesses. How it performed this past year. What challenges/successes they had and what the leadership is planning to do about those challenges.
Pick a public company that you patronize (with money and/or sarcasm) and check it out. For instance, did you know that iPad and iPhone sales DWARF all Mac sales for Apple? About 5 times worth – at least in 2012. It will probably even be more drastic in 2013. Or that Coca-Cola shipped 27.7 Billion units of what amounts to mostly sugar-water around the world? Or that they have a coffee brand in Japan named Georgia, which I actually drank religiously, without knowing it was a Coke product, while I lived there. Also Kyle McLachlan gives it the David Lynch thumbs up, so it must be awesome.
A lot of the news articles you see posted about different companies’ health and outlook come directly from reading these annual (10-K) and quarterly (10-Q) reports. Often, so called “analysts” do nothing more than repeat what is said in the report with little to no insight. By no means am I suggesting that everyone divert time from their Game of Thrones episodes to read a dry, if interesting, 10-K. But, especially if you have any interest in investing, reading these reports will put you on par with many of the “experts” who try to sway you about a company’s relative health or seemingly imminent demise. It will also increase your BS-O-Meter when someone tries to impress you with their business or investment acumen. Don’t let them get away with it!
But I digress. I bring up the 10-K for 2 reasons.
The first is that after looking at these for awhile, I started to see how useful this process could be for my own life. Evaluating every year anew, acting like I’m going to have to JUSTIFY the time I spent to my shareholders (i.e. my co-workers, family, and friends) puts a lot more importance to the decisions I make throughout the year. A 10-K holds COMPANIES accountable for what they do throughout the year. A personal 10-K holds ME accountable for how I’ve lived my life. How am I going to feel if that report mostly involves Angry Birds, eating fast food, and watching worthless TV shows and movies? I’m not saying that doing any of those things is wrong or bad, but when I look at the things that I’ve actually accomplished that have had a real impact on the people in my life, those things may not be the best ways to spend my time.
This brings me to my second reason for bringing up the 10-K. It just so happens that I recently listened to the much lauded/criticized Malcom Gladwell book, Outliers. He brings up a somewhat controversial topic that after a certain “threshold”, the only difference between the “good” and “great” people in any field is practice. Specifically, at about 10,000 hours (or 10K) of practice is when he and a few other researchers start to see fantastic accomplishments emerge. He uses Bill Joy, one of the founders of the internet, Bill Gates, whom you probably know already, and even the Beatles to illustrate this point. Now, some of his evidence in the book is anecdotal and susceptible to interpretation and legitimate criticism, but I think Gladwell does a great job at taking common “truths” about the world and people and giving us a different perspective on how genius and greatness might actually work. He acknowledges that all these people are special, but he also wants us to ponder that timing, culture, and practice played an equally important role in their successes. Because they had developed a certain expertise before others, when opportunities presented themselves they were able to take advantage of them.
What I took from his book is not that 10,000 hours of focused practice is the Holy Grail number to become wildly successful, but that reaching for that expertise is a clear indication of you separating yourself from your peers. If his number is to believed, this breaks down to about 20 hours a week for about 10 years. Looking at life in this way is an interesting exercise and one I encourage you to try on, if just for the novelty of it.
For me it looked like this. 10K hours is a lot of time. There are only so many hours in a day and so many years in a lifetime. There is literally no TIME to learn them all. So I really have to CHOOSE. What do I want to be an expert at? What kind of opportunities do I want to be prepared for when they present themselves? My answers to these questions are not iron clad and still a little rough, but here they are anyway.
- I would like to be considered a “pro” by the USTA (US Tennis Association) – not because I want to compete in the US Open (but wouldn’t that be awesome?!) but because it’s a sport I love and I have some talent that I’ve never fully realized.
- I want to eventually become a writer (which outlets like this blog help give me the practice and feedback necessary to realize that goal)
- I want to position myself to capitalize on the next great paradigm shifts that will come to society through the dramatic changes wrought by technologies like AI, bio-engineering etc..
These are goals outside of being the best son, brother, husband, father and friend that I can be – all seemingly full-time jobs. However, it does start to focus the mind on what ultimately I find important and how little time there is to accomplish these things – especially without a plan. A life spent in pursuit of excellence is one well spent in my opinion. Now that I have another novel way to look at how to get there, I can schedule and figure out a way to make that happen. I may even schedule an annual report, of sorts, with all my stakeholders, so that they are as involved in my success as I am in theirs. I don’t see me succeeding any other way.
Here are some interesting reactions to Malcom Gladwell’s theory, including a bit from Tim Ferris, another fascinating person who has broken down how to learn just about anything – and may have something to say about that ridiculously high 10K number. Check him out too.
What are some great insights YOU have in navigating what you want out of life? What are your secrets? How are you going to spend your next 10,000 hours?