During his Q&A, Malcolm Gladwell noted that he has yet to find an excellent example of a social phenomenon that does not follow an inverted U shaped curve. This prompted me to ask what I thought to be the most obvious question. What about mastery? If it takes 10,000 hours to master something, is there some point past that where you’re getting a negative effect?
The afternoon started with me arriving at Gladwell’s talk, picking up my subsidized copy of “David and Goliath”, and realizing that nearly every seat was already taken. I found a lone seat close enough to the center aisle to give me a mostly unobstructed view. It wasn’t until after the rest of the seats were full that I remembered a blog post by Tim Ferris I had read.
Ferris relates an experience he had at a yearly conference put on by Warren Buffet and some other big shot financial types. The gist of the post is that every year, people line up early, clamoring for front row seats at the talk. But jostling for a front row seat is wasting a real opportunity for learning. Shaking Warren Buffet’s hand for a 5 second photo-op is nice, but you can learn just as much by sitting in the back. The real opportunity lies in the ability to ask Warren Buffet any financial question you want. However, if you wait until the Q&A session begins before getting in line to ask a question, there’s no way you’ll be far enough up to get a turn.
I approached the microphone, surprised there wasn’t already a line of people eagerly awaiting their opportunity to interact with Malcolm Gladwell. As I walked towards it, a woman standing next to it asked me if I had a question. I gave her a slight nod, too nervous to look anyone in the eye. At first I thought she was going to fall in line behind me, but then I realized she was one of the organizers. She was just glad someone was actually going to use one of the dedicated question mics. Malcolm Gladwell wasn’t.