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      We’ve raised just under $6,000 so far, which means we’ve reached the first goal at $5,000 – five linked articles in a series about political concepts and how to actually use them. Most people learn political and economic concepts, but the knowledge really does them no good, since they no on explains when they work […]
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Sunday: 10,000 hours

Chesley Sullenberger, 1973

Chesley Sullenberger, 1973

Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, is about the characteristics of leaders and other success stories.  In case you didn’t know, geniuses don’t automatically rise to the top of the food chain.  In fact, quite a few end up as security guards on the midnight shift.  It is also true that you don’t need to be a genius to be a success.  If your IQ is around 120, you’re capable of doing just about anything you set your mind to.

So, if ability is not the determining factor to becoming a success at anything, what are the factors?  Gladwell identifies several including opportunity, family background, creativity, the degree to which the culture you live in is “top down” and one other teeny-tiny thing- practice.  Yep, that old adage “practice makes perfect” is absolutely true.  If you want to become an expert at anything and be able to create new things from your starting materials, you have to have a lot of practice time under your belt.  The research points to a very consistent number of hours to attain this level of mastery for any field- 10,000 hours.

This week, we’ve seen a very dramatic demonstration of that requirement in the person of Chesley Sullenberger.  Captain Sullenberger, a 1973 graduate of the Air Force Academy, former fighter pilot and US Airways pilot used all of those hours of practice and experience to glide his aircraft into the icy waters of the Hudson River after it was disabled by birdstrike.  Oh, did I mention that Sullenberger had a glider license as well?  All of the elements of success came together for Sullenberger and his crew including the cockpit training that allowed for him to get control of the aircraft from his co-pilot.  But it was Sullenberger’s years of practice, practice, practice with jets and gliders that allowed him to create and execute a water landing from a gliding AirBus.

I woke up this morning to a headline in the NYTimes that declares that the nation has faith in Barack Obama and will wait patiently while he gets his $%#@ together.  That’s great because Obama has virtually no practice time under his belt.  His whole political career has consisted of a lot of amazing opportunities and family background.  He doesn’t strike me as a creative type.  I hang out with a lot of creatives including my Brook who has a surplus.  Obama’s no creative.  He does have an uncanny knack for staging.  I’m beginning to think even the Reverend Wright debacle was carefully staged so he could deliver a speech on racism.  But choreographing a campaign is quite a different thing from running a country.  This sounds obvious but it is even more important in Obama’s case.

George Bush was allowed to get away with murder because his predecessor had left the place in tip-top shape, having had 8 years of a governorship and 8 years of a presidency to practice.  We know that Bush didn’t practice and was a lazy president.  But there was enough of a cushion built into the economy that we could ride out Bush’s presidency.  Now, that cushion is gone.  Here is when experience matters a great deal.  We could have had Hillary Clinton who was there for the 8 years of governor training, 8 years of presidential training and 8 years of senatorial training.  That would have given her.  210,240 hours of experience to fall back on.  One could argue that she wasn’t running anything for 16 of those years but we know that she wasn’t a typical first lady and she took on health care and peace in Northern Ireland while the Big Dawg was president.  So, OK, let’s take away her 8 years in Arkansas because that was not at a federal level.  That would leave her with 140,160 hours.  Let’s give her a month off for every year for vacation.  That brings us to 128,640 hours.  Let’s give her a 40 hour work week.  That brings us to 30,720 hours.  Not bad.

Now, let’s look at Obama.  We’ll exclude all of his work on the state level just as we did for Clinton.  It’s fair.  She did tons of work for Arkansas in the areas of education and children’s welfare but let’s put it aside for a moment.  He’s been a senator for 4 years.  We’ll give him a month off for vacation every year and a 40 hour week.  Yeah, he’s probably worked more than that per week during the campaign season but it normalizes with respect to Clinton.  That gives him 7,680 hours.  At this rate, it will take him a couple of years for him to know the emergency procedures.

Just sayin’.