Tag Archives: gladwell

10,000 Hours to Performance Mastery

I’m on a Malcolm Gladwell kick as of late. A week ago I got a Google Alert that his new book was coming out in November. Ever since then I’ve been scouring the Internet for lectures and presentations that I can find. There’s something about his message that absolutely appeals to me. The most recent video I watched was called Genius 2012.

Gladwell observes, ‘Modern problems require persistence more than genius, and we ought to value quantity over quality when it comes to intelligence… When you’re dealing with something as complex and as difficult as Fermat’s last theorem, you’re better off with a large number of smart guys than a small number of geniuses.’

The point of interest is that he advocates taking problems slowly – noting that expertise comes with approx. 10,000 hours of training. He thereby identifies the ‘mismatch problem’, which is simply the idea that standards used to judge/predict success in a given field don’t match what it takes to be successful in that field. Below is a transcription from Gladwell’s speech:

“But here we’re saying the critical part of what it means to be good, to succeed at the very specific and critical task at finding colon cancers, has nothing to do with speed of facility – on the contrary, it depends on those who are willing to take their time and willing to very very painstakingly go through something that seems like it can be done in a minute. In other words, that’s a mismatch: we select on a cognitive grounds for people being fast at things, but what we really want is a personality characteristic that allows people to be slow at critical things. Here we have the same thing with Wiles in a certain sense. We have erected in our society a system that selects people for tasks like solving Fermat’s or tackling big modern problems on the basis of their intelligence and the smarter they seem to be, the more we push them forward. But what we’re saying with Wiles is, that the critical issue here was not his intellectual brilliance, it was his stubbornness, it was the notion that he was willing to put everything else aside and spend 10,000 hours on a problem no-one else thought could be solved. So, this is the question: Are we actually selecting people for stubbornness? I don’t think we are.”

A lot can be accomplished in 10,000 hours. It’s been said throughout the psychology community that the application of learning towards a craft…any craft for a period of 10,000 hours gets you closer to mastery in that said craft. Now I’ve been at the “craft” of Performance Engineering formally for 7 years an informally for 10 years. If we assumed a steady 40 hour week schedule for let’s say 48 weeks a year (I’m being generous since I often read about PE on my vacation). That’s 13440 just for the 7 formal years. I’m well past the 10,000 hour mark. So how come I don’t feel a master in PE?

I’ve got a lot more in me to achieve mastery of PE. 10 more years won’t be enough to get me to mastery…

Why the Transaction Matters

This morning I took my daughter to our neighborhood Safeway to pick-up groceries. One of the items on our list was sliced Turkey meat for lunches. So like the typical dad that I am, I picked up the pre-packaged meat you find over in the meats and cheeses. When we approached the deli counter, my daughter felt the urge to tell me the place mommy gets turkey is over here. I decided to heed my daughter’s advice and proceeded to wait in line at the deli counter.

There was literally one person in front of me. It appeared as if he had finished his order and was chit-chatting with the clerk. I didn’t want to come off obnoxious so I was willing to wait until their conversation ended. Before that happened, an older gentlemen (probably 80+ years) jumped ahead of me in line. The clerk ended her conversation. Even though she made eye contact with me…even gestured that she would be 1 second while talking to other person, she proceeded to help their older gentlemen who so rudely stepped in line in front of me.

I obviously was frustrated and decided to abandon the line. Was the turkey really that important to me or my daughter? Not really…good customer service is more important to me at the end of the day.

Should I blame the first customer for engaging in a conversation well past the customary service time? Should I fault the older gentlemen for jumping in line in front of me? Should we blame the clerk for pretty much everything?

I think at the end of the day I won’t blame any of the three, but I will think twice before going back to the deli counter again. In the world of software performance, an experience such as this can be incredibly frustrating. Waiting for an assessment to load or a gradebook to render is no different then my example of waiting at the deli counter.

The key point is that every transaction matters. I kid around that I might not go back to the deli counter. I’m on half-joking. I seriously will have reservations about going back. If I see the same clerk, or see there’s a line chances are I will be unlikely to get in line. I might even be unlikely to go the grocery store entirely if my first thought or memory when I have to go grocery shopping, is of this tainted experience. You might laugh, but cognitively speaking this is a realistic thought and one that could have a high probability of turning out.

The real question is why should this matter to the grocery store? Well, I am somewhat of a connector when it comes to grocery shopping. I like to talk about my experiences with my friends…especially friends who live near me and share a lot of the same experiences. I’m not suggesting that I will cause a Tipping Point of sorts with the deli counter at the Safeway, but I will go as far as to say that grocery stores are afraid of people like me just for this reason.

Does it make sense yet? It might not…but essentially what I am saying is that the transaction matters at the end of the day for two reasons. The first is that we don’t want to impair the perception (as well as support) of our users to the point that they question whether they will come back to the use case or much worst, the system. Second, we have to be incredibly mindful (somewhat fearful) that those users who are affected are not capable of influencing other users to abandon use cases or the system as a whole. At the end of the day, our performance credibility is how we rest our laurels.