?> An Experiential Outlier | almost an M

An Experiential Outlier (part 1)


iStock_000006875088XSmallIn Outliers, Gladwell writes that “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” That is 10,000 hours of practice to get at some mastery level of proficiency. The author continues to share that this roughly breaks down to 10 years of experience. Some of his examples as well as simple calculations demonstrate that the experiential quota is viable in 5 to 6 years.

When considering missions, the 10,000 hour rule makes a lot of sense. Working in a cross-cultural context begins slow most of the time. The first year or years are usually spent in language and cultural acquisition. Being a student of language and culture is not over at that time, but it is well-advanced. Then more mission learning and experience are logged through a series of trials that are often associated with failure. Throughout all of this process relationships are being formed, history and trust are being built. Disciples are being made. Then after some period of time, those that have stuck it out will often begin to see some ways to advance their efforts have a foundation of key, healthy relationships, and have built requisite levels of trust to see healthy results.

In thinking through a number of relationships with M’s throughout Europe and beyond, I see that the 10,000 hour rule has a strong correlation with impact. With a range of paradigms and approaches, missionaries that have some 10 years of experience that is relevant to their culture and context are generally seeing greater results than those that do not have this level of experience.

Investing 10,000 hours in anything is not a guarantee for success, however. Some limiting factors seem to include:

  1. Moral (spiritual) failure;
  2. Living out or seeking to promote an ethnocentric worldview;
  3. Not investing in nationals;
  4. Not pursuing relationships with either non-believers or with nationals that are heavily involved in the lives of non-believers; and
  5. Placing emphasis on supervisory responsibilities.

There is more to come on this in some future posts, but I wanted to go ahead and throw the idea out there for stimulation and discussion.

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  1. Jeff says:

    I wish this concept was taught in an orientation setting. It might prevent an unexperience “leader” from wiping out years of advance for the sake of a “better idea.”

    The great thing is that once a person moves into another role, he/she doesn’t have to begin again at 0 hours. Many things I learned over the past 10 years are paying dividends in my current assignment.

  2. Grady Bauer says:

    Excellent post from an excellent book. We also need to keep this concept in mind in regards to patience. We have a tendency to hear about a new method or approach, and we try it for a short time…and if we don’t see results almost immediately, we move on to something else….never waiting long enough to become an expert on anything. Looking forward to more posts about this.

  3. adminsmile says:

    Thank you guys, you have saved me two future posts. 🙂 To future readers, I encourage you to consider the above comments carefully. They are from guys that have already put in their 10,000 hours and have good insight.

    Jeff – I agree that there is a possibility to apply learning and experience from one context to another. This reduces the time-frame for gaining proficiency in a new context. The healthy missional person / community will be aware of these and be diligent to learn / develop in areas of deficiency.

    Grady – Yes, we would do well to lengthen the time-frame for expectations. Additionally, I would add that for mentors or supervisors, they would serve their protege well to encourage and seek to help him/her learn through failure.

  4. C. Holland says:

    I agree with all five points. If missionaries were more aware of theses five issues, I suspect that they would avoid a lot of misery and even stick around longer than most!

  5. adminsmile says:

    Thanks C.Holland. These are unpacked a little more in the next post: http://almostm.com/2009/08/an-experiential-outlier-five-pitfalls-part-2/

  6. […] consider for your own body of believers, experts encourage you to start now. Almost an M notes Gladwell’s findings in Outliers that true mastery of any subject requires 10,000 hours, which is supposed to be achievable within […]

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