While the definition of success is quite straight forward – “the accomplishment of an aim”, the process of achieving aims, especially large ones, is mysterious. It should involve hard work, smart work, sometimes a bit of luck, a bit of genes and some other circumstances, I thought. After listening to an audio book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell I had to completely reorganise my understanding of the sources of success.
To begin with, the best sportsmen are born in the beginning of the year. I had little expectations reading Outliers, but already 1st chapter blew threw away me from regularity by an outstanding insight – statistically almost all best professional hockey and many other sports players are born in the beginning of the year and very few are born in the end of the year. According to R. Barnsley’s research, the best hockey players were born beween January to March period (40% of all best players), 30% were born April-June, 20% were born July-Septmeber and only 10% between October and December. That was a huge shake of all my theories! Why? How come?
Success in sports (and education) depends on a single date, when sportsmen (pupils) are grouped. For many years nobody understood, that children grouping in sports by year of birth is crucial to their success in future. It is a common practice that children born in lets say 1991 are all playing in the same team, but what is left unnoticed or underestimated – if you are born in the beginning (lets say January) of the 1991, you have a one year maturity advantage over a child who is born in December of the same year. In such an early age the difference is profound – older children are faster, stronger and even smarter. All these characteristics would converge in time, but unfortunately couch already has to select the best players to play official games agains other teams. And who are selected to train and play more? Who take the leadership? As the older players take the leadership, they play longer, have more responsibility, take more critical decisions and over time gain even stronger advantage over the younger players. Consequently, January – March born children produce better results and over time become the best players, while October-December born students struggle and over time fail to become leaders.
Starting date of the school year defines your chances of the success. As January 1st is the border date in sports, the1st of September (or any date that marks the start of the education year in the country) is border date in education. Therefore, if you are born in September, you have a one year advantage over the pupils who are born just before the education year, lets say August. Which of these pupils have better calculation, reading, comprehending, speaking skills?
Let me tell a personal story. Up to this discovery I could never really understand and explain, why my cousin failed and never finished the school. She was born in April, just 7 days later than me. Education system at that time required parents to bring children to the school at age 6 or 7. Please, now imagine my cousin and me just turning from 5 to 6 years old in April and just after few months attending the 1st class in the school together with some of the children, who went to school 7 years old and they had birthday in October. Even though we went to the same class, our age difference with some of the children were 1.5 years! Obviously, that did not add confidence. As a result, my cousin hated school, had poor grades and even failed exams. She finished only 10 classes and never returned to education afterwards. Was it because she was not smart enough or was it because she started to attend school so early and did not get confidence, which dragged over the years and resulted in hating school and failing many times? Well, her older sister was one of the best students, so it is definitely not that she had no potential. Nor that she has no intellectual capabilities, even though now she is a house-wife, raising two children. Why did the same pattern not happened to me, since i was born almost the same day? For sure, the risk was very similar. The difference path could be explained by the gender behaviour difference in the class – while excellent study was respected among girls, it was not very cool thing among boys. Instead, boys were competing on who is stronger and cooler. Competition in who has better grades among girls, did not serve well my cousin, while boys did not had this serious competition, which gave me probably space to grow.
These discoveries results in several contemplations/suggestions:
(1) When raising children don’t have expectations that your child will be an outstanding sportsman if he is born in the end of the year and the training is based on the year they are born. It does not mean he/she should not do the sports, but in a traditional way probability to become the best professional sportsman is low. Either child has to work extra time comparing to other children, or come to the training already prepared and ready to play on the same or better level as peers.
(2) If your child is born on January to March period, expect that he/she will admire sports and will have high chances of success. Of course extra preparation is essential to gain comparative advantage over peers, however, initial age-based advantage is already there.
(3) Take care if your children are having age disadvantage in the school. They need extra preparation and teachers need to be informed of the age gap.
(4) Take into consideration, that if your children are born in the beginning of the school year, they are most likely quite good in education. They just perhaps need to translate confidence into positive results, thus it is important to direct to the next development point.
(5) It would be great, if educators would group children according to their level of certain subject. Please read this interesting article of how the family in England swapped the house with Danish family, there are some great insights about education system in Denmark, which is a bit different from other education systems, better addressing the problem of age.
Another critical success factor is how long you spend refining the skill. It is a common sense that the longer you study and practice the skill, the better you become. Some researches estimate even precisely that 10000 hours of practicing allows to master any skill. How much do you practice any desired skill and what results do you expect in that time? In a study by K. Anders violinists at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music were divided into three groups: “stars”, “good” and who were unlikely to become professional violinists. All three groups were then asked the same question: over your entire career how many hours have you practiced playing violin? It appears that each “star” performed at least 10000 hours, “good” students had ~8000 hours and third group – 4000 hours. The same results were retrieved by Ericsson for professional pianists, who by the age of twenty had 10000 hours comparing to 2000 hours for amateur pianists.
These two conclusions – circumstances and time spent, give me lots of comfort, hope and encouragement. Sometimes we naturally blame misfortune, lack of talent or other things, but as a matter of fact, success really depends on (1) where you are – are you in a right spot at the right moment and (2) how many hours did we spent practicing something. As a result, I should try to position in the best space (perhaps among amazing friends and growing and innovative environment) and spent lots of hours (more than 10000) to expect something significant. Both of challenges are uneasy, but with the latter it takes 4 years of regular 8 hours 7 days a week practicing to reach 10000 hours!