Thursday, November 20, 2008

An example of getting the most out of your opportunities

My copy of Malcolm Gladwell's new book "Outliers" arrived from Amazon this week. [I'm about 75 pages in.]

In the book's second chapter, Gladwell describes how in 1960, when they were first starting out, The Beatles were invited to play at a club in Hamburg, Germany, that featured live music every night of the week.

On their first trip to Hamburg, The Beatles played 106 nights, typically for 5-8 hours per night. The next time they went, they played more than 90 times, again for 5-8 hours. And so on. In all, the band made five trips to Hamburg between 1960-1962.

According to Gladwell, they performed for 270 nights in about 18 months. By 1964, The Beatles "had performed live an estimated 1200 times. Do you know how extraordinary that is? Most bands today don't perform 1200 times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart."

As one person close to the band put it:

"They were no good on stage when they went [to Hamburg] and they were very good when they came back. It was the making of them."

Gladwell contends that while the intense hours of practice clearly impacted the band's future, had The Beatles never been invited to Hamburg, they "might well have taken a different path," and not become one of the greatest bands in history.

The author writes:

"[The Beatles] were the beneficiaries of some kind of unusual opportunity. Lucky breaks don't seem like the exception. They seem like the rule."

That's true, but I also believe The Beatles (and others who've had great success) were unique in that they accepted the challenge. How many other bands were invited to go to Hamburg but for whatever reason, didn't go?

More importantly, what about the other bands who did go to Hamburg but didn't have the passion, energy, and work ethic to get on stage for 270 nights in only 18 months? How many quit after the first 10 or 20 or 100 nights? How many other bands performed for 270 nights?

Yes, they had an "unusual opportunity," but so did a lot of others. What's more important is that they took full advantage of that opportunity.