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What Does It Take To Make Great Things?

In his 2008 bestseller Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously highlighted the 10,000 hour “rule.” The “rule” is that it usually takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert at something.

One of his examples is the Beatles. Over a four-year period, they played over 1,200 shows in Hamburg, Germany and played for over 10,000 hours together. Then, they were ready to conquer the world, says Gladwell. They had become experts at producing and playing “great” music.

But was it the 10,000 hours of playing time or something else that allowed the Beatles to produce great things?

In the DADA model (and Boyd’s OODA Loop), you collect data after each action. You analyze that data to make a better decision and to take a better action next time. You loop through this process:

In Hamburg, the Beatles created a loop like this. They played a song and saw how the crowd reacted. If the crowd react positively, they played that song again. If the crowd reacted negatively, the Beatles didn’t play that song again, or tweaked it to make it different. Then, they played the tweaked song to see how the crowd reacted. They looped through until they got it right. Until they knew what the crowd would like. Until they knew a song was “great.”

But was it the 10,000 hours of doing this or the number of loops the Beatles did?

Was it the 10,000 hours of playing or the 1,200 concerts the Beatles played, where they could see the reaction of the crowd?

Was it the time spent or the number of times the Beatles got feedback?

The DJ Avicii started young. By the time he was a worldwide phenomenon, he didn’t have 10,000 hours of practice. But what he had was a lot of feedback loops before he produced something “great.”

In the documentary True Stories, Avicii says, “The first half year was me just trying to rip off other people’s sounds. And once you’ve done that a thousand times, you start improvising. Maybe I can do these two chords first but then go to that chord and that, you know. That’s what I started coming up with unique stuff.”

His friends said Avicii was always trying to finish a song quickly. In the documentary, one of them says, “I would say, ‘Yeah, maybe we should see each other again and continue.’ And he was like, ‘Ah, we need to finish now. It’s better to finish now – then we can do a new song tomorrow.’”

Avicii would finish a song, then move on to the next one. He’d finish a song and send it out to a music blog for feedback. And he’d get feedback from his friends. Every new song was a new opportunity for a feedback loop.

Avicii created great things not through 10,000 hours of practice, but through lots of feedback loops. Maybe 1,000. Maybe 2,000. Maybe more.

And that’s probably how the Beatles created great things, too. Not as much as due to the quantity of time spent, but through time spent in front of an audience. Time spent getting feedback and incorporating that feedback into the next thing they created.

There are other feedback loops in life, too. Not all of them are positive.

There are social loops. Business loops. Biological loops. Dopamine loops. Loops where data is collected and analyzed and the decisions are made and the actions are taken at a level that isn’t conscious. Where you become a passenger. Not a driver.

If you know Avicii’s story, you know he got caught up in loops that happened at a level below the conscious. Social and alcohol and dopamine loops that he couldn’t escape.

Loops are powerful. If you have too many negative loops, they can take over. You can become their victim.

But if you create the right loops (and lots of them), you can create things the way the Beatles and Avicii did.

If you create the right loops (and lots of them), you can make great things.


For more on the DADA process, see A Spy's Guide To Thinking.

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