Even a Brand Manager needs their 10,000 hours of practice to be great

Bob Lefsetz gets it.  And I’m not just talking about the music industry but business overall.  He gets what it takes to be great in your industry of choice.

In his most recent letter, Bob rallied against a music industry that seems focused on young “prodigies”… overnight success stories who might have the talent, but haven’t put in the time or practice to really become great.  His argument is based on Malcolm Gladwell‘s “Outliers” as he writes:

Innate talent, pure desire, they’re not enough.  Sure, Mozart started writing music when he was six, but he didn’t compose a masterwork until he was twenty one, after he’d put in 10,000 hours of practice.  How can you have accumulated 10,000 hours worth of practice if you’re not even close to twenty one?  Turns out that’s the rule.  You’ve got to have 10,000 hours

He goes on to write that it is NOT about age.  It is about determination:

I’m not saying you’ve got to be old to make it, maybe you just have to be doggedly focused.  Not only on making it, but rehearsing, getting it right.  The music industry has lobbied against this. It has not encouraged its stars to practice.

And it is in that last sentence that Lefsetz makes a comment that Brand Managers should pay attention to.  Those that are great in their industries, be it sports, music or science are not great based on talent alone.

They are great because of the time they have put in time to being great.

Why does that matter to marketers and Brand Maangers?  Why does it matter to our own careers?  Well think about your competition, the Brand Manager running your biggest rival.  Chances are the two of you have a pretty similar education background.  And more likely than not, you both have similar resources at work.  So how can you get an edge…how can you be the better Brand Manager?

If you believe Gladwell and Lefsetz have it right, you will get that edge through practice and focus.  You will get that edge by throwing yourself at the task of being a better marketer.  Lefsetz hints at how you can do this when he talks about Millenials and their use of technology:

Maybe the conventional wisdom is right, today’s kids do have a short attention span.  Then again, they play videogames for hours, they surf online for days on end.  That’s why your teenager is a computer expert, why he can run your machine at what appears to be light speed.  Because it’s second-nature to him.

To make the comparison back, this means you need to make marketing second-nature by practicing, by putting in your 10,000 hours.  You won’t get there in your day-to-day job activities.  You need to go above and beyond.  So with that in mind, here are a few ways Brand Managers can find their 10,000 hours of practice:

  1. Start blogging: Seth Godin wrote that “Blogging makes you a better marketer because it teaches you humility in your writing.”  I’d add that blogging is the best practice in marketing you can find.
  2. Dive into Social Media such as Twitter: Twitter gets a bad rap from people that don’t fully understand it.  For me, Twitter is practice.  When I connect and talk with other marketers through Twitter, it is like being at marketing batting practice.
  3. Volunteer your marketing brain power: I’d argue that spending 2 hours helping a non-profit with their marketing will teach you more than staying at work an extra two hours.  And you get the added benefit of doing some good in the process.
  4. Read everything and anything: Knowledge is power and the best form of practice.  Make RSS your best friend and read what the best minds in business think on their blogs.  Get involved in the conversations through comments.  Read the top business books each year.
  5. Meet new people: Take advantage of breakfast, lunch and coffee breaks to meet new people in your industry.  Go to industry conferences and actually make use of them to network.  Shake hands, have drinks and keep on practicing.

These are just a few of the ways I’m trying to get my 10,000 hours of practice at being the best at marketing that I can be.  What would you add to the list?  How are you practicing to be a better marketer and Brand Manager?

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  1. says

    Hey Dave,

    Great post. I read Outliers last month and had a nice chat about it with @afhill on her blog, where she reviewed the book.

    While the book received a good deal of criticism for being "unscientific," I think your post here reinforces the point Gladwell is making.

    If you enjoy doing something or want to be good at it, regardless of whether you reach "outlier" status, it takes practice, time and commitment.

    I did a post yesterday encouraging "social" employees in small businesses to step up and take charge of their career/job/position/job description and I think I'll go back and link it to your thinking here.

    I dove into it all…your 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. And I'm THRILLED with everything I'm learning. (I'm also learning from any mistakes I'm making!)

    Seth Godin couldn't be more right about blogging. It's great practice. And for me, blogging isn't about the value I'm placing on my bottom line, but the value I'm placing on the top of my head.


  2. says


    I finished Outliers a couple of weeks ago as well. My takeaway: success is composed of three elements.

    1. Born into outstanding opportunity that provide disproportionate luck and advantages: 60%

    2. Work diligently and with focus to master the chosen field 25%

    3. Innate skill way above the average 15%

    Not a particularly novel argument. But I bet if you talked to a lot other folks they'd weigh the three elements differently with a lot of people putting more emphasis on innate talent, a little more on work ethic, and a lot less on born advantage.

    I think your 5 action steps are dead on. I'm sure most BM's and ABMs give "head nods" to reading books and meeting people. The blogging element takes commitment and discpline and I could see folks rationalizing their way out of that. However, after being inspired to blog by you and Godin, I already feel like a better marketer through my blogging.

    Your suggestion to volunteer your skill set to another organization sounds a bit controversial. I think it's clearly a win for the volunteer marketer personally and the non-profit. I wonder how large corporations would view that. My gut tells me neutral to negative. I know executives sit on different boards. But my sense is companies don't like the idea of their mid-level employees taking on side projects. What do you think?

    Good post my man.

  3. says

    Great post Dave! It is very important for beginning marketer, or any early on profession, to understand being the best at what you do takes time. It takes experience, constant learning, crafting, and dedication.

    You also make a great point of advising everyone, experts and entry level, to constantly LEARN about their trade. One of the best resources is to read and learn from those in your profession that has become successful – ground up! We're out there, and we want to share our knowledge and insight!

  4. says

    All – appreciate the great comments. Glad to see this post resonating.

    Elliott – Interesting point on the opinion on volunteering time. My feeling is that companies have to support this action in their employees and the best ones do. Just look at the Top 100 Companies to work for that just came out from Fortune. Listing after listing talked about companies supporting their companies volunteering in the community. I'd argue that they should support you volunteering your best skill. Sure I could go spend a couple of hours helping at a shelter, but I wonder if my time would be more valuable helping that shelter market themselves to potential donors, etc. In today's world, it should be every company's mandate to help their community and encourage their employees to do the same.

    Brian – Mentoring is a great point that I should add as #6. That is a tremendous way to keep your skills sharp and keep from forgetting what you know :)

  5. says

    Totally agree. Building on your point, it's not about just hours; it's about mental cross-training. I started working in advertising when I was 17 years old. I didn't start to get good as a writer until I started doing a ton of freelance work for the J. Peterman catalog. It was always a blank slate ("how do I sell this vest?"), always on a ludicrously tight deadline, and there was a very high standard to live up to, established by my friend and mentor Don Staley.

    A trap for brand managers is that they can find themselves plowing the same field over and over again — if you're a CPG guy you might go from detergent to soap to deodorant. It's important to get some of your 10,000 hours doing marketing in a category you have zero experience in, selling to a consumer you haven't already studied to death.

    What we learn by cross-training enables us to see our day-to-day jobs in an entirely fresh and different way. There is no substitute for perspective, and it can only be earned by getting out of our comfort zones.

    How do you know if you're learning? Here's a good test. What was the last time you felt entirely out of your depth? When was the last time you felt a little panicked and worried you might fall flat on your face? If that hasn't happened to you in the last 6 months, you are NOT learning anything new :-)

    • says

      Tom – Brilliant. The realm of cross-training is something that enough people don't think about. I was just talking with someone the other day who talked about at her old job, all they wanted to do was hire marketers with CPG experience…even though the company wasn't in the CPG industry. And guess what – the hired the CPG people and they fell on their face because they didnt know how to market in a non-CPG world. That's why I think point #4 is so important. If you volunteer your time, it is going to automatically be outside your industry. After all, we'd get fired for “volunteering” our time to someone in the same field. But if you are use to CPG and volunteer your time to a non-profit like say the United Way, you cross-train in a new industry all together.

  6. says

    Dave, I just finished reading the book "talent is overrated" last month and Geoff Colvin, the author, proposes something similar. His premise is that talent is most certainly not enough. Colvin proposes that a very high amount of *deliberate practice* is what makes all the difference. Quantity and quality of practice is what makes the difference between average and extraordinary performers.

  7. says

    Great post. I think that sometimes innate talent can create short lived success, but hard work is the only way to sustain success and create work you are proud of. Agree with @kdoohan's comment that the only difference between ordinary and extraordinary is doing the hard work, gaining experience, and constantly questioning what you already know. Completely agree with your 5 points of starting on your 10,000 hours of practice. I actually learned about your post through twitter. Thanks for starting the debate.

  8. Chris says

    Great post. Unfortunately, I think the a high percentage of the young talent that possesses an innate ability too often fail to practice to truly become great. The music industry you note is a great example of this, just think of the brilliant work we'd be getting from Brittany or Jessica Simpson if only they had to spend a little more time in the trenches ;). The same holds true in sports…how many top prospects can you name that just never panned out? I'd bet that if we could dig a little deeper, we'd learn that many of them just couldn't get over the hump of hard work.

    Fantastic advice, and I think that once people hit their 10,000 hours and write their masterpiece, they should find the next thing to become a master at.

    In the end, hard work and practice will alays win.

  9. Matt Ile says

    Hey Dave… I really appreciated reading this post. I am thankful that at least one of my students got it. All those papers and endless re-writes in 8th grade English weren't for mastery of the English language at the time. It was my hope that the students would see that effort and work ethic development was really the main goal of every writing assignment. It takes time to become excellent in anything even with God given talent.

    • says

      Thank you Mr. Ile (I still cant call you just by your first name). You deserve much of the credit for this blog even being here for that very reason. If it wasn't for you pushing me on the papers and re-writes in 8th Grade, I would have never developed my love of writing. And without that love of writing, I sure wouldn't be here sharing my thoughts on a blog for all the world to see. So thank you for pushing us students to get our 10,000 hours of practice at an early age!

      But of course, now that I know you are reading, I am really going to have to watch my grammar and spelling.

  10. says

    Great post, thanks. I have a lot of your points already in mind as I start my career. There is still a lot I can learn and you give some great tips.


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