Learning to fly

My daughter is a smart kid and an excellent student. She’s also pretty good at a lot of extracurricular things. She’s still young, 11, maybe she’ll be great at a one or two before she’s an adult.

One of the things she’s good at is drums. When she was 8 years old she announced she wanted to play a drum kit. I thought this was a little unusual but I rolled with it and got her a kid’s drum kit and then some lessons. She showed a knack for it and was moving all four of her appendages independently to create beats within a few weeks. Eventually she moved up to a full-sized kit with real cymbals.

It came fairly easy for her. Her drum teacher said she was a natural and with hard work she could be an accomplished musician. Well, my kid likes to do a lot of stuff with the exception of practicing. After three solid years of lessons she still shows promise. She expects it to come easily and it generally does, especially at first. However, greatness never comes easily. So she remains a good drummer.

At the school talent show, another kid brought his kit in and rocked a pretty amazing drum solo for an 11 year old. After the show she remarked to me that he’d only been playing two years. I remarked that he must practice a lot. She blew my remark off.

This is a pattern I’ve seen in students at Creative Circus and colleagues in ad agencies. They show promise in school or in the agency to be really excellent writers or art directors but fail to do any truly great work. In an agency, it’s easy to blame opportunity but in school it’s all about putting in the work.

In classes, I often found myself referring students to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. While not perfect, it does help beat in the idea that in order to be really great at something, one must work at it. Natural Talent alone won’t make you excellent, just talented.

Of course, natural talent can lead to so very bright spots. The odd really good ad or performance. But not consistently great work that builds careers.

Teaching third quarter students, I had the opportunity to see mediocre or promising writers and art directors, through really hard work, transform into really good ones and by graduation a year later land really awesome jobs at places like Wieden and Kennedy. Just ask any pilot, you want to fly, you’ve got to put in the hours or you’ll never get your license.


Posted on: July 17, 2017, by :