We need to be both.
Outliers seem to appear from nowhere, full of natural talent, taking The world by storm: we tend to think of characters like Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart, The Beatles, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson.
Natural talent is a fallacy.
We just love the idea too much to let go of it.
Listen to any sports programme for only a while and count how many times this or that sportsperson is said to be a natural born footballer or gymnast or tennis player. It’s important to recognise, height, weight, and the type of muscles people are born with may exclude from certain sports and point us in the directions of others, but what we really find beneath the surface of star performances are thousands of hours of practice.*
I suggest the practice of outliers is to move beyond the safe and predictable and familiar, to see and understand and try and fail and feel more.
This demands we are also inliers: people who care for and maintain a strong interior life, including the intrinsic curiosity and desire to explore certain things, which pushes us out to wonder and wander more.**
Habits are both formed by, and lead to, thousands of hours of practise. Paradoxically, whilst sounding dry and boring, habits are what allow us to journey to new places and have new experiences, build skills, and produce geniuses.
Everything then becomes a useful artefact to us: the work of other musicians, experiments in selling vinyl records, playing solidly for two years in Hamburg, endless hours on a computer terminal because you’ve figured out a way of bypassing access, beavering away in a home-brew computer club, or, whatever it is you discover and so on your journey.
Go wander, go roam: the bigger your world, the more you have to use to make astonishingly useful things.
‘Don’t wait for it. Pick yourself. Teach yourself.’^
(*The eponymous 10,000 hours, or ten years, of painful hard practice; Twyla Tharp reminds me how Mozart’s hands were deformed by the age of twenty eight because of all the hard work,and Amadeus himself wrote: “People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as me. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.” Just this morning I was listening to a sports programme discussing England footballer Wayne Rooney’s career ahead of his 100th cap for his country; those contributing to the conversation were telling of when he was only fourteen – he’s now twenty-eight – being the first to the training ground: his graft would have got him noticed, meaning he trained with better players and spent more time training – a kind of never-ending circle of excellence. )
(**This is also about our values, beliefs, and personal compass. My own wandering and roaming through beliefs and activities has made me wonder why I feel this to be so safe, to ask what’s the anchored core.)
(^I’ve finished reading – or eating, as my friend Steve would say – Seth Godin’s Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck, so I had to include one last quote. Thanks for bearing with me as I’ve quoted from Seth’s book – it is 571 pages long!)