Malcolm Gladwell wrote Outliers in 2008. It is as relevant today as it was then. Real estate agents, brokers, and managers could all profit from reading it. Gladwell, the author of Blink and Tipping Point, has subtitled this work "The Story of Success", and what he has to say about the topic both shatters some old myths and also provides us with a better understanding of how success comes about.
One of the most memorable chapters in the book is titled "The 10,000-Hour Rule". Its point could be expressed this way: No matter how much talent and native genius you have, to become a success you have to pay your dues. Gladwell considers a number of cases of people who might be thought of as "world-class" geniuses. He points out that "the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play."
The author discusses "Exhibit A" in the study of talent, a 1990s study of violin students at Berlin's elite Academy of Music. Now, all of the people at the school were very talented. But even among the very talented, there are differences in performance ability. With the help of faculty at the school, researchers grouped the violin students into three cohorts. At the very top were those who had been identified as having the potential to become world-class soloists. What the researchers found was this, "the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."
The title of the chapter derives from this fact: "…researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number of true expertise: ten thousand hours." "‘The emerging picture… is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert -- in anything,' writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. ‘In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists … what have you, this number comes up again and again.'"
Does all this have meaning for an aspiring real estate agent? I think so. To be sure, we may not have a standard for measuring a "world-class" real estate agent, and the idea of "practice" does not straightforwardly translate from fields like music and sports to the skills an agent needs to hone. Nonetheless, the general point can be applied. Do you want to become a successful agent? Practice. A lot. Talk to people about real estate. Do open houses. Become totally familiar with available inventory, financing options, and applicable laws. If you don't have transactions, create hypothetical scenarios and write the contracts and do the math. (The role that brokers and managers can play in this should be obvious.) Maybe you won't need to do this for ten thousand hours. Maybe it would be satisfactory to be very good, if not world class. What about five thousand hours? Or three? Or two? Whatever it is, success is not likely to come overnight or without work.
Gladwell also notes the important role that timing may have in the formation of a successful person or business. But this does not necessarily mean that successes arise from environments and times that appear favorable. He shows how some of New York's most successful law firms had their origins in market conditions that, for their founders, seemed meager at best. Unable to garner prestigious business and accounts, these people took "whatever business came in the door." And it was precisely the skills they learned doing that that prepared them to be successful in the business climate to come.
Aspiring agents in the present market may find themselves despairing that they can't/don't get the big transactions. They find themselves just getting by doing rentals, struggling with short sales where banks will cut their commissions, and competing for the homes priced at the bottom of the market. The lesson from Outliers? Hang in there. This market, too, shall pass; and you will have honed skills that will serve you well on your way to becoming one of the successful ones.