Malcolm Gladwell was wrong

Most of my friends seem to now know Malcolm Gladwell as “the guy who writes on Bill Simmons’ website.” But before Gladwell started talking sports for, he did a book called Outliers.

On a scale of 1 to I’ve Read The Book … well, I haven’t actually read the book. But I do know that Gladwell’s central thesis revolves around the “10,000-Hour Rule,” the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a skill to become truly great at it. It’s become a highly influential analysis of what it takes to be successful in life, but it doesn’t take much effort to realize Gladwell’s Rule is fundamentally flawed. He bases his idea on the necessity of those 10,000 hours by examining a bunch of normal people like Bill Gates, Robert Oppenheimer, or the Beatles.

Clearly the 10,000-Hour Rule wouldn’t apply to someone like me.

A funny thing happened shortly after my last blog post: I suddenly got awesome at knitting. I’m not sure exactly how it happened. Three possibilities:

1) Practice really does make perfect, and I just have a short learning curve due to my natural awesomeness.

2) Zoltar Speaks, the carnival fortune-telling machine that Tom Hanks and I went to, really worked; if so, we kinda screwed up by only asking to be Big and learn to knit, respectively. Probably should have asked for something better. (And yes, I did remember the name of the carnival machine from Big without looking it up. Be jealous.)

3) I underwent an experimental brain surgery, Flowers for Algernon style, to increase my knitting prowess, and part of the surgical process was to remove my memory of the surgery. I’m not entirely sure the science checks out on this possibility, though. Zoltar Speaks looks most realistic.

Zoltar: the easiest way around the 10,000-Hour Rule

Armed with my Zoltar-produced breakthrough, I made my triumphant return to knitting class on Wednesday. The old women were overjoyed to see me — either because I remind them of their grandkids who don’t call enough, or because they get confused easily and thought I was from the Social Security Administration.

Victoria, whose age suggests she might’ve been one of the first young adults to complain about having to pay for old people’s social security, was particularly happy to have her prized pupil back and looking surprisingly competent. She told me an anecdote about trying to untangle a ball of yarn that was like the Gordian Knot. I told her she should have cut it with a sword.

Victoria’s face lit up. “No one else here knew what the Gordian Knot was.” Understandable, I thought; it’s not terribly high on the list of famous classical references, and with our education system, most Americans probably didn’t even know who Alexander the Great was until that awful Oliver Stone movie a few years ago. Then she told me that the entire group had also never even heard of the Ides of March. We both started laughing. For the 3,207th time in my life, I bonded with someone by laughing at how dumb everyone else is.

Victoria showed me what she was working on: a washcloth. She told me she could teach me how to make one; it’s a more advanced maneuver, involving adding and dropping stitches (which I’ve actually done often, but never intentionally). As I glanced over at Victoria during the class, I started to realize that she didn’t actually want to knit right now; she preferred to teach. So I agreed to let her teach me washcloths next week.

However, that put the pressure on me to get some scarf work done before this coming Wednesday. Luckily, I was flying now. On Saturday, I spent a couple hours knitting while watching football. At one point, I realized I was enjoying the knitting more than the football, and wondered what the hell was happening to me. I nervously dismissed it as the game’s fault for not being more exciting.

Then something really amazing happened: I ran out of yarn.

I had been given a ball of yarn on my first day of class, and at the time, it seemed huge. But I had whittled it down: slowly at first, then suddenly, much faster. And before I knew it, I didn’t have enough yarn left to do another full row of stitches. And my scarf was only 17 inches. Sure, that’s technically enough to get around my neck, but that’s it. I think that’s more of a collar than a scarf.

So in addition to the washcloth, I’m going to need Victoria to teach me how to add more yarn. For now, though, I’m going to show off my jump to Knitting Master. Week One saw my knitting be the size of a quarter. Week Two got to the size of a library card. And Week Three:

And it didn’t even take 10,000 hours. It just felt like it at times.

4 thoughts on “Malcolm Gladwell was wrong

    • It is indeed. It took about a year and a half of law school to get used to using the Oxford comma again. Still feels odd sometimes.

  1. THIS IS AWESOME. You’re conversation with Victoria reminded me about the time you told me you were reading Virginia Woolf in class and I asked “how was it?”….

  2. Pingback: Mortal Kombat: Knitting Battle | Real Men Knit

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