August 13, 2009
ten thousand people: the antidote to ‘chasing gigs’
1. Ten Thousand Hours.
Ten Thousand is a number that has been in vogue among the online intelligencia lately, thanks to “Outliers”, the bestselling book by The New Yorker writer, Malcolm Gladwell.
Gladwell didn’t invent the idea, but he popularized “The Ten Thousand Hours Rule” [I believe it first came out of a study from Florida State University yada yada…].
In short, evidence suggests that if you want to be really good at something, really successful at something, you need to put about ten thousand hours of work into it, before your efforts bear real fruit. This seems to be true whether we’re talking about computers (He cites Bill Gates being one of the first high school kids EVER to have put in ten thousand hours of computer time before going to college), or making art, fixing cars, laying tile, or getting a black belt in Karate.
Gladwell certainly made a good case for it, and from my own personal experience, ten thousand hours sounds about right. I actually came across the Ten Thousand Hour Rule before Gladwell’s book came out, via my buddy, Stowe Boyd, who wrote a great blog post about it [using me as a case study, *cough*] a few years ago. But I digress…
2. Ten Thousand People.
Ten Thousand is a number that has special meaning to me, as well:
The first few years of this century were tough ones for me. My career in advertising pretty much tanked around the same time as the dotcom crash, and I found myself unemployed, broke, living in the boonies, scraping a meagre living writing freelance brochure copy. Then 9 – 11 came along and made it even worse. Not fun or nice.
Up until that point, I had spent my entire working career “chasing gigs”. Whether we’re talking full-time salaried positions, or three-day freelance opportunities, I had spent well over a decade chasing that ever-elusive island of security in a swelling ocean of advertising-industry chaos. And these gigs would never last, they would always end eventually, for whatever reason. Recessions, layoffs, downsizing, incompetence on my part, incompetence on the boss’ part, whatever. And usually the timing was bad, of course it was.
Chase, chase, chase…. And I was sick of it. Really, REALLY sick of it. Over a decade of working my butt off, and those islands of security were no less elusive than before. And I wasn’t as young as I used to be. The hamster wheel was starting to do me in.
Then, in these darkest of days, I had a sudden flash of life-changing insight. Like I told my fellow burnout-advertising drinking buddy that evening, as we commiserated at the bar about our sad lot in life:
“I don’t want to be chasing gigs anymore.”
“What do you want, then?” asked my buddy.
“I just want ten thousand people giving me money every year.”
“Where are you going to find these people?” he asked.
“The Internet,” I replied.
“What do you plan on doing there?”
“I think I’ll start by publishing my cartoons online… on a blog.”
“What’s a ‘blog’?”
The rest, as they say, is history…
There was nothing magical about the ten thousand number. I just reckoned that, as a cartoonist, if I was making t-shirts, books, whatever– and ten thousand people were buying product every year, with me making a few bucks profit off each unit, well, it wouldn’t make me a billionaire, but at least I’d be able to feed myself.
Also, ten thousand people supporting me seemed like a good way of spreading my bets economically. If one person drops out, and all you lose is a t-shirt sale, with 9,999 other people still on board you can easily recover. But in the world of chasing advertising gigs, if the one person you lose happens to be your jackass boss, you’re dead meat.
Then a wee while ago I came across the great “One Thousand True Fans” blog post. A similar idea to my own, except his magic number was one-tenth the size of mine. It doesn’t matter. It all depends on what you’re selling. The famous English tailor, Thomas Mahon, has his magic number set at one hundred, because that’s basically how many handmade suits he is physically capable of making in a twelve month period. Good thing his suits are very expensive– One hundred “True Fans” wouldn’t get him very far if all he was selling were ten-dollar tee shirts.
Whatever your own, personal magic number may be, I hope you find it one day; I hope you find THOSE PEOPLE one day.
Beats chasing gigs for a living….
[Update: Just added this post to EVIL PLANS.]
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