Do The Math

Michael Metzger

It took the Beatles four years to reach 10,000 hours.

It was 47 years ago today, February 7, 1964, that 3,000 screaming fans greeted the Beatles at New York’s Kennedy Airport. The band had just scored their first No. 1 U.S. hit with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” But it took them four years and 10,000 hours of practice to master musical success. How many years would it take a businessperson to achieve a level of mastery required for effectively enacting shalom? Do the math.

In the early 60s, the Beatles seemed to come out of nowhere. Two days after arriving at JFK, the band electrified America on The Ed Sullivan Show. “Beatlemania” wasn’t a fluke, however. The Beatles’ success was largely the result of “The 10,000-Hour Rule.” Between 1960 and 1962, the Beatles played in a Hamburg, Germany club. “And what was so special about Hamburg?” Malcolm Gladwell asks in Outliers. Nothing. “It was the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play.”1 All told, the Beatles performed for 270 nights in just over 18 months. By the time they had their first flush of success in 1964, they had performed live an estimated 1,200 times—often for as long as eight hours per performance. By 1964, the Beatles had amassed 10,000 hours of practice.

“The emerging picture from such studies 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 neurologist Daniel Levitin.2 Anything includes everything, meaning it would take 10,000 hours of practicing shalom in order to be a world-class authority or expert in enacting shalom. How many months or years would it take a modern businessperson in the church to achieve such a level of mastery? Do the math.

Many faith communities seek to assist businesspeople in the marketplace by promoting programs that are curriculum-based and teach “faith and work” principles. But according to professors Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, curriculum-driven programs teaching principles are not effective (Congress, for example, is, in principle, committed to civility and bipartisanship). Govindarajan and Trimble are the authors of The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge. They say real life problems are, by nature, unpredictable and uncertain. Curriculum-driven approaches on the other hands are static and don’t capture how reality—as well as problems—actually work.3 Programs teaching principles don’t practice solving any actual problems, so mastery is not achieved. The Beatles, for example, didn’t achieve music mastery by studying sheet music.

A second approach is to encourage active involvement in the church, usually in corporate worship and small groups. Even if a church has the kinds of “thick” liturgies that previous generations practiced to achieve mastery in shalom (the Eucharist, the weekly reading of the Great Commandment, the Apostles Creed, Confession, a shalom greeting, kneeling, and the sermon), it would take over a century to amass 10,000 hours. Do the math. Church is 90 minutes a week and the average small group meets for two hours every other week. We know actual churchgoing is only half the professed rate, however.4 The average committed Christian attends church 26 times a year and makes it to a small group about 20 times annually. Do the math. It comes to roughly 80 hours of practice annually. At that rate, it would take 125 years to achieve the level of mastery required for effectively enacting shalom.

There is of course a better way. “We have attempted to transform our cities for years without success,” writes Peter Wagner, a former professor of Church Growth at the Fuller Theological Seminary. “I now believe the reason is because pastors and church leaders do not have the authority to do so. That authority lies within those leaders in the marketplace.” This is precisely what the Early Church practiced—assisting businesspeople in their places of work by solving problems. If you do the math, you see how this works in achieving mastery. If you work 50 hours a week and are practicing shalom for even 20 of those hours, you’ll amass 10,000 hours of practice in about ten years.

This approach accounts for the church’s success—which wasn’t an overnight sensation. Instead, businesspeople circulating from city to city had the most significant effect on Christianization. “Although wandering preachers may have been the first Christians to reach Rome,” writes historian Rodney Stark, “it seems likely that the primary bearers of the new faith were rank-and-file believers who traveled for commercial reasons.”5 By starting in cities and changing commercial enterprises, the gospel rode the wave of business travelers so that by A.D. 350 the Christian population of the Roman Empire had grown very large.

Early in the fourth century, Lucian the Martyr would declare, “almost the greater part of the world is now committed to this truth, even whole cities.”6 Tertullian, “the founder of Western Christianity” as well as church historian, would brag to the Romans of his day about how the church had filled “every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, town, marketplaces, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum—we have left you nothing but your temples.”7 But when Tertullian writes church, he wasn’t thinking just clergy or church planters. He was including businesspeople.

When we do the math, the sane and sensible solution for the church is to start with real problems posed by real businesspeople working in real workplaces and assist these women and men in solving them. The church too often teaches concepts while the Beatles gained calluses (have you ever felt the fingertips of a guitarist?). By the time John, Paul, George, and Ringo made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, an estimated audience of 73 million U.S. television viewers, or about 40 percent of the U.S. population, tuned in. Sullivan immediately booked the Beatles for two more appearances that month. When faith communities effectively assist businesspeople in achieving the level of mastery required for effectively enacting shalom, all sorts of culture-shaping commercial institutions will tune in. But unless we start doing better at the math, businesspeople will never achieve this level of mastery.

1 Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group, 2008), p. 49.
2 Gladwell, Outliers, p. 40.
3 “The innovation machine” The Economist, August 28, 2010, p. 57.
4 John G. Stackhouse, Jr., “Where Religion Matters.” American Outlook. Fall 2002. pp. 40-44.
5 Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2006), p. 73.
6 Stark, Cities, p. 64.
7 If you are unfamiliar with this legacy, I recommend The Rise of Christianity (Rodney Stark), The Rise of Western Christendom (Peter Brown), and The Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (Wayne A. Meeks).


The Morning Mike Check

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  1. Mike,

    That notion of 10,000 hours needed to acheive mastery at anything reinforces your earlier concept of connecting Sunday to Monday( which still persists) so that the business community, and people not actively engaged in business, will continue practicing what they hopefully would have learned that Sunday sitting in the pew.

  2. Mike: I think you need to check your math.

    “It took the Beatles 18 months to reach 10,000 hours.” 10,000 / 18 months = 555 hours/month = 18.5 hours per day. Well, I know the Beatles worked hard, but I can’t really see them working 18.5 hours a day, every day, for 18 months.

    Later you say it took them 4 years and 10,000 hours of practice. 10,000 hours / 4 years = 2,500 hours/year = 6.8 hours/day, assuming that they worked every day for 4 years. Still a bit of a stretch.

    “If you work 50 hours a week and are practicing shalom for even 20 of those hours, you’ll amass 10,000 hours of practice in two years.” Not quite. 52 weeks x 20 hours/week = 1,040. It really takes about 10 years at that pace.

    And all these figures, I believe, still make your point. World-class isn’t a quick-fix. It takes time, dedication, application, study, practice, review. You must focus your energies over an extended period to get good at something. Period.

  3. “When faith communities effectively assist businesspeople in achieving the level of mastery required for effectively enacting shalom, all sorts of culture-shaping commercial institutions will tune in.” Mike, I certainly agree, but are you/we so sure that “the faith community” knows anything compelling about the practice of shalom, in such a way that would persuade any businesspeople to invite the consultation that might be offered?

    “But unless we start doing better at the math, businesspeople will never achieve this level of mastery.” Do you mean the 10,000 hours required by the faith community to achieve practiced perfection in shalom (which really would be necessary, wouldn’t it?) or do you mean that faith communities need to offer ~ because they have ~ 10,000 real and varied and complex and constructive (in other words, not a one-note song) hours of consultation?

    All in all, I think you’re trying to say that the church has to have something to offer businesspeople that helps their business before businesspeople without Christ want the Christ of the church. That’s true, I believe. It’s just worth considering whether what might be helpful might be counter-intuitive. For example, “how to raise your kids” might be extremely helpful to a businessperson who struggles with the issue, but it was able to be communicated informally (because maybe that was the only connection point available). Once persuaded of the church position, the businessperson might formally apply the same principles to treating employees well.

  4. Dave:

    We’re on the same page. Yes, I am asking whether the faith community has constructive and meaningful ways of assisting business leader – a qualitative question, essentially – and also whether has enough assistance in large quantities to help practitioners amass 10,000 hours of practice.

  5. KCBruce:

    My bad – I meant to write that it took four years (1960-1964). We’ll get it corrected. Good eye! Glad someone reads these columns carefully! Keep checking my math.

  6. Mike,

    Cool article. I just started reading “Outliers” last week and I can’t put it down. It made me think about exactly how long I will have to put in to become an “expert” in the business world. I’m looking forward to the process.


  7. I struggle with today’s more existential and postmodern thought that minimizes the need for an epistemic approach to an epistemic problem. Mike I struggle with your article because you say that the intellectual approach, “curriculum and principle based education” isn’t sufficient to an intellectual problem – not having obtained a master level knowledge of consultation to aid the business community. It becomes self-destructive.

    You are just trading one principle with another principle – not the principle of curriculum based but the principles of experiential knowledge thereby you gain at a master level. So principles all around! Circular reasoning (the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises) Principle is rejected but is used implicitly here to prove the premise. How would one teach people the value of experiential knowledge, conduct, action and best practices but from some curriculum based agenda written or oral? Reason is self accountable, experience is arbitrary.

    Shalom only comes through unity, unity is needed because of the diversity but not the diversity of experiences (these are variable and individualistic) but because of the diversity of thought, a property of reason. One can’t practice what he knows very little of.

  8. At a church retreat recently, we asked 5 people in our community to tell us where they needed support. On the panel were the sheriff, First Call for Help Agency, Council for Aging, Chamber of Commerce, and the School Superintendent. Our church is now grappling with ideas that our members proposed to help meet our community needs with Christ’s love to bring shalom to our neighborhoods. How does this fit in to the 10,000 hours for mastery?

  9. I think it is a struggle being trained and brought up in a culture to discover that our frames and methods are wrong. Even if we get to the difficult point of admitting our errors the confession, repudiation and corrective action of dismantling the old frames is a challenging dilemma to say the least!

    Experiencing life, our work, our service and our worship (avodah) rightly done, ought to engage all of our senses…”taste and see that the Lord is good.”

    For sure buts in the seats while we pour knowledge in your head is not it.

    I am not sure Shalom requires unity. It seems Shalom is available to all as we see in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a required practice of our faith if want humans to flourish…”if anyone is thirsty…”

    Mike thanks for the good words…history majors shouldn’t do much math!

  10. Jeffrey:

    You are exactly right. I believe butts has two t’s, however. Businesspeople shouldn’t do much writing.

    As for mark’s comments, since I never refer to an “intellectual” approach, it is hard to know how to respond. The point is simply that we need to practice to instinctively do what is right. Practice, practice, practice. That includes the intellect and our rational instincts but also includes every other faculty. Mark, you seem to present dichotomies that make it difficult to keep these realities in tension.

  11. Becky:

    You win the Good Question of the Year Award. Your situation fits well with the 10,000 hour question. In the first place, the presence of these problems indicates “thy kingdom” has not come to the Sheriff’s department, the school, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. Solving these problems is loving our neighbors. But in today’s world, this requires proposing solutions in language that makes sense to those outside the faith. In practicing this over and over, your church will learn how street language is grounded in scripture. Mastery is beginning – but it’s not in learning principles. It’s in solving problems for all; not just the faith community. As your church gets results, it is improving lives, which is loving neighbors. Getting these results to become “second nature” in institutions is what also requires 10,000 hours of practice – since “culture” is whatever is second nature, or whatever we do out of habit. As your church learns to solve problem by talking in the language of the street and seeing it’s connection to scripture, mastery will result. But it will take about 10,000 hours and many solutions succeeding. Keep going… you’re off to a great start.

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