By Dean Parr
“In Hamburg we had to play for eight hours.” - The Beatles
This week's article is a partial book review of 'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell. You might think that a book written by an intellectual has little relevance in the world of strength and conditioning for MMA but read on…
The book attempts to look at the study of success. What makes some people successful when others fail?
In chapter two, Gladwell attempts to answer the question:
“Is there such a thing as innate talent?”
Most people would say yes. And common thought is that there are always people who stand out as ‘naturally gifted’. We are guilty of classing these people as phenomenal and freaks of nature but how much of a role does innate talent really play. Not as much as we once thought it would seem.
Gladwell gives the example of a study done in the early 90’s by K. Anders Ericsson at two colleagues at Berlins elite Academy of Music. The musicians were categorised by their current level of skill: potential world class, good and those who would probably just teach. What they found was that the potential world class musicians had a total of around 10,000 hours practice behind them, the good musicians around 8,000 hours and those that would probably just teach had around 4,000 hours practice. This was apparent across the board.
So, the best musicians didn’t just magically attain this level. They worked much harder than everyone else. At some point they decided, or were encouraged, to become better.
The following is an excerpt from Outliers:
The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr –came to the United States in February of 1964, starting the so-called British Invasion of the American music scene and putting out a string of hit records that transformed the face of popular music.
The first interesting thing about the Beatles for our purpose is how long they had already been together by the time they reached the United States. Lennon and McCartney first started playing together in 1957, seven years prior to landing in America.
In 1960, while they were still just a struggling High School rock band, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany.
“Hamburg in those days did not have rock-and-roll music clubs. It had strip clubs,” says Phillip Norman, who wrote the Beatles biography Shout! “There was one particular club owner called Bruno, who was originally a fairground showman. He had the idea of bringing in rock groups to play in various clubs. They had this formula. It was a huge non stop show, hour after hour, with a lot of people lurching in and the other lot lurching out. And the bands would play all time to catch to catch the passing traffic. In an American redlight district they would call it a non stop striptease.
“Many of the bands that played in Hamburg were from Liverpool”, Norman went on. “It was an accident. Bruno went to London to look for bands. But he happened to meet an entrepreneur from Liverpool in Soho who was down in London by pure chance. And he arranged to send some bands over. That’s how the connection was established. And eventually the Beatles made a connection not just with Bruno but with other club owners as well. They kept going back because they got a lot of alcohol and a lot of sex”.
And what was so special about Hamburg? It wasn’t that it paid well. It didn’t. Or that the acoustics were fantastic. They weren’t. Or that the audiences were savvy and appreciative. They were anything but. It was the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play.
Here is John Lennon, in an interview after the Beatles disbanded, talking about the band’s performances at a strip club called the Indra:
We got better and got more confidence. We couldn’t help it with the experience of playing all night long. It was handy them being foreign. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into it, to get ourselves over.
In Liverpool, we’d only ever done one hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one. In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing.
Here is Pete Best, the Beatles’ drummer at the time:
“Once the news got out about that we were making a show, the club started packing them in. We played seven nights a week. At first we played almost non stop till twelve-thirty, when it closed, but as we got better the crowds stayed till two most mornings.”
Seven days a week?
The Beatles ended up travelling to Hamburg five times between 1960 and the end of 1962. On the first trip, they played 106 nights, five or more hours a night. On their second trip, they played 92 times. On their third trip, they played 48 times, for a total of 172 hours on stage. The last two Hamburg gigs, in November and December of 1962, involved another 90 hours of performing. All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated 1200 times. Do you know how extraordinary that is? Most bands today don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart.
So What Can We Learn From This?
The stories presented in Outliers demonstrate that talent is nothing without preparation and that the exceptional among us are prepared to do more than everyone else to succeed.
Have you put in your 10000 hours of training?
To find out more about this fascinating book, get your copy here:
If you have any specific questions on Olympic lifting, Strength & Conditioning for MMA or you’d like to discuss workshops, professional fighter coaching or a review of your current programme feel free to get in touch.
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