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What Makes an Exceptional Marketer or 'Outlier'

I am currently reading a fascinating book, Outliers, written by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s got me thinking. Outliers is Gladwell’s take on what makes someone truly extraordinary, it provides countless examples of the lives and rise to success of elite members of past and present society including Bill Gates, The Beatles and a host of sports stars, scientists and everything inbetween.

The essence is that we are not born with all the ingredients to make us stand out from the crowd, but that there are many different elements that assist our rise to relative stardom.

In Bill Gates’ example he talks about him growing up and being fortunate enough to be able to attend one of the few (private) schools in the US that had a computer available for student use and having parents wealthy enough to fund his education there. In 1968, time on a computer came with a cost and the parents of that school clubbed together to help fund their offspring’s time on this revolutionary machine. This spawned an opportunity and he had the passion, desire and drive to take it to the next level. Having spent every waking minute practicing his programming skills, he offered them up to a local software company voluntarily. In return, he got more time honing his skills. He made connections at the local University in 1971 and persuaded them to let him practice even more. The computer room was made available to Bill from 3am-6am and guess what, he used it 7 days a week. He was also born at exactly the right time. Between 1954 and 1957 nearly all the founders of the best known, successful companies in Silicon Valley were born? Why? Because if you we born 10 years ears earlier and were interested in computing you would have probably been working for IBM and be in a comfortable job, not looking to start your own business and if you were born 10 years later, the Gates’s and Job’s of the world would already have had a massive head start. The mid 50′s was the golden era and Bill was born right in the middle of it.

So let’s look back at that; without the school privilege, the parents, the fact his local university let him use it for free and a volunteering job that was available, he never would have built the skills and knowledge he needed to found what is today, one of the best known businesses in the world, Microsoft. And, if he’d been born even 5 years earlier or later, then he may have missed the opportunity all together. These are the ingredients that make an ‘outlier’.

As I have said before: Luck is a beautiful coincidence that occurs when hard graft meets opportunity. Bill made his own luck.

Yes he had these opportunities, but he also had the passion and sheer determination to turn them into something special. Because of the dedication he applied to his learning, his ability was progressing faster than probably anyone else on the planet, making him a master. Gladwell provides numerous examples of how 10,000 hours of practicing something is the minimum amount of time needed to truly master your task. Bill Gates got to 10,000 before anyone else. SImple. As. That

So, back to marketing (at last) and the question in hand; What makes an exceptional marketer? I recently wrote a post on ‘The growing need for marketing specialists‘, detailing the need to specialise if you’re an up and coming marketer within a specific marketing discipline. Why? well, for all the reasons above. I have created an environment within the marketing team I lead whereby the team can focus and therefore master their respective task.

Take social media as a prime example. It can’t be mastered as a part time job. Consider the 10,000 hour rule,If you spent just 30 minutes a day focussing on it, it would take you 54.7 years to master. If my social media manager is put in an environment where they can spend, say 40 hours a week and they take a personal interest in it and have the drive and passion to put in another 20 hours a week outside of work, then mastery will be achieved in just 3.2 years.

Now think about competitive differentiation, whose social communities will become more effective? Ours with a master of social media, or competior X? who’s person responsible for social media will have retired by the time they have the same exposure and experience. The 40 or 60 hour focus also provides a window (especially in something as faced-paced as social media) to learn, understand and practice on all the latest developments, something that can’t be achieved in 30 minutes a day.

Now think about the profile of that Social Media Manager. They won’t be in their 50′s because social media is not intuitive to that demographic, they also won’t be in their teens as they wouldn’t have the commercial acumen to work for company like ours. The perfect age for my Social Media Manager in my opinion is 23-28. Even from a standing start, providing the attitude and desire, combined with the working environment is provided, that 23-28 year old will accomplish mastery in their specialist field, opening up whatever career opportunities they wish to aspire to.

It’s not just marketing and more specifically social this applies to, it’s relevant to every department, job function and business on the planet

Think about your role, do you want to be average or a true outlier?