It was Outliers author Malcolm Gladwell who popularized the concept that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a field. Success is about practice, diligence and time. But when it comes to transformation and change in business, healthcare and life, it isn’t time but attitude that matters most.
Transforming a business, the world or a hospital department is propelled by positive thinking, Gladwell told an audience last fall at the World Business Forum. It is all about attitude aptitude. "We talk about the importance of technology and knowledge and resources, having the kind of money to make it happen," he said, "but we don't talk about frame of mind—attitude. The kinds of attitudes that lie behind provocateurs."
Gladwell cited the example of shipping magnate Malcolm McLean and how having the right attitude is critical to effecting great change. As Gladwell told the story, McLean grew up poor during the Great Depression and dropped out of school at age 16. He found a job at a gas station earning $5 a week fueling up trucks and shipping in oil from far distances. He volunteered to help his boss and that changed the course of history.
McLean became a leader in trucking, being first to suggest using diesel fuel and finding the most efficient driving routes. He created new ways to ship goods, which at the time took so long and cost so much that multinational companies weren’t seeking to expand. The shipping docks were often controlled by organized crime, run by unions and theft was frequent.
McLean was well-known in the mid-1950s, about the time he decided to switch industries. People thought he was crazy to sell a successful business to jump to something new. After a few false-starts, he created trailers with retractable backs to more easily load cargo on and off ships. In 1956, the first inexpensive movement of freight from one country to another was born.
So why did an uneducated man who lacked knowledge in shipping make a difference? He had three things going for him, according to Gladwell. He was disagreeable, framed the problem well and removed constraints to make his vision reality.
First, McLean didn’t care what other people thought. He was "completely indifferent to what people said about him," Gladwell said, which is "the first and foundational fact to understand these disrupters. They are what psychologists call disagreeable—they do not require the approval of their peers in order to do what they think is correct."
And because McLean approached shipping from an outsider rather an insider focused on either trucking, railways or docks, he could reframe the problem and offer a multipurpose solution. He devised a railway line to help the cranes move up and down the ship on the dock. "Successful disrupters are people who are capable of an active imagination," Gladwell said. "They begin reimagining their world by reframing the problem in a way no one had framed it before."
The longshoremen didn’t like any of the changes, so they went on strike. McLean used the downtime at the docks well, retrofitting cranes with higher lifting capacity. When a crane company refused to build a larger crane in 90 days, he went to a company that made cranes for lifting much heavier loads, lumber, and who promised to deliver the crane right away. Why the request for 90 days? He wanted to get started right away—removing constraints to get back to business.
McLean had vision and believed in it. What set him apart was not what was in his head or his pocket--"it was in his heart," said Gladwell.
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