John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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The 10,000 Hour Rule

Posted on November 6, 2009
The 10,000 Hour Rule

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, has a basic theory about what makes people truly successful. He says that if you have the right education, the right timing, and the right experience, combined with a truly extraordinary work ethic, you can be an outlier, somebody who succeeds beyond every one’s expectations.

One of the nuggets in this very interesting book is Gladwell’s reciting of the 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell repeats the theory that for someone to be truly proficient in a complex task, that person must work at it for 10,000 hours or more. 10,000 hours is a long time, about 10 years.

I thought about the 10,000 hour rule as I saw the unemployment numbers come out and as Congress started debate on health care. Both private sector job creation and health care are extraordinarily complex processes. Congress is not particularly well-suited to deal with either one.

When Congressional Democrats passed their stimulus package earlier this year, they passed a plan that was heavy on government spending, but light on tax relief to allow businesses to spend their own money. David Obey, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has true expertise when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money. He has been in Congress for more than 30 thirty years, and for most of that time, he has been on the spending committees of Congress. He has gained true expertise when it comes to appropriating money. He doesn’t know a thing about creating private sector jobs, though. His philosophy doesn’t really understand the free-market. He doesn’t have expertise because he hasn’t spent 10,000 hours in the private market place. So when he constructed the stimulus package, he put together a bill that was good at spending taxpayers’ money, but bad at creating jobs. The result is what we have today; unemployment at greater than 10 percent.

When Congress debates that health care bill this weekend, the same dynamic will take hold. No matter how hard the Members study over the weekend, they will not have the necessary proficiency to really understand the health care marketplace. Now, some will argue that because the AMA and AARP have endorsed the bill, that this shows this bill reflects the realities of the real world. But when you look closer, you see that for both the AMA and AARP, they got special deals (physician payments and special breaks for the AARP) that compelled them to sign on. PhRMA, another supporter, signed on because they were afraid of what the Congress would do them if they didn’t back it.

But the medical world is very complex place, and having the Congressional leadership, basically dictate the terms of the marketplace will inevitably have unintended consequences. One only needs to look at Medicare to see how the markeplace has been skewed by the government presence. Reimbursement rates are too low, which encourages doctors to practice overly defensive medicine. Fraud is rampant. Cost controls, that would come from a more rational market, are neutered. The result is not health care nirvana, but rather a system that is out-of-control.

Putting the future of the health care marketplace in the hands of people who have no proficiency in health care should be very scary. And for many voters, it is.

In last year’s election, the American people decided to ditch the 10,000 hour rule. They elected perhaps the most inexperienced politician in our nation’s history as President. In fact, experience was seen more as a detriment than as a plus. Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain tried to stress Obama’s lack of training for the job, but the American people, who had seen the very experienced hands of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, concluded that the experience was over-rated. As we are seeing with this President, the people reached the wrong conclusions about the value of experience.

Barack Obama, who almost everyone agrees seems like a nice enough fellow, is being victimized by his own lack of experience. He has been overly deferential to his former colleagues in the Senate, because he has no clue about how to cut deal. Even the liberal historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has lamented that Obama needs a little more “LBJ” in him.

What LBJ had in him was experience. But Obama still needs about 6 more years to have the proficiency necessary to deal with the big egos in the Congress. He has failed the 10,000 hour test, and that is what is showing now as he tries to figure out how to deal with Congress.