One Size Does Not Fit All: Popular Wisdom That Has Unintended Consequences

We all try self-help and big business ideas in our lives. One size rarely fits all. Everything will work for some of the people. Nothing will work for the entire population and we will have to find what works and what does not in our situations. We sometimes fall victim to halo effect and believe people because they are good at something, they are our friends or there is social proof that a lot of other people believe these ideas. We all live our lives on social media these days and most often are confined to echo chambers where our ideas similar to ours and ideas from those we hold in high regard get amplified.
Here is a collection of some highly regarded wisdom that I have come to doubt over the years.

Early Specialization & 10000-hour rule

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I first read a Malcolm Gladwell book in the early 2000s. Ever since reading Blink, I was convinced that Malcolm could not come up with anything fuzzy because he does it so methodically, pouring over a lot of social and behavioral science. I have read all his books and listened to most of his podcasts. 

The concepts and ideas that he brought forward always had a basis. He tells good stories and it is easy to believe everything he tells you. Then came Outliers: the story of success, in which he pours over many examples of successful people who have seemingly reached 10000 hours of practice before they became masters of their game. The basic premise of the 10000-hour rule is that if you practice, you can get better at anything. It is as simple as that. 

Along came another journalist turned writer – David Epstein, first with his book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, in which he explored how athletes made it to the big stage and discussed how nature and nurture contribute to their journey. Then he produced Range with the opening story Roger versus Tiger and effectively debunks the notions early start advantage and the 10,000-hour rule for elite athletes. 

The 5 AM Club

Introduced by legendary self-help Guru Robin Sharma, this idea is based on the concept that you have to wake up early to get the best start to the day. Proponents of this idea swear by it and claim that increases one’s productivity and focus. As an idea, this may not be that bad but it sure is not a silver bullet or a magic pill to improve one’s life. For me, not getting enough sleep will definitely make one cognitively slow regardless of what time he/she wakes up. The key must always be to get the 7-8 hours of sleep regularly every day. Discipline and self-control should always be given greater priority than waking up early. Not everyone is built to wake up at 5 am because not everyone is going to sleep at 10 or 11 pm. In order to get the required amount of sleep and wake up at 5 am, one must go to bed at 9 pm. I do not believe this is possible for the majority of any population. Those within the bell curve will have bedtimes ranging from 9-12 am. Additionally, we all have our own unique chronotype that regulates our sleep circadian clock. This is discussed in detail in Dan Pink’s great book “When: the scientific secrets of perfect timing”. 

My thoughts are that one should always have a regular bedtime and waking up time and these should be the times that work best for that person and it doesn’t have to be like what the 5 am club concept suggests.

Boxed thinking

How can one box thinking? Thinking inside or outside is useless – think without a box. Never bring the idea of a box into your thinking. A conventional box has sides or walls that act as boundaries for any content that we put in that box. Thinking should be set free. Especially in business, when we are strategizing, our thinking should go beyond everyday thoughts. Think of counterintuitive things. Think of things that other people will not think. Go against conventional wisdom and you might be able to carve a comfortable niche for yourself.

The other big idea that has a box as a central object is black box thinking. Learning from your mistakes is always a good idea but in the service industry, things don’t always happen in the same manner. Black boxes are very mechanical concepts and it is to do with error elimination altogether. This is only possible with linear processes. Human emotions do not exist on a linear plan. It is diverse, erratic, and irrational. Any concept that accords the same treatment to human emotions and mechanical processes is fundamentally flawed. 

Follow one’s dream

I was ‘kicked out’ of school at 13 for failing in maths. My family did not have the means to support my schooling in a private school which was all in Male back in the 80s. I started working at 14 and worked in resort hotels until I was 30. As time went by, I started thinking about my own life, my own career. How I have segued into many different areas and what that had taught me. After a short bout in politics where I learned a lot, a new wife, and a stronger will to do many more things, I started thinking about doing many things. I started telling young people to start doing many different things instead of just sticking with just one thing and making a lifelong career out of it. Following one’s passion can be really challenging as passions keep changing and interests will always need to be prioritized. 

Long story short, following the dream or passion, does not work if you do not have or have not discovered a special talent. Following one’s passion rarely pay the bills. It is much wiser to earn a comfortable living doing something that you don’t necessarily despise, in my case hospitality, and find the opportunity to fit in your passion. I like to teach and train young people and with this career, I am able to do it while earning a decent living.

Best practices

Businesses operate in highly competitive environments. Consumers are well educated and today product evaluation is democratized to a degree that humans have never known before. In this day and age, no one wants to be followers in an industry. You want to lead and be number one. If you do not have that ambition you might as well declare bankruptcy in advance. You will most certainly be going towards that if you do not innovate and improve. 

Best practices are about following leaders. It is about replicating what has worked for another company. Simply put, it is copying. A copying organization will always find itself behind the leaders. There will be a culture of mediocrity within that organization. People will be waiting for the leaders to come up with new ideas so it can be copied and replicated. 

Regardless of the size of the market, leaders always have lots of advantages. Consumers feel safe using their products and there is an automatic trust. In most cases, especially in business, subjective perception is much more important than objective reality. People tend to trust market leaders more than the followers.

About the Author: Hassan Saeed is a career hotelier with over 25 years of experience in Maldives tourism and resort operation. His specialties include strategic HRM, training and development, service operations, and continuous improvement. He is passionate about behavioral economics and how concepts like ‘Nudge’ can be applied in service settings. Hassan identifies himself as a lifelong learner. He currently holds the position of Resort Manager at Dhigali Maldives.

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