What do the Beatles and Bill Gates have in common??

So what exactly do the Beatles and Bill Gates have in common? Well, you could say they were both extremely successful. Both had great fame and fortune in their respective fields. While that statement is true, it’s like saying “The sun is hot.” It’s accurate. But, it doesn’t really give you the full picture! So by saying both The Beatles and Bill Gates were rich and famous, we really are selling them short.

So let’s try again. The Beatles were the greatest musical group of ALL TIME, selling over one billion musical records, tapes, CD’s. They hold the record for having the most number one singles of any musical group and having the fastest-selling CD of all time, selling over thirteen million copies in four weeks….I could keep going. But, I think you get the picture.

And what about Mr Gates? What can we say about him? How about the world’s richest man? During his peak, he was earning over $30 million per day. Do I need to say any more? Bill Gates was the co-founder of Microsoft, one of the largest and most well known tech companies in the world. And of course he is a philanthropist. Today, The Gates Foundation is one of the largest charitable foundations in the world.

Clearly, both Bill Gates and the Beatles have impacted our world greatly in their own way. Their legacies will live on through the ages…BUT this is still not the key variable that brings the two together.

So what’s the answer? Well, Malcolm Gladwell describes it in his book, Outliers, as the 10,000 — Hour rule. And what does this 10,000-Hour rule mean? Well, researchers believe that 10,000 hours is the magic number for true expertise. Studies indicate that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert in anything. It seems that it takes the brain that long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.

So where do the Beatles come into the story? Well we need to go back before all the number one hits, the sold-out concerts, the millions of screaming fans, and the billions of dollars that came with it. This goes back to when The Beatles were nobodies, just a struggling high school band playing in old bars on the streets of Liverpool. They were lucky enough to be invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. It was here that they’re path to mastery began.

In those days, Hamburg had no rock-and-roll clubs. All it had was strip clubs. There, the Beatles would play at huge, nonstop shows, hour after hour, people lurching in and out. The Beatles made connections with a whole bunch of these ‘club’ owners, playing at these ‘nonstop’ shows night after night.

John Lennon, in an interview talking about his experiences playing the Hamburg strip clubs, said:

“We got better and got more confidence. We couldn’t help it with all the experience playing all night long. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul it in.…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.”

Remember this line from John Lennon, “We couldn’t help it with all the experience playing all night long. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul it in.”

Pete Best, the Beatles drummer at the time stated:

“We played seven nights a week. At first we played almost nonstop till twelve-thirty, when it closed, but as we got better the crowds stayed till two most mornings.”

The Beatles travelled to Hamburg five times over the space of two years. On their first trip, they played 106 nights, five or more hours a night. On their second trip, they played 92 times. The third trip, they played 48 times for a total of 172 hours on stage. The last two trips involved another 90 hours of performing. Totalling that up, The Beatles performed 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they finally burst to success in 1964, they had performed live….wait for it… an estimated twelve hundred times!

Let me repeat that again….Before all their fame and success that was about to fall on them, they had played together 1,200 times! Most bands today don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers.

Phillip Norman, who wrote The Beatles’ biography, Shout!, commented on the Hamburg experiences:

“They were no good on stage when they went there and they were very good when they came back. They weren’t disciplined onstage at all before that. But when they came back, they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.”

Those crazy two years in Hamburg allowed The Beatles to clock up 10,000 hours of practice. It is also important to note the quality of their practice as well. These hours were not done in an old garage where they played half-assed just to kill time. They were performing with a life audience, giving them real feedback and applause… Just picture the atmosphere. They were in the hub of party town, surrounded by drunk and rowdy onlookers. They weren’t the only entertainment out there either, or the prettiest thing to look at (being in strip club area). If they weren’t putting their heart and soul into their performance the crowd would just move on, or worse boo them off stage and throw beer bottles at them. They needed to be awesome for a long period of time!

The Beatles clocked up their hours in that environment, becoming the masters of their art. The best in the business. When they left Hamburg, no singer or band matched their skills and ability. Beatlemaina was about to break loose. They would soon have the world at their feet.

Now let’s bring out attention to Bill Gates. His 10,000 hours began when he was still in school. His parents sent him to Lakeside, a wealthy private school that catered to Seattle’s elite families. Lakeside purchased a computer terminal. Remember this was 1968. Most colleges didn’t have computers in the 1960’s. Not only that, the type of computer Lakeside purchased was an ASR-33 teletype, built on the concept of ‘time-sharing’ (a concept only invented in 1965) allowing the programmer to do real-time programming rather than using the old and extremely slow process of using cardboard punch cards.

So here was young Bill, an eighth grader, teaching himself how to program in real-time. I repeat, this was 1968, computers were rare. You were lucky just to find one, even luckier if you could get access to it. If you could get access to it, people were charged an hourly rate just to use it, which cost a fortune. Luckily, for Bill and his buddies, Lakeside was a wealthy private school able to afford the costs.

Bill and his buddies programmed all the time, until eventually they used up all the funding Lakeside had for computer usage. Luckily, through his family’s networks, another opportunity came up: Computer Centre Corporation (C-Cubed) an organisation formed by the University of Washington. Bill was required to test out the company’s software programs on the weekends in exchange for free programming time. There, his love of programming grew, as he would proud long into the evenings.

When C-Cubed went bankrupt, Bill joined up with another group called ISI (information Sciences Inc.). Here they allowed him to have free computer time in exchange for developing for them, a piece of software to automate the company’s payroll. In one seven-month period in 1971, Gates and his friends ran up 1,575 hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe. This averaged out to being eight hours a day, seven days a week.

Gates recalls his ISI experience: “It was my obsession. I went up there at night. We were programming on weekends. It would be a rare week that we wouldn’t get twenty or thirty hours in.”

Finally, they got kicked out of ISI for crashing their systems. So he and Paul Allen (the co-founder of Microsoft) found another computer at the University of Washington, within the Medical and Physics Department which had empty time slots. “They were on a twenty-four-hour schedule, but with this big slack period, so between three and six in the morning they never scheduled anything.” Bill would walk or catch a bus every morning to the university just so he could program between the free early-morning hours of 3 and 6 a.m.

Soon their next opportunity would come from a company called TRW (which had links with ISI).This company was in desperate need of experienced programmers. In those days, programmers with that degree of specialized experience were hard to find. Who did they find? Who else had more experience than those high school kids from Lakeside who had programmed so much they crashed the ISI systems? Gates was 16 at the time and into his senior year of high school. He was able to convince the school to let him to work on an independent study project with TRW, where he would spend the spring writing code non-stop.

Over those years, from eighth grade to the end of high school, Gates had been programming practically nonstop, clocking up his 10,000 hours of practice, reaching the land mark when he was still in his teens. From Lakeside, to C-Cubed, to ISI, to the Medical and Physics Department and then to TRW. Honing his skills and mastering his art. This was his ‘Hamburg’ experience.

How many teenagers in the world would have had the kind of experience Bill Gates had?

Bill recalls, “If there were fifty in the world, I’d be stunned…I had better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time.”

Those early experiences where all he would do was code made him one of the best — if not the best — programmers in the world at the time.

We all know the next part of his story. In 1976, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and started his own software company, Microsoft. In 1995 he would become the richest man in the world at the age of thirty-nine.

So that’s what the Beatles and Bill Gates had in common: They clocked up their 10,000 hours of intense, purposeful practice, became the best in their fields… and the rest is history.

You could say that luck was on their side. They were given golden opportunities. Even the era in which they were born gave them an advantage.

But if you focus on their luck — which, to be fair, they both did have — you really are missing the point. They practiced an unbelievable number of hours. They practiced their art with purposefulness, always aiming to improve. Most of all, they loved what they did. They didn’t practice once they became great. They practiced to become great. How else could you explain why a group would perform eight hours a night for seven days a week or why anyone would go to university at 3 in the morning just to program?

So now the question falls to you…

What is it that you want to achieve? What do you want to become? What is it you want? Do you want it badly enough to clock up your own 10,000 hours? Are you willing to work eight hours a night, seven days a week or get up at 3 in the morning just to practice with all your heart and honestly give it everything you’ve got?

Adevntur’er | Philosoph’er | Wine-drink’er

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