Outliers: Email Practice Makes Genius

  • by March 3, 2009
Malcolm Gladwell's intriguing book "Outliers: The Story of Success," argues that peoples' success is driven by more complicated factors than our conventional understanding of "genius." Drawing on studies of success from areas ranging from athletics to technology, Gladwell makes the compelling case that our success levels correlate more strongly with lucky circumstances -- strong family upbringings, the events of our time periods, even our birthdates -- and to the hours we spend at hard work and practice, than with our natural talents and IQs.


Gladwell presents the 10,000-Hour Rule: the belief that excellence is achieved through impressive hours of dedicated practice (the "10,000" comes from the approximate hours that elite violinists in one study had spent practicing by age 20). This rule serves as an inspiring kick in the pants for us to dedicate our time to honing the expertise it takes to get ahead of the crowd.



Gladwell also highlights the importance of luck -- being in the right place at the right time, or gaining expertise in a specialized area (like email!). He tells the story of Joe Flom, a talented Jewish lawyer who couldn't find a job at a high-profile law firm during the 1950s because of his "antecedents." As a result, Flom joined up with Skadden, Arps, a new firm without much money or reputation. Willing to take any case they could get, the firm began to specialize in litigation, which the more prestigious law firms snubbed as "ungentlemanly."

In the 1970s however, there was an explosion of corporate takeovers and, naturally, the litigations cases that accompanied them. Between the mid-1970s and late 1980s, the amount of money that passed hands during mergers and acquisitions increased 2,000%, reaching nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars. Gladwell writes, "All of a sudden the things that the old-line law firms didn't want to do-hostile takeovers and litigations-were the things that every law firm wanted to do. And who was the expert in theses two suddenly critical areas of law? The once marginal, second-tier law firm started by the people who couldn't get jobs at the downtown firms ten and fifteen years earlier."

Sound familiar, email marketers? Right now we have all found ourselves in an amazing niche. With its almost-always unbelievably good ROI, email is proving to be one of the most recession-friendly marketing channels. Just as Flom had spent years acquiring expertise in a field that suddenly came into high demand, we email marketers have been honing our best practices and developing reputations for knowledge in a field that's suddenly at the forefront of marketing. We've built skills that are now getting even hotter and more desirable.

Further, because email is such a fast-moving channel with lightening-speed turnarounds, email marketers are "practicing" executing email programs and campaigns so often and so quickly that we swiftly grow as marketing professionals. Regardless of the email area in which we specialize, we're all building towards our 10,000 hours super-quickly. We're all on our way to email genius!

As email becomes a more critical part of companies' marketing strategies, thereby contributing a larger percentage to their profits, our expertise -- and how we use it -- becomes paramount. Emailers, now is our moment! It's up to us to take it to the next level. We are outliers. Let's make the most of it!

2 comments about "Outliers: Email Practice Makes Genius ".
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  1. Lisbeth Kramer from Identities, March 3, 2009 at 5:36 p.m.

    Alex and Lisa,

    I am no email expert, but as a passionate integrated cross-platform strategist, I LOVED THIS. In fact I was just skimming this book, as I am one of his big fans. Just shared it with my good friend at SKADDEN too, who honestly..reflects this kind of demeanor...So what Im saying is, it seems that a corporate culture with roots in the kind of persona that built Skadden the way he evidently did..........has an edge, a raison d'etre for the years of success...something I think maybe??? Gladwell also saying too?
    I certainly believe in EM in the mix pending how its done relevant to the brand position and the message. Frankly, I am amazed at how many major brands in almost EVERY industry are not maximizing this I am for U! vERY COOL.

  2. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, March 10, 2009 at 5:42 p.m.

    Yes, what makes a person want to receive our emails?
    Three critical roles are in play for the email marketer.
    1. The List.
    2. The Relationship you have with your list and
    3. The Offer you are making.

    Before you write a word you must....

    Check it out here.

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