By now, everyone has at least heard of "the 10,000-hour rule," introduced in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers. Using examples as diverse as Bill Gates and The Beatles, it popularized the concept that world-class performance requires 10,000 hours of practice, which is roughly 20 hours per week for 10 years. When I first read it, I immediately visualized countless lawyers using it as justification for not even trying to learn business-development skills, rejecting out of hand the absurdity of spending 20 hours per week on BD.

Fair enough. Twenty hours per week is way out of range. However, here's one you should find harder to dismiss, courtesy of Benjamin Franklin

Ben Franklin 5-hour rule

Throughout his adult life, Franklin consistently invested an hour each day in deliberate learning. An article in Inc., Why Constant Learners All Embrace the 5-Hour Rule, explains what they called “Franklin's five-hour rule,” and why it’s wise to accept a modest short-term loss of productivity in favor of greater long-term success.

I know you’re busy, but you’ll never convince me that you’re busier than was the man who became America's most respected statesman, its most famous inventor, a prolific author, and a successful entrepreneur. They acknowledge the short-term impact, i.e., “every time that Franklin took time out of his busy day to follow his five-hour rule and spend at least an hour learning, he accomplished less on that day. However, in the long run, it was arguably the best investment of his time he could have made.”

The basic idea is, instead of squeezing your days for maximum productivity, do the opposite. Create slack in your day so you have "empty space" for learning, creativity, and doing things at a higher quality.

According to Josh Waitzkin, who won his first national chess championship at age nine and dominated scholastic chess for 10 years, then took up Tai Chi and won a world championship at that, "I have built a life around having empty space for the development of my ideas for the creative process. And for the cultivation of a physiological state which is receptive enough to tune in very, very deeply to people I work with. In the creative process, it's so easy to drive for efficiency and take for granted the really subtle internal work that it takes to play on that razor's edge."

The Inc. article lists a number of learning principles, and I strongly encourage you to invest four minutes to read it. However, to get started, lawyers should first focus on one important change to their mental framework: focus on learning first.

"For many people, their professional day is measured by how much they get done. As a result, they speed through the day and slow down their improvement rate."

The article offers a sales call as an example of what “deliberate learning” means:

“Most professionals do a little research before the call, have the call, and then save their notes and move on.

Somebody with a learning focus would think through which skill to practice on the call, practice it on the call, and then reflect on the lessons learned. If that person really wanted an extra level of learning, he or she would invite a colleague on the call and have the colleague provide honest feedback afterward.

Embracing a learning lifestyle means that every time we make a sales call, we get better at doing sales calls. Focusing on learning un-automates our behaviors so we can keep improving them rather than plateauing. Every event is an opportunity to improve.”

This is why lawyers who are serious about improving as business developers embrace coaching. If you have coaches within your firm, try them out, and when you find one that works for you, use her consistently. If you don’t have coaches in your firm, there are lots of them in the law business. Same drill: Try some and see whose approach makes sense and whose style works for you. Then, stick with it. If your firm will pay for it, great. If not, invest in yourself.

Mike O’Horo

Want to see if my coaching approach makes sense to you, and get a feel for whether or not we fit? Schedule a free conversation. No pitch; just exploration.