February 3, 2009

10,000 Hours

Have you heard of the 10,000 hour rule? I hadn't until I read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success. It's an interesting read, along with his other books, Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Difference and Blink: Thinking Without Thinking. Gladwell, who pretty much looks like this guy with the ladder, is a staff writer for the New York Times. Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in 2005. He has his detractors, but he also has his fans. His books get you thinking.

The premise of Outliers is that we may be mistaken about natural talents and how people become successful. In one notable chapter, Gladwell cites research done over the course of the last twenty-five years by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist at Florida State University. That's him with the beard.

Haven't you always admired the natural athlete or writer or artist? Well, get over it right now! You, too, can be the natural talent you always wanted to be. If you're going to admire anything about the naturally talented person, admire the amount of work that person has put into it.

Except for a few athletes, Ericsson has shown that this kind of 'gift' that really successful people have comes only after a specific number of hours of dedicated practice. How many hours? 10,000.

Some would argue that you could practice something for 10,000 hours and still not get any better -- I know some golfers -- and writers -- who are prime examples of this. But Ericsson has shown that not all practice is equal. Practice is quite different from dedicated practice.

Practicing just for the sake of practicing will keep you busy, but it may not get you as far as you could be going. As a teacher who's put in well over 10,000 hours (um, quadruple that, perhaps? octuple?), I have seen this at work in my own life. I haven't been content to just teach a lesson and be satisfied with it. I have to design and classroom test each of them -- I think about each one and tinker with each as I go. I may teach some of the same lessons every year, but they certainly never look the same from one presentation to the next. That means a lot of time thinking (let's call it practicing). This is one example of how I've pursued dedicated practice. Find 10,000 hours of it yourself, and boom -- you're a success!

I could say more on this topic, but Geoffrey Colvin, Senior Editor-at-Large at Fortune Magazine has written a really great article on this subject here. You should take a look at it.

I plan to focus myself on dedicated practice with
my writing -- I hope to find ways to produce more, stretch myself into different genres, to say things in interesting, quirky, and unusual new ways, to read more widely, and to think more critically -- and creatively -- about my own work and the work of others I admire. I'll be having fun over the next 7,000 hours upping my skills ante.

So, what is your particular talent? Are you willing to put in those 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to be a natural?

1 comment:

Sheree said...

I'm thinking that 6 weeks ago at about 8:46 pm, I reached my quota and became a natural. It's nice to know that I've finally reached some kind of a goal even if it feels like I've miles to go before I sleep.