Malcolm Gladwell helped popularize the idea of the “10,000 Hour Rule” in his book, Outliers, with the notion that “deliberate practice” is the most important factor when examining the differences between experts and novices in fields such as sports and music. However, that theory has been debunked somewhat as of late, with new studies showing that “deliberate practice” alone doesn’t get an athlete to the Olympics or a pianist to Carnegie Hall (an internet search turns up a lot of articles on this–take a look at this Slate article).
However, K. Anders Ericsson, the psychologist who originally published the study that led to the theory of the “10,000 Hour Rule,” has just come out with a new book, Peak: Secrets From The New Science Of Expertise, co-authored with Robert Pool. Once again, he asserts that practice is the issue, not innate “talent.” Check out this National Public Radio Interview with Professor Ericsson: NPR interview.
I’m irritated by this line of argument. Yes, practice matters. Yes, persistence matters. But the ability to stick to something IS, IN AND OF ITSELF, A TALENT. Some kids have more of it, some less. And you can develop it, certainly. I think one of the hallmarks of becoming an adult is when you persist at things that you don’t like but know you really need to do. We all need to help our kids develop this trait. And any parent who has more than one child knows that not all kids have the same amount of “natural” grit, and certainly not in the same ways. Some kids hide under the table when it’s time for shots; other kids barely notice the needle. Those same kids who hate needles might be fierce on the soccer field. WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT.
From the NPR interview:
“he argues that “talent” is often a story we tell ourselves to justify our own failure or to protect children from the possibility of failure.”
No, no, no. It’s the reverse. The problem is when we tell our kids, “you can do or be anything you want if you work at it.” That’s not true. We like to say it, we want to believe it, but it’s not true.
All of my kids have been competitive swimmers for many years. Just take a look at the range of body types on a swim team. Some people are better suited to one stroke rather than another. Others have perhaps a genetic gift for endurance. Bigger, more muscled body types sprint better than petite frames. One of my kids is a “petite” sprinter. She’s got great fast-twitch muscles, a head for technical details, and a sheer love of speed. She’s a pretty good sprinter. But at 5’5″, she’s no match for the ladies who are 5’10” and above.
Nope, we aren’t telling ourselves a story to justify a “failure.” It’s just the way it goes. And really, it’s not a big deal.
Can’t we all find something we are pretty good at to spend our 10,000 hours on? Without trying to argue that everyone can go to the Olympics, everyone can go to Carnegie Hall, and everyone can be Steve Jobs? Does anyone else feel that a world where we can all “be whatever we want to be if we work at it” is just–boring? Not to mention–a reason for all of us to feel discouraged and defeated? Failing to achieve something might indeed be due to lack of trying…but it might also be the result of bad luck or misguided application.