Thursday, April 4, 2019
It has become common currency in our culture that working at something for 10,000 hours is how long it takes to master it. Work at making baguettes for 10,000 hours, or the banjo, or knitting, and you will be a master! This all is largely attributable to some guy. And because I have spent 10,000 hours looking up trifling information on the Internet, and so am a master of it, I can tell you that guy is Malcolm Gladwell. He based it off of a paper written in 1993 by three more guys whose names I easily found but can't be bothered to type in because they're long and foreign looking and have hyphens and stuff.
It's also a patently silly idea, this 10,000 hours thing. Scientists know it. So do most people. But it's popular because it's nice and neat. It's absolute and so a kind of reassurance. If I'm going to miserably practice speaking Italian I want a guarantee and a nice even number to work with. If I'm going to work at chess for seven years I want to be able to know I can take on an 11 year old prodigy who's been at it for a few months.
Even if I can't.
Both science and common sense are on the same page here. Yes, you have to practice difficult things to get better at them. But how fast you get good at them, and how great you can ultimately become at them, is determined by innate talent, by physical limits, by how effective your practice is, and by things that are beyond our ability to explain. Look at me, I write soaring prose, punctuated with astute philosophy, and riddled with unconscionable levels of wit and humor. One can't chalk that sort of thing up to practice! I have only been practicing essay writing for, let's see, times 2,266, carry the seven, for, oh, roughly 73,000 hours.
Hmm, 73,000 hours?
Oh, never mind.