Ten Thousand Hours

Ten Thousand HoursWhat do the Beatles, Bill Joy, Bill Gates and concert pianists have in common? Some might group the Beatles and concert pianists together since the most obvious common denominator is music. Those with above average knowledge of the history of computers and programming would know who Bill Joy is (rewrote UNIX, the operating software for millions of computers). And who doesn’t know Bill Gates?

So, by the logic of grouping, we could have two groups — music in common, computers and programming in common.

Now, what’s the link between the two?

You might guess math, since math and music are interwoven in thinking and creativity.

Close, but no cigar.

The few basic ingredients are talent, opportunity and many, many hours of practice. 

The most important?

Opportunities to practice.

So, preparation is more important than talent.

A few examples taken from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. A study conducted by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist and two colleagues with the help of professors at the Berlin Academy of Music, divided student violinists into three groups: potential to be world class soloists, good, and unlikely to succeed professionally and would become music teachers.

The same question was asked to each violinist, “Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?” Everyone started playing the violin about the same age, around five years old. The first few years of practice the average time was about two or three hours a week. At age eight, the amount of practice changed for those who later became the best. They would practice six hours a week. The number of hours increased as they got older till, by the age of 20, they practiced over 30 hours a week on purpose to get better.

These elite performers had each accumulated 10,000 hours of practice. The good violin students had totaled 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers had totaled only 4,000 hours. The same study was done comparing amateur pianists with professional pianists. The amateurs never practiced more than about three hours a week during childhood, and by the age of twenty had totaled 2,000 hours. The professionals increased their practice over time until by the age of 20, they had reached 10,000 hours. In Ericcson’s study there were no “naturals,” musicians who effortlessly floated to the top while practicing less than others. Also, there were no “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet didn’t have what it takes to make it to the top. The research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, what distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she  works. That’s it. The people at the top don’t just work harder, or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

The emerging picture from such studies is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything. — Daniel Levitin, Neurologist

“In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true master,” Levitin said.

The formula of mastery through 10,000 hours is:

  • talent
  • willingness to learn
  • commitment to practice
  • opportunities to learn
  • opportunities to practice

Helping your child identify and develop a skill they are interested in is the starting point. The commitment to practice and willingness to learn has to come from your child. You help provide opportunities to practice and accumulate the 10,000 hours.

Photo Credit: Mel B. via Compfight cc