Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Is hard work the new sure-fire formula for success?


It seems that by being interested in this whole ten thousand hours thing, I've inadvertently hit top current culture at its vortex. Oh, and I was wrong. The book is actually called Outliers.

(you can read my previous post here) http://tabithapaints.blogspot.ca/2013/10/why-artistic-failure-is-landmark-of.html

Carrying the book with me, I poked into a store before heading home. "Oh, Outliers! Isn't it good?" The hipster sales clerk leaned over his glass desk.

"Uh, hem?" Like an idiot, I hadn't even read the cover. I had no idea of the title of the book I was carrying.

"Your book!" Luckily his enthusiasm carried him past my obviously uncomprehending fish eye. "Isn't it great?"

"Oh. Right-- well..." and I launched into an explanation about how I've been pondering art, and ten thousand hours and everything.

"I know. It's so true!" he gushed. "It totally turns the conventional "success" thing on its head. Like how it takes time to get good at stuff and there really aren't any naturally successful people out there. There's this rapper Macklemore--you know him?" (which of course I didn't) "He has this song about ten thousand hours and one of the lines is
the greats weren't great because at birth they could paint
the greats were great cause they paint a lot
and I think that's just what our generation needs to hear. Greatness doesn't just find some people and not others..."

We talked for a long time and then I left, full of thoughts.

*  *  *

I wanted to share the few paragraphs which lay out the concept.

"The striking thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any 'naturals," musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any 'grinds,' people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

"The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

" 'The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert--in anything,' writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. '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 that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.' "

Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell, 2008, p.39-40

Now that I've read the book [books, actually--he's written a few], I have more to think through. My poor husband: he has to put up with my unending analysis. After my latest musings on how Outliers relates to my pursuit of visual art, he finally burst out with, "This is popular writing, Tabitha. You just read it and ask yourself whether it's generally true. There's no need to dissect every point!"

Fine. But on the other hand: if what Gladwell says is true--if this book [as the front flap of its book jacket claims] unlocks the "peculiar and unexpected logic" of turning an average person into an Outlier (one who is extremely successful), must it necessarily follow that this can be used as a "blueprint for making the most of human potential?"

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