Can quality be clocked?
PSYCHOLOGIST CALLS TIME ON 10,000-HOUR RULE OF SUCCESS
Psychologist Anders Ericsson had no cont act with Malcolm Gladwell before the Canadian writer took one of his papers on Berlin violin students and morphed it into one of the 21st century’s most storied self-help axioms.
The “10,000 hour rule” — enshrined in Gladwell’s bestselling 2008 book Outliers — holds that mastery in any field can be achieved with 10,000 hours of practice.
But Ericsson, a Florida State University researcher who has spent his career breaking down the science of what makes people extraordinary, says Gladwell missed the point.
“If you’ve been doing your job for 10 years or 10,000 hours, the idea that you magically become a superior performer … is counterproductive,” he told the National Post.
As Ericsson explains in a new book, Peak, it’s not enough to engage in 10,000 hours of a task. Cabbies are not transformed into virtuoso drivers over years of service. What’s critical is “deliberate practice” — a scientific attention to specific improvement goals, a constant drive to move outside one’s comfort zone that is “generally not enjoyable,” and a good coach “to minimize the risk” of wasted, frustrated time.
What Gladwell got right, though, says the book, is that expertise of any kind requires a “t remendous amount of effort exerted over many years.”
Peak argues that innate talent is virtually irrelevant. Prodigies are a myth, Ericsson argues, perfect pitch can be taught and Mario Lemieux was no more gifted than any other Canadian baby raised in a hockey-mad household where the family covered the living room with packed snow to allow the children to continue skating after dark.
“I can’t say that such a thing ( as a prodigy) doesn’t exist, but I can say that I’ve been searching for such evidence over 30 years and I’ve yet to find a case that doesn’t allow for an alternative explanation,” said Ericsson.
Even autistic savants — the gold standard for geniuses as far as movies are concerned — can be explained. Peak cites research from the U. S. and Britain showing that the extreme memorization capabilities shown by people with autism can be replicated by the non-autistic simply by devoting the same amount of time to the task.
The only difference is that “autistic people are more likely to practise obsessively.”
Peak pays special attention to Steve Faloon, a Carnegie Mellon undergraduate who, with Ericsson’s tutelage, became the world master at recalling strings of digits.
Conducted in the l ate 1970s, the exercise was to read Faloon a list of numbers in quick succession, then ask him to parrot back as many as he could remember.
The average person can usually handle about eight — but with two years, and about 500 hours of practice, Faloon was able to bring that figure to 82.
The feat was so spooky that when Faloon died in 1981 of aplastic anemia, an extremely rare blood disorder, those close to him briefly suspected that the memorization may have played a part in his untimely death.
Says Ericsson: “You have two exceptional things, and I think it’s reasonable to assume there is a connection between the two.”
Peak’s pages abound with some of the most motivated people on the planet. Dan McLaughlin, a 30- year- old commercial photographer with no golf experience, quit his job to put in 10,000 hours toward becoming a golf pro. Paul Brady, a 32-year-old Bell Telephone researcher, taught himself perfect pitch using a rigid training regimen backed by a custom- made computer program.
If you’ve been doing your job for 10 years or 10,000 hours, the idea that you magically become a superior performer … is counterproductive.
And there’s the rub with Ericsson’s t heory. Most people are not Dan McLaughlin or Paul Brady. Even with a point-by-point road map on how to achieve greatness, we don’t want it enough to make the necessary sacrifices.
Or maybe, according to Ericsson, they just need a better sense of the payoff.
The researcher disputes even the idea of innate drive. There is no scientific evidence of an overarching concept of “willpower,” he argues, and motivation of any kind can be built from scratch.
“From our studies of exceptional performers, one of the things we’ve noticed with people who don’t reach high levels is they don’t really get a grasp of the emotion and the satisfaction that success will bring them,” he says.