08 Mar Does Practice Make Perfect?
How true is the saying “practice makes perfect”? If you practise the piano for eight hours a day for the next ten years, would you become good enough to play a concerto at the Proms?
In his 2008 bestseller Outliers, sociologist Malcolm Gladwell explains that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert – from violin to basketball to chess or computer games.
Gladwell did not simply pluck the number from thin air; he cited research papers which agreed on the approximate time span or hours. Forty years ago, in a paper in American Scientist, Herbert A. Simon and William G. Chase reported that a chess grandmaster had spent between 10,000 and 50,000 hours playing chess. Gladwell adds some very powerful research to the “nurture” argument including the report by K Anders Ericsson on the achievements of violin players studying at a top music school. The division between the excellent musicians and the rest was very clear. As they reached a certain level, the violin players in the “excellent group” had practised approximately 10,000 hours in the past ten years.
Gladwell says: “achievement is talent plus preparation,” explaining that the 10,000 hour rule shows the achievement of excellence amongst the gifted, aspractice and preparation becomes more important than the talent for their achievements. We see examples of this in the media and sport every day.
David Beckham practised his free kicks daily at his local park and when he wasn’t physically kicking a ball, he was visualising it hitting the back of the net. The Beatles played their eight hour long shows in Hamburg; Bill Gates discovered the joy of programming in his teens; Andy Murray moved to Barcelona to join tennis camp at aged 12 – with Nadal and Djokavic amongst his other peers; and Michael Jordan became arguably the greatest basket player of all time through his hours of practice.
There are many tall boys who play basketball, most boys in the Western World can play football, and computers are accessible to the majority of young people, but those who practise frequently and extensively achieve a different level.
In Outliers, you will find the other features which back up the practice and preparation key to success. Gladwell recognised the experts all have needed access to certain privileges, lucky breaks or conditions. In order to succeed, experts also need to grasp the opportunities presented to them. Bill Gates had access to top level IT systems at a young age through his college, but he was the one person who spent days and nights programming, creating and experimenting. He was the one with the drive and ideas – and the resilience to put in the hours to practise and learn about new technology unlike his peers.
Relating this to Advance Performance’s material, constant practice builds strong dendrites. (Intensity x Frequency). Through practising a skill, and building up our 10,000 hours, we move from being consciously incompetent at the start, to becoming unconsciously competent i.e. we form a habit and thus become an expert in that skill.
The keys to becoming an expert:
• Discover your talent
• Practise Practise Practise (10,000 hours!)
• Take up any opportunity presented to you to help you achieve your goal.
Think about your talents – what are YOU good at? Set yourself a high target to achieve and make the time to practise, an hour at a time towards the 10,000 hours of being an expert. It doesn’t have to be a sport; maybe you enjoy gardening, embroidery, magic tricks, playing an instrument, baking or DIY. Whatever your talent, have fun clocking up your hours and remember to share your successes – we always love hearing your stories.