Ten thousand hours

17 February 2017

I think there’s an enormous over-emphasis on natural talent. In my work, programming, there’s often a perception that people who started early in life (say, 12 years old) have a huge, insurmountable advantage over people who start later in life.  In the art world, this is even more pronounced. Mozart, whose main quality is his age. Picasso, who must have had an innate ability to do what he did. The latest viral video of a 12 year old child dancing or singing on youtube.

One thing to note is that we mostly attribute this to artistic qualities. Nobody believes a genius accountant is born that way (if we even accept an accountant having a positive quality). There are no natural born politicians, firefighters or beekeepers. But there are natural born police, sculptor, musicians, liars…

Who decides this s***?

One of the most interesting things I’ve ever heard stressed the importance of deliberate practice. And deliberate is a very important word is this. To not just cruise by on auto-pilot, but to consciously improve weak points, and to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. To not lash on to convenient excuses, and just put our feet on Terra Incognita. To keep at it for a significant time, just as the first things we found comfort with (and probably identify with). To not be afraid to be an amateur, even if we are a professional at something else. To judge ourselves, without any fear of finding ourselves lacking. To not be complacent.

It’s certain there are some people who had a born-with advantage. Daniel Johnston, who innovated without being part of the music scene.  Leonardo da Vinci, who was so far ahead that he had to be alone. Gaudi, who carved out such a unique space, he had to work on his own. But all of them learned how to wield that talent through practice. Perhaps 10000 hours worth.