Thursday, February 11, 2010

10,000 hours to greatness

I always meant to write on this topic since Lilian posted about it, but somehow never got around to it.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers published in 2008, he put forth the premise of the "10,000-hour rule", namely the key to success in any field is not talent or genius but simply to practise that task for 10,000 hours. This works out to about 20 hours a week for 10 years.

Gladwell cited specific examples. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, which he attributed to shaping their talent. Bill Gates met the 10,000-hour rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.

I find that like many people with a singular theory or hypothesis, they try too hard to justify their point to the extent of rationalisation and over-simplification. I feel Gladwell completely downplays the importance of talent to make it sound almost inconsequential, ie anyone who puts in 10.000 hours can be great. But common sense tells me that even if I were to swim 10,000 hours, I simply cannot be Michael Phelps because of my physical build, aptitude, etc.

Having said that, I totally agree with him that hard work and practice are more critical for success than genius, and this augurs well for anyone who has ever dismissed their abilities due to lack of talent.

I finally got around to posting about this topic because of the recent inter-school badminton tournaments that Andre experienced late last month. Having been thoroughly impressed by the standard of some of the students, I decided to kaypoh and check out the websites of the top Singapore schools in badminton. What was their secret? Did they manage to attract all the top players? Or did they have some fantastic technique?

One by one, I uncovered the same thing: all the schools list an intensive badminton coaching schedule, some as frequent as every single weekday, 3 hours each time. On top of this, I know some of the kids have additional coaching sessions outside of school.

So really, the secret is no secret at all. It's just plain and simple hard work. (Of course with that schedule, I've no idea where the kids find the time to study and do their homework, but that's another story). A friend of mine has a daughter in primary school who's doing very well in gym and has been participating in overseas competitions. However, she told me that realistically, Singapore has little chance outside of ASEAN because here, training is at most a few hours each day, to fit in studies and other activities. Whereas in China, the kids who train for gym live and breathe gym - they basically do gym from morning to night, everyday. They just amass 10,000 hours to perfection... quicker.

In short, talent is great, but without hard work, it means nothing. All great talents and successes in history have invested immense effort and time into what they do. Conversely, it's also time for people who keep whining that they cannot achieve anything because they have no talent, to get off their butts and start working because they have no more excuses.

Knowing that you have a terrific chance of excelling in something if you put in the hours means there are important decisions to be made. Everyone has a finite number of hours in a day, so where would you invest those hours? Something has got to give. As Lilian suggested in her post, most Singapore kids probably spend those hours in drills for exams. If so, then it's no wonder our kids tend to ace exams but they don't have time to develop much else.

So I'll just leave you to consider this: your child has 10,000 hours to master a skill, what would it be? I hope it's something more meaningful than exam techniques.


Lilian said...

Easier said than done...but I think the skill I'd like my child to master would be be able to influence,inspire, persuade, sell, convince :) Or maybe that's leadership. How to master that and where to channel that 3 hours a day to? haha...definitely not in drilling and mugging.

I'm not even sure if that is something that can really be honed, of if it's just natural in some people.

Perhaps one step to being good in communication is to hone writing skills, so at least even if the kid is not a great talker, he can still get his message across if people are willing to read! The pen is mightier than the sword yes?

But making a child master writing if he's not keen sounds a little too near drilling haha...

Back to the drawing board!

monlim said...

Lilian: Umm... I think if you ask your child to talk non stop 3 hrs a day, he'll get there but can you tahan it? LOL!!

For writing, definitely practice makes perfect. Even for me, it has gotten easier after writing constantly for so many years, so I'm sure for kids, it works the same way. But like with all things, there should ideally be some interest first, otherwise it'll be extremely tough going!

Anonymous said...

Talk is my dd's forte... ask her anything, she will give the perfect answer. Ask her how you get your dream? "Work hard", How you work hard? blah blah blah...perfectly..
Do? arggh..wait long long because she is still young.... LOL

But one thing for sure, talent exists before hardwork. Once the talent has been identified, all being equal, the differentiator is hard work and in the hardwork process if not careful, the passion is killed and the talent becomes hidden forever... LOLLLL.


monlim said...

QX: your dd is just hilarious lah! I think she'll just surprise you yet :)

I agree that if not careful, what was talent might not be realised cos the passion is gone. So much to think about! Maybe easier not to do anything... LOL!

Anonymous said...

She ah? You are spot on Mon!
She is as cartoon as the comics character she draws...She doodled one this am and showed me. I had a good laugh....

Your sharing is useful and good to know about this 10,000 hours outcome. I am sure many have inspiring stories to share after reading yr blog, just not from me! :P LOL


monlim said...

QX: Your dd is so young, wait a few years then I'm sure you'll have something inspiring to share about the 10k hours :)

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