Monday, 19 March 2012

Understanding the 10,000 hour rule

A lot has been made about the 10,000 hour rule, Anders Ericsson's theory that stipulates the average number of hours of 'deliberate practice' to achieve excellence in any domain. For those not familiar with the concept, the model suggests that experts were differentiated from lesser performers by the amount of time they spent in deliberately practising their chosen activity. The average number being reported by the participants in the various studies conducted by Ericsson's research team being 10,000 hours. The assumption many people make from this is that if you do thousands of hours of practice then you will become a highly proficient performer at whatever you choose. 

Deliberate practice is not just about amassing hours at something, it is a very specific process  involving focussing on a challenge, mindfully working on it with a goal to improve performance, often the process is guided by an expert or a coach and the process involved lots of trying and failing. As Annie Murphy Paul puts it in this piece in the Time Magazine: Ideas section  "It sounds simple, even obvious, but it’s something most of us avoid. If we play the piano — or...the guitar — or we play golf or speak French, it’s because we like it. We’ve often achieved a level of competency that makes us feel good about ourselves. But what we don’t do is intentionally look for ways that we’re failing and hammer away at those flaws until they’re gone, then search for more ways we’re messing up. But almost two decades of research shows that’s exactly what distinguishes the merely good from the great".

This study "It's not how much, it's how"  goes further to explain this as it outlines that musicians that improved more rapidly than others did so because of the way they practised rather than the amount they practised. Essentially those that improved the most looked at mistakes and tried to rectify them immediately before moving on to anything else

The video below is a good example of deliberate practice, the drummer, Simon Phillips (who has played with a number of big name bands including 'The Who') is largely self taught and developed these sorts of exercises as a way to improve his technique. Just imagine how many times he got this wrong before he was competent!

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