Jeez, all adults know this

With blatant disregard for the public benefits of motivational idioms, researchers have concluded that practice does not, necessarily, make perfect.

A study of violinists found that merely good players practised as much as, if not more than, better players, leaving other factors such as quality of tuition, learning skills and perhaps natural talent to account for the difference.

The work is the latest blow to the 10,000-hour rule, the idea promoted in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers, which has been taken to mean that enough practice will make an expert of anyone. In the book, Gladwell states that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”.

Not that Gladwell actually said that. Rather, 10,000 hours is a necessary precondition.

The larger point though any and every adult knows. People just click with some things and not with others. This is true of doing music at all – I reached my plateau and wasn’t going to get any better at about Grade VII. Just didn’t have the innate understanding of music necessary to take it further. Algebra plateaued somewhere in between dy/dx and integration. Just never could get the brain around the latter. Sure, could work though a known equation, work to rule. But composing one? Nahhh.

Even within a subject – two years of cello led to no one wanting to put me in even for Grade I. Two terms of trumpet had me sailing through Grade IV. Grade V has to be worked at a little bit……

And the thing is, every adult does know this, every language has an equivalent of horses for courses…..

19 comments on “Jeez, all adults know this

  1. the 10,000-hour rule, the idea promoted in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers

    A convenient gimmick to sell books, something Mr G is very good at.

    10,000 is an arbitrary large number, a bit like 10,000 steps.

    I suppose it sounds more scientific than “practice makes perfect”.

  2. Studies of airline crashes and surgery have shown that practice makes complacent. It was one of the things that lead to rigourously-enforced checklist procedures.

  3. I think you will find that Gladwell did make the claim that anyone can get to a perfect level by practicing for 10000 hours. Not the first claim he has extracted from his fundament.

  4. Over the years I must have met 5-6 people who were the real deal – if they are on their game you can’t live with them. Have met countless who are very good at what they do, but…

  5. Practice makes permanent. Doing the wrong thing over and over insures that you will continue doing the wrong thing.

    Screaching your fiddle 10,000 times will make you good at screaching your fiddle.

  6. “Algebra plateaued somewhere in between dy/dx and integration.”

    Sorry to be a pendant, but those things are calculus, not algebra.

  7. @ Bernie G
    My first thought was “you’re a damn sight better than me!” – then I realised that “you can’t” was colloquial for “no-one can”, reducing the number I have met from a couple of hundred to half-a-dozen.
    Third thought was “I’ve done more than 10,000 hours training but it’s years since I actually won a race” which tends to support Tim’s viewpoint.

  8. Tsk, tsk Tim.

    Every enlightened person in this day and age knows that we are all the same (otherwise we’d have to acknowledge… genetics!).

    Ergo, it really IS a matter of record that someone is better at something than someone else because they tried harder. 🙂

  9. @ Russtovich
    Remarkably few people die running marathons but quite a lot “hit the wall” when they are physically incapable of running further because the glycogen stores in their leg muscles are completely exhausted.

  10. ‘quite a lot “hit the wall” when they are physically incapable of running further’. All schoolboys know this.

    Now boys, run to the sea and back!

    Sir, sir, is the tide up?

  11. If Gladwell didn’t actually mean that he came so close as to be virtually indistinguishable.
    His books are interesting and very persuasive on the surface but often frustrating. That section was the worst, begging so many questions as to be next to useless.

    I agree that it was a catchy PR, but whether it’s good PR when 74% of people* immediately think it’s a nonsense claim is another matter.

    *Look, I can make up dubious numbers too.

  12. Monty Python sorted out that logical fallacy some years ago:

    All mackerel are fish, but not all fish are mackerel.

    Whenever I’ve herd Gladwell talk about the subject he’s always at pains to talk about the 10,000 hours just being a big number to get the message across that even the most gifted have had to invest a lot of time and effort to succeed. He also says the 10,000 hours includes the time of parents, coaches, teachers and anyone else who invested time.

    There’s a good Freakonomics program on it IIRC.

  13. BIND
    I heard the audiobook, Gladwell reading it himself. He wasn’t at any pains at all to make those points, I’m afraid.
    I suspect he got so much stick that he backed away rapidly.

  14. Yep. My maths plateaued about same as yours with calculus being spawn of devil.

    Algeb, Arith, Trig and Geom was fine. Music & Languages – nothing. Honest/frustrated piano teacher told parents “no ability, wasting your money”

    Anatomy, Biology, Computing, Electronics, Engineering/Mechanics and Physics clicked, Chemistry not so much.

  15. I consider calculus one of teaching’s greatest failures. I had trouble with it, as did my son. Even though my father was a nationally renowned mathematician.

    I believe they go wrong by not spending the first week or two teaching PARADIGMS, not calculus. Without the requisite paradigms, kids go catatonic when teachers jump into calculus, and the students become forever lost.

  16. @ Gamecock
    That was not a failure of Calculus but of your teacher: your post has reminded me that when I was 11 the school Boy Scout Troop had a book sale with a book on calculus on sale so I cycled home at lunchtime to collect enough of my saved-up pocket money lest the seriously bright kid a year older bought it first.

  17. Practice does not make perfect. Aiming for and working towards perfection makes perfect.
    Repeating something by rote and not changing does not make for a better musician – can make for completing a piece of music though.

    Bit like in school, some are pushed to meet test requirements. Some are pushed to the best of their ability.

    I play an instrument, have tried several but been working on learning the mandolin for a while now. Bad player and always will be – until such time as I get a replacement left hand and wrist. Enjoyable though.

    Keep meaning to try the Hurdy Gurdy which won’t have the same problems, also far more expensive an instrument…

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