The Great Train Robbery, Part 1: The 10,000 Hour Rule
I was in Starbucks last week when I overheard a man explaining to a young woman (his daughter?) the difference between a world-class, solo musician, and a music teacher. When the girl asked the difference, the man said, “Basically, the difference is that the world-class musician has practiced for 10,000 hours.”
When I heard him say, “10,000 hours”, my ears perked up because I had recently heard about The 10,000 Hour Rule as it applies to musicians, athletes, and others whom we consider “uncommonly talented”. I even briefly mentioned this concept in one of my previous blogs.
The phrase, The 10,000 Hour Rule (as it is popularly called) comes from research conducted by Dr. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues as they set out to discover the factors that determine what they labeled the acquisition of expert performance among individuals—that ability to perform seemingly effortlessly at a skill level so high the rest of us eagerly pay to watch, and which we don’t think is even available to us, normal humans.
Ericsson studied the lives of professional musicians, chess masters and other “greats” and discovered that, contrary to what one might believe, individuals who attain to extraordinary levels of expertise do not have extraordinary intelligence, nor are they extraordinary in any way that suggests they would have become future luminaries. Rather, what causes them to attain to levels of expertise is what Ericsson calls the role of deliberate, solitary practice.
Here is a quote from one of his research papers: “Many characteristics, once believed to reflect innate talent, are actually the result of intense practice, extended for a minimum of ten years.”
Ericsson breaks down an individual’s capacity for performance levels as follows: 10,000 hours of practice will produce an individual at the highest levels of accomplishment in an area; 5,000 hours produce the lowest level of performer who could still be considered “accomplished”; 2,000 hours produce a high-level amateur.
In the next installment, I will discuss what this has to do with educating of our children. Some of you may have already guessed why I chose the title of this series of articles. If you haven’t, tune in next time for the second installment of The Great Train Robbery.