a journey of 10,000 hours

Marica is studying at the moment. We are study kind of people, we even met while we were studying. I fully expect we will be studying forever. One of the topics Marica is looking at is to name five people who have been influential in your life, and how they’ve helped form the person you are today. I think it’s a very, very interesting question. We both can think of many people who’ve been very influential in shaping the people we are today – who your five people, and how have they shaped you?

I frequently think about professional development and reflective practice – how do you get better at your job – or any other aspect of your life? How do your learn to cook better? Write better. And oh, dear oh dear, now that drawing has started again, how on earth do I get better at drawing?

As a kid I had weekly confirmation lessons with Bob Kempe. I realised he had a profound influence on my life with just a few words. He told me that he’d heard/read/believed/whatever that if you want to be in the top 5% of your career field, get as much training as you can, and then simply read one book, directly related to your field, every month. If you were that kind of person you would’ve probably added a journal or two, and these days you’d add a blog or two for daily updates. Bob said, “It’s not that you’re going to be the super expert, it’s that there’s plenty of room at the top, and most people don’t bother to keep up.” He also said it was true of fitness – a jog around the block once a day will make a significant change in your health. This was in the days when jogging was the order of the day – nobody did the running fitness madness then. I have been a reader ever since, and was to be seen running from time-to-time. A walk is my limit these days.

Zen Master, DamoWhen I did my masters I was surprised to find that the concept of ‘mastery’ had somehow become parted from the university. I felt vaguely disappointed that I hadn’t become some kind of zen master – you know, that gentle, good humored, wise … instead, there was just me. That was no surprise, the disappointment was that in the university the ‘traditional’ concept of mastery was treated (at best) as a joke.

From my own work experience I have learned that it takes me about three years in a job to get to grips with it. Based on a 2,000 hour year, that’s about 6,000 hours. Like most people I wouldn’t achieve a 2,000 chargeable hours in a year, but by the time I add in the background reading and reflecting on my job I probably wouldn’t be too far short of the 2,000 hours per year. I’ve never held a job for ten years, but I have worked (and continue to work) with people who have been in the same(-ish) role for a decade or more, and without exception they have a mastery that is second to none.

I absolutely believe that what stands between me and beautiful drawings is 10,000 hours. It’s as simple as that. From a link on D*I*Y Planner, I found there is some published research to shore up my belief – Ericcson and Lehmann’s Expert and exceptional performance: Evidence of maximal adaptation to task notes that ‘innate talent is not valid for expert performance acquired through at least a decade of intense practice’.

David Seah writes a great article about building a niche of one. He trims out the 10,000 hours after reading about pilots –

* at 1 hour … you know some basics
* at 10 hours … you have a pretty good grasp of the basics
* at 100 hours … you are fairly expert
* at 1000 hours … you are an experienced expert
* at 10000 hours … you are a master

I don’t think that is true in learning a job – and I can’t think why they would be different. Obviously flying an aircraft is not a trivial task; however, in a job, 1,000 hours is the end of the first year, if we’re talking chargeable hours. The first six months if not. Neither time frame makes you an experienced expert in any job I’ve had since I became an adult. Sure, tasks can be mastered within that time, but I believe only the most routine of jobs will have you an expert in 6-12 months. Quite often these kinds of jobs are described as boring and repetitive, rarely the kind of jobs anyone sticks at for the 10,000 hours. Perhaps the difference is the 10,000 hours a pilot puts in is flying time, and doesn’t take into account the pre- and post-flight preparation work. It might take a pilot a number of years to clock up the 1,000 hours – I recall my friend Cam took a good long time to achieve the 50 hours he needed for his helicopter license.

Duff agrees there’s 10,000 hours to mastery, but notes there’s a tension when you want to master more than one thing. I think the solution there is to think ‘higher’ – don’t settle for just mastering tasks, work out how to combine the tasks into a more overarching mastery. Specific mastery is not without its costs – my best example is in the movie ‘Zoolander‘ – the main character (Zoolander – a male fashion model) is unable to turn left. At the end of the catwalk he turns right, and then right again to walk back – and to turn left, rather than making a 90° turn left, Zoolander turns 270° right. You see, two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left; and yes, ‘there’s more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking’.

Ahem. A small diversion. And there are so many opportunities for diversion on your 10,000 hour journey to mastery. Better get started then. If you decide to cast off on your journey towards mastery, you’ll find that you quite quickly start to move into unknown waters. There aren’t that many people on the voyage, and if you meet a friendly soul on similar journey it’s a rare and precious thing. In my case, I married the friendly soul so we could continue to journey together. It’s a good idea to make a map of where you are, and where you’ve been, so others might be able to follow. I’ve written before about exploring without a map: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 4 (cont), part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8.

The other thing I think is vital to understand is that it is ok to take time to learn. Somehow we’ve become a society dedicated to condensation – to trying to condense everything into the shortest time. This is not ever how the master of old learned. In the classical European art tradition kids with some sort of painting or drawing talent were apprenticed for years before they became competent tradepeople in their own rights – yes – able to charge an arm and leg. It’s completely ok, if not even entirely desirable to build on David’s Niche of One. Marcel and I were emailing about this the other day. From Marcel’s creative perspective, ‘self validation is the only worthwhile validation to pursue and the most empowering’. I’m inclined to agree – if you can’t love your work you can’t expect anyone else to as much as like it. Be yourself and just get on with creating. Evelyn Rodriguez has responded, beautifully, about the snippy comments from web wankers about how the internet was being taken over by amateurs. Imagine that. Amateurs. Hey – it could be worse – could be religion, accountants, and other snake oil vendors. Evelyn believes an internet fed mostly by amateurs is fascinating:

And the Internet is our open studio to throw pots, take up a brush, collaborate on jam sessions, squiggle cartoons and practice, practice, practice. Anyone can drop into the studio without an appointment. Sometimes it’s a work in progress. And sometimes you walk into a masterpiece.

As a renowned documentary filmmaker (once an amateur whom trained herself by getting her hands on a camera and just-doing-it) once shared with me, “There’s a secret. If you put in the effort, the universe has a matching grant program. And it’ll meet you halfway every time.”

If you move now, you can get the first couple of hours towards mastery done, before the next distraction comes in bellowing like a bull calf. Don’t hesitate, mastery awaits.

2 thoughts on “a journey of 10,000 hours

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