Por Jorge Manuel Zelaya Fajardo
February 26th, 2020
These short lines have an objective. In fact, they really have two. The first objective is to strip the myth of the concept of 10,000 hours of practice (and do it in four steps). The second is to give credit to the true discoverer of that concept.
Paradoxically, yesterday I listened to Tom Peters, an extraordinary organizational development professional whom I had a very interesting communication via twitter on last year´s December 25th and writer of the book "In Search of Excellence" (first book of its kind to become a standard written in 1982). Peters confesses that he strongly dislikes the titles of 7 points, 4 actions, 5 habits etc, stating in a critical way, that any human activity takes an incredible amount of effort and mistakes to be able to categorize it in a recipe of few steps. I will dare, with scientific data, to challenge master Peters this time.
Most of us, who practice reading as sport, we are inclined to think that the term 10,000 hours is due to the author Malcolm Gladwell, a brilliant and very particular Canadian writer who in his book OUTLIERS, emphasizes the fact that to have a remarkable performance in any professional human activity, the person must have exercised his talent, his art, his craft or his profession for at least 10,000 hours. However, this discovery is originally due to Dr. Anders Ericsson, a distinguished Swedish psychologist who currently stands out as a world authority in the field of the psychological nature of human performance on an extraordinary level.
Ericsson bases his theory on rigorous scientific research. After much evaluation work, he was able to discover that a human being who dedicates at least 10,000 hours to a job with deliberate practice will then have achieved outstanding mastery. The most important thing is that many people have thought that just by practicing an activity during the given time, will automatically generate a domain as an expert. Unfortunately, that is not so. The mere fact of having 10,000 hours of exercising the task of a plant supervisor, bank teller, university professor, taxi driver, medical doctor or any public servant, does not guarantee at all the level of skill of an expert. The practice, doing something just to do it, by itself is rather homeostasis (property of the organism to maintain a stable internal condition). We must not fool ourselves.
Dr. Anders Ericsson asserts that the 10,000 hours are based on what he calls deliberate practice with mental representations, which is defined as doing something in a consistent and disciplined manner with the following 4 characteristics:
First, a very clear, defined and specific goal. If the practice of what we do, does not seek something to achieve, mentally, emotionally and even physically we will never live up to the demand.
Second, a focused approach without distractions. In each of my classes, seminars, courses or conferences, I always remind the audience that we suffer today from Digital Attention Deficit (DAD). It is hard for us to focus on one thing at a time with full and indivisible attention. We suffer from the illusion of believing that efficiency is to answer ALL messages from all our social networks and media immediately, interrupting the marriage that should be between attention and performance of an activity at hand.
Third, immediate feedback. If we do not know where we stand with our performance and its quality, we will not know what we still have to go to reach the goal, which is the most important thing to know.
Fourth, constant pressure to make an extra effort. This is perhaps the most difficult of all. It is breaking the barrier of what has been achieved so far but in a real and systematic way. It is the extra mile made an everyday reality. It's Kaizen (continuous improvement in Japanese) made habit. It is 101% effort.
Therefore, Dr. Ericsson's work is not only outstanding, but also very practical (not easy) to apply in relevant activities in our personal and professional life. However, the most significant part of his work, in my opinion, is that it gives us all hope, no matter what we do and where we are, age or academic background, that we should all look for what we are passionate about and in what that we have talent, to risk discovering, with concrete actions, how far we can go. I just did it ... and you?