Wednesday, December 17, 2008


There is a school of thought, confirmed by a number of studies, that real expertise in a subject takes a lot of practice.

Well, duh.

The number that seem to do the trick, according to these studies, to get to world-class status in a discipline, seems to be about 10,000 hours. Plus or minus a little, but right around that. A world-class violinist will have the hours. A pretty good professional player could be at five or six K. A decent amateur is looking at a couple thousand hours. 

For a list of folks involved in such research, and an overview of it, check out Learning and Practicing Skilled Performance, by Francis Mechner. (Note: This is a .PDF download, so if you click on the link, that's what you get.) And for more, anything you can find by Professor K. Anders Ericsson, of FSU's Psychology Department. Man knows his stuff. 

This is not to say you can't learn things faster. Dr. Ericsson points out that one can learn to do two-move chess problems in 50-100 hours to a level equal to world-class chess players. Of course, that doesn't mean you can play chess with them, only that in this one narrow arena, you can keep up.

By this light, I am far from world-class as a silat player. Not a surprise to me.  I have been training in the art for fourteen years; if we assume -- wrongly so, but for the sake of argument -- that I managed to practice for an hour each and every day, that means the best I could do would be halfway to world-class expertise, since I'd only have about 5100 hours at it.

Another fourteen years before I get there, unless I up my daily hours. Assuming I live that long and can still move ...

To make it to that level as a guitarist, given my current daily practice? Why, I need only twenty-eight more years ...

Oh, well. Something to do. 


Steve Perry said...

In writing, the conventional wisdom is that you need to do at least a million words -- some say two million -- before you start to feel comfortable as a writer.

Obviously there are those who write one book manage a home run, but in terms of feeling comfortable with one's craft, practice is necessary.

On that account, I feel a little more confident. Last time I thought about it, I figured I'd written and sold enough to make it to the five-and-a-half million word range. Books, scripts, teleplays, short stories, non-fiction. Don't count the blog, unless someday I bundle it up and turn it into a book.

Anonymous said...

anon-in-oz: really interesting Mr Perry. Thankyou. Seems to be a problem with the link to the pdf. Wants to put in front of it.

Master Plan said...

Ah! Thank you for that link, I kept seeing this number (Brooks at the NYT did his op\ed on it a few weeks ago) and wondering where it came from. It seems so round and firm that I'm forced to doubt it. Seems to pat. Of course it's just an estimate, etc, but...anyway, thanks for the link.

Irene said...

Which perhaps aligns with why professionals are generally considered to be starting to be experts in their field after they've been in that field about 5 years? 5 years of work at ~ 2000 working hours/year = 10K hours. Assuming you actually _worked_, in your field, all that time, and didn't waste time in meetings.

Stickgrappler said...

i recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's OUTLIERS and he mentions the 10,000 Hours rule. i never heard of it before the book. i was drafting a post and you beat me to it LOL

thank you for the link and your books and blog! Happy New Year!!