Self improvement involves facing your fears… and its scary knowing that I’m about to make a spectacle of myself. As my last post mentioned, I’m new to blogging. I understand that struggling with new skills is vital, and that failure shouldn’t be feared… but, until now, my personal process of trial and error has been private. With blogging, my struggles are online for all to see… and it’s reasonable to assume my failures will not be short lived. In fact, it’s going to take a long time to get good.
Getting better all the time
Author and spaghetti sauce expert, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the ’10,000 hour’ rule his book Outliers. This is the idea that it takes 1,000 hours to get decent at something, 4-8,000 hours to become very good at something, and 10,000 hours to become world class – the best of the best. Few people ever really reach this pinnacle, but there are a couple of people trying.
The origin of ’10,000 hours’ comes from a the paper in the journal Psychological Review titled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance by K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer (read the complete paper here.) It’s a fascinating read that delves deeper than Gladwell’s inclusion in Outliers suggests. For instance:
Striking differences between eminent individuals (experts) and less accomplished individuals are found, not surprisingly, when their current performance in the field of expertise is compared (Ericsson & Smith, 1991 b); experts are faster and more accurate than less accomplished individuals. However, experts’ superior speed in their domain of expertise does not transfer to general tests of speed, such as simple RT, or to general tests of perception (Starkes, 1987; Starkes & Deakin, 1984).
Similarly, experts’ memory for representative stimuli from their domain is vastly superior to that of lesser experts, especially for briefly presented stimuli. But when tested on randomly rearranged versions of representative stimuli from their domain presented with short exposures or on materials outside their domain, the memory of experts is no better than that of ordinary individuals.
So what does that mean?
Basically, experts appear to better-remember information in their field, even when that information is presented for a short time. However, experts are no better at absorbing new information from outside their field.
Ericsson explains this saying:
The domain-specific nature of experts’ superior performance implies that acquired knowledge and skill are important to attainment of expert performance.
But he’s really talking about priming.
How experience translates to performance
User nilhaus on Reddit.com unintentionally explained priming when asking “Why can’t I list every book I know, but I can tell you if I own it?” We often need a stimulus related to the material to recall the information. (This is why “retracing your steps” helps you to find your car keys.)
What Ericsson was trying to explain is that “experts” have probably seen, heard, and done it all before. When put into the right situations, their abilities are recalled; their previous solutions to these challenges are recalled, making for quicker decisions and faster execution. Having spent so much time learning about their field, and putting it into practice has made the experts more confident, and better able to act.
But how does this get back to failure?
Well, you’re going to fail a lot in 10,000 hours. (Tiger woods spent 17 years working on his swing, even when already renowned for long drives.) It is this deliberate improvement that matters most – seeking out, and improving, technical aspects both small and large. Every mistake, every miss-step, every outcome that isn’t quite what you want (failure) points the way to a possible improvement. It’s up to us to be self-aware enough to see those failures for what they are: opportunities. In this way, failure is nothing more than a stimulus. It is up to us to respond.
Being brave enough to fail is important. Is there something you’ve been putting off?
“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” – Ira Glass