Most of you probably heard of a study that, according to author Malcolm Gladwell, indicates you need 10,000 hours of practice to become an "expert" at anything.

More recently, someone looked at the study and pointed out that 10,000 was an average. If you have the right genes, you might need far less practice, while other people might need far more. So the average of 10,000 hours is a fairly useless number. All we know for sure is that practice is a good thing.

Other writers have been pointing out that it also matters what you practice. If you practice the wrong stuff, it doesn't matter how much effort you put into it.

What you have read so far in this post is seen as ground-breaking thinking in the field of success. Allow me to list these shocking results:

1.       Practicing the right things is important!

2.       It helps to have the right genes!

Summary: duh

I'll add one more, um, insight? It goes like this: The only people who can put in long hours of the right type of practice are . . . drum roll please . . . PEOPLE WITH THE RIGHT GENES.

Oh, and also victims. If your parents made you practice the flute for 10,000 hours, and it wasn't your thing, you aren't an expert. You're a victim.

Do you know why I don't put in long hours training for a marathon? Is it a lack of focus and dedication?

No, although I don't have any of that stuff either, at least for running.

The reason I'm not training for a marathon is that my body isn't built for it. I'm a lifelong exerciser with 16% body fat. I try to work out seven days a week. But my genes just aren't right for distance running. I'm built for sprinting. So for me, tennis makes more sense. I've played about 8,000 hours of tennis, according to my thumbnail calculation. I should crack the 10,000 hour mark by the time I'm seventy, at which point I expect to win Wimbledon. I hope to God I haven't been practicing the wrong strokes this whole time.

Anyway, here's my formula for becoming an expert:

1.       Be born with the right genes. (luck)

2.       Have opportunities that work well with your genes. (luck)

At best, becoming an expert is a process of moving from a game that's wrong for you to one that fits your genes. That's the part you can control, at least according to the common view of free will.

The diabolical element of the "expert" conversation is that it relies on an illusion. That illusion is generally referred to as willpower. The idea is that one can hunker down and do unpleasant things that need to be done if one has enough of this thing called willpower.

But willpower is like the horizon. You can see the horizon, define it, and even walk toward it. And yet a horizon exists as nothing but a concept. You can't scoop up some horizon and put it on a basket.

Willpower is like that. We know what we mean when we speak of it, but it doesn't exist. It is an illusion.

Let's say you and I are sitting in a room with donuts in front of us. We both know donuts are bad for our health. Which one of us breaks down and eats a donut first?

Is it the one of us with the least willpower?


It's the hungriest one.

Willpower is an illusion.

People become experts for the same reason most things happen: luck. You need the right genes and you need to be born into the right environment. The most important skill involved in success is knowing how and when to switch to a game with better odds for you.


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Aug 19, 2013
The book "Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else" provides some pretty compelling evidence (IMHO) that genes are not a factor. What is a factor is "directed learning," practice that is just beyond your current abilities, but not so difficult as to become frustrating. Performance is not improved by repeating exercises you have already mastered. Which explains why my piano playing never improves. Also key is a good teacher/coach who can design the directed learning to provide continuous improvement.
Aug 19, 2013

[Is this a Humble moment for Scott? A few good choices and LUCK are what explain why he has a designer house that is difficult for us mere hoi polloi to comprehend however much we fawn over the occasional symbolic sharing?]

Well, he cant attribute his success to something he doesnt beleive in (willpower) now can he?

More seriously, reading some of Scotts past posts on the matter Im sure he attributes his success at least partly to luck. He has also mentioned hard work, deciding to a d j u s t his writing to fit what we wanted to see and knowing how to write, but he has also said he considers it more likely that hes living in a computer simulation than that he really did become a famous cartoonist.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 19, 2013
I think C I R C U M S T A N C E S is what set of the naughty word filter. Certainly nothing naughty. Filter clearly is F U B A R.
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Aug 19, 2013
Is this a Humble moment for Scott? A few good choices and LUCK are what explain why he has a designer house that is difficult for us mere hoi polloi to comprehend however much we fawn over the occasional symbolic sharing? Choosing to focus on ridiculing management (and their often lose/lose choices) rather than either aspiring to management or succeeding despite the point-haired-bosses congenital dismotivations as the crucial talent, add the drawing skill (clearly a learned talent) and whatever set of !$%*!$%*!$%*! lead to being published as the critical trio responsible for his minor-celebrity success status?

He may be right.

Is it luck he choose the right path? Or an inspired, insightful choice?

Is Scott just a PHB who got lucky?

idk. Really.

I do know a bunch of folks no more technically skilled than I who, by virtue of having been hired by a startup earlier than I, are sitting pretty. Damn pretty. Trip to China for no discernable reason pretty. Me, doing OK, but not on that level by an order of magnitude. Don't want to dip into bitter, but identifying the differentiating factor as a word beginning with "L" is not a foreign concept.

Though I will own up to a certain amount of personal lacking with respect to inspiration and insight.

I think Scott was lucky, but he managed his luck well. Probably hard to separate the two.

Not that such luck/management are transferable. Don't think Scott is likely to leverage his corporate caricature success into boot-strapping a well-managed firm employing people who are motivated, compensated and productive.
Aug 19, 2013
And for godsakes don't use the wrong side of your brain when you practice

Aug 19, 2013
aaror2, recalling and applying knowledge and skills absolutely is "practice". Learning is also practice. Surely you have a more intelligent critique of standardized testings -- something that doesn't involve claiming that a common word doesn't mean what it means?
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 19, 2013
One other important point.
Time spent testing to see if you have gained skills doesn't count as practicing the skills.
Nor does time spent preparing for such a test.
Every hour in an instructional environment spent testing and preparing for tests is not learning time/practice time, this explains a lot about the US educational system. We keep seeing results we don't like, and answering the problem with "more tests!" which of course makes the results worse. Repeat until third world status is reached.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 19, 2013
Sounds right, success is a game of finding your best bet. And determination is finite - and it's great knowing that, because if you don't have much of it, your chance of making it, depends on planning around determination. Put yourself in situations where you make good choices, and create time and an enviroment were you can work without destractions. If you want to do some type of work, make that work the most interesting thing by getting rid of all the other stuff that's more interesting - even it's just for a couple of hours.

Oh, well, back to work (damn you, Internet and Scott in particular).
Aug 19, 2013
At the age of 1 I became an expert at breathing
At the age of 3 I became an expert at sleeping
At the age of 16 I became an expert at eating
At the age of 24 I became an expert at defecating
Someday I hope to become an expert at sex.
Aug 19, 2013
On the donut question, you're wrong, at least as far as the "hungriest" prediction. Read up on the Stanford marshmallow experiment, a series of psychological experiments ~40 years ago, testing children's willpower. The thing we call willpower may be superior strategic reasoning or something else that isn't exactly what we think it is -- but to my mind, it doesn't matter. Saying something is an "illusion" is smirking at the details while missing the big picture. It doesn't matter if it is real or not; what matters is if it is useful as a predictor of behavior, and it is.

I think the whole 10,000-hour hypothesis is misunderstood. 10,000 hours of practice CAN make you an expert at something, but there is no guarantee it WILL make you an expert. It is a necessary, but not sufficient, conditional.
Aug 19, 2013
I think there is another factor in becoming an expert. It can depend on where on the learning curve you are the happiest. Personally, I am happiest on the earlier / steeper end of the learning curve. I don't enjoy the initial, extremely steep portion (i.e. the feeling like an idiot phase), but the phase right after that is the most fun for me, because the amount of new learning per hour spent is the highest. Once I get somewhere between pretty good and very good at something, it becomes boring. Unfortunately, that makes me a fairly unproductive member of society.

For people to become experts, they have to enjoy the flatter part of the learning curve, and beyond that, they have to enjoy applying what they already know over and over again. I believe they get their positive reinforcement from recognition of their expertise, moreso than from the feeling of learning something new. Not everyone can do that, but those that can are likely to be very productive.
Aug 19, 2013
By your argument willpower is as real as love, hate, fear and all the other mental conditions that motivate human action. You cant scoop any of those up either, yet they motivate people so I would say they are all real and, by the same reasoning, so is willpower.
Aug 19, 2013
Doesn't matter how hungry you are. I will fight you for the donuts.
Aug 19, 2013
curious - what's your ntrp? I'm guessing 4.0-4.5?

also, are you a poly guy or a multifil? personally I use Biphase 18 (multifilament Technifibre) - I've tried RPM & it definitely grabs the ball but feels like hitting a tree w/a 2x4 to me...
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