Thursday, January 26, 2012

The 10,000 Hour Rule

What is the secret to being really good. What makes a good Programmer, Business Analyst, Admin, or Architect? Does it require superb instruction, years of isolation, physical prowess, intellectual giftedness, and a burning desire emanating from a childhood trauma? I suppose if you aspire to be Batman and you live in a fantasy world that includes talking penguins, then that combination of ingredients will yield a terrific defender of truth, justice, and the American Way. Or did I subtly shift super hero genres?

I grew up at a time when The Beatles were all the rage. The songs of the four mop tops once held all five top positions on the music charts at the same time. Among other things history shows us - these guys were excellent musicians (OK, maybe Ringo was average).

Us I.T. folks can learn from The Beatles, because as it turns out, they had a lot of practice before they hit it big. We know, (again from the historical record), that the Beatles had over 10,000 hours of practice/performance time in - before they were stars.

A 1990’s era study by Berlin’s Academy of Music provides us with a similar lesson. Adult students were divided into three groups. The first, the "stars" had demonstrable talent - they were the gifted ones. The second group of musicians were good, but did not show the same level of promise as the first group. The third group, based on their ability, would likely never play professionally.

All three groups were asked a series of questions to determine how much time they practiced. All three groups of students began taking music lessons around the age of five, and practised two to three hours per week. Around the age of eight, the students who would later be identified as great, upped their practice time to six hours a week, increasing to 16 hours per week by age fourteen. By twenty, the "gifted ones" were practicing with purpose (not just going through the motions) 30 hours per week. Added up, these musicians, the "gifted" ones, had logged more than 10,000 hours of practice time.

Turns out, the 10,000 hour rule is pretty standard; across disciplines, fields of study, arts, crafts, medicine, and even computer technology. It matters less what you were born with, and more how much you dedicate yourself to the task. By the way, 10,000 hours of doing doesn’t count. Doing is different than practicing.

Think of any endeavor you admire; football players, surgeons, pilots, singers, even project managers. The good ones don’t just do, they practice. They read about, they write about, they handle artifacts, they discuss stuff, they try new things related to their discipline. They practice their craft all the time.

So... how good do you want to be?

The point is simple; the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

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