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The “10,000 Hours of Practice” Myth (greyenlightenment.com)
37 points by paulpauper 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

'Fisher was so smart and gifted at chess, he started at a pro level. His mind could work so quickly and efficiently at chess, that once he knew the rules, he could play as well as a pro, much like a computer that plays as well as a pro after the rules are programmed into it. He was probably initially playing at a 1,800-2,000 rating, which is considered a master, and practice got him to 2,500-2,900 very quickly, which is a grandmaster rating.'

This is just nonsense. Fischer started playing when very young and it is highly unlikely he was strong when he started. He studied like crazy before he played games in public.

1800-2000 is also not considered master. The official master title in the US is achieved at a 2200 rating.

Bit of a straw-man argument. Ericsson's original research didn't claim that 10,000 hours of practice made you an expert. It was that no-one became an expert (in his studied domain of violin playing) without about 10,000 hours of practice.

The 10,000 hours of practice was a sine-qua-non to becoming an expert, but he never claimed it was necessarily sufficient.

Right, it is not a bijection.

Expert -> (implies) 10,000 hours spent

10,000 hours spent does not imply Expert

As my music teachers said, practice makes permanent.

Fun fact: my text prediction will not let me Swype permanent at the end of the phrase practice makes... After the last p is started, there are no other options.

The self help industry often makes the promise that if you follow their recipes then success is guaranteed. I think a lot of people have bought into that. So it’s a little uncomfortable to think that even after following all the steps success is not guaranteed.

Sports is a little more realistic in that sense. I don’t think anyone believes that if you do exactly what Tom Brady did you will win the Super Bowl.

Oh yeah, and they can always hide behind the "if it doesn't work for you, you must've done something wrong / not followed the plan".

Such a nonsense article really. I know nobody that claims that 10,000 hours = makes you a top expert. Nonsense, just pure nonsense.

Malcom Gladwell pretty much made the claim that talent is a myth and having the passion to practice enough made you a top expert. He backtracked a bit on that, but the claim was out there and repeated in the media.

And there's an important point to it that I've heard from several other sources along the lines that expert performance happens when you combine interest and hard work. If you're interested in something, you'll do the type of work necessary to become an expert at it.

Too many people focus on aptitude/talent, thinking it's some kind of innate ability to perform better at a given task, but I take it as a tendency to enjoy a certain type of practice. For example, I really don't like drawing, but I forced myself to take a class, and I still suck. That's not because I'm naturally bad at drawing, but because I don't enjoy the process of getting better.

There's a huge difference between developers who have done programming for 10k hours but didn't enjoy it and someone who enjoys it. The first is unlikely to go any deeper than necessary and will always work in a similar role, whereas the latter will explore a variety of concepts and approaches and become capable of solving a wider array of problems. I don't think there's a great divide between good and bad programmers based on "talent", but quality of practice, which can usually be identified by enjoyment of that practice.

Keep in mind that the word "talent" is used in 2 very different meanings and a group fixated on one meaning does not acknowledge the other meaning. (My previous comment about this.[0])

- definition #1: "talent" doesn't exist or it's achievable by anyone because it's just a learnable skill. Skills can be improved. This is the meaning emphasized by M Gladwell (10000 hours), D Coyle (talent doesn't exist), Carol Dweck "growth mindset", Angela Duckworth "grit", etc.

- definition #2: "talent" is a ranking. This is the meaning emphasized by most people who are "looking for the most talented". E.g. sports teams for athletes, Hollywood for actors, Google/Microsoft for PhDs in mathematics and machine learning, etc.

If you're unaware of both meanings of "talent", you will always misunderstand what the other side is talking about. As a result, people will forever be bikshedding the word "talent" and stay frustrated that they can't convince the other side to change their mind!

The blog author of this thread also leaves out the meta discussion of "talent" and is using definition #2. The blog author (Jacob Kaplan-Moss) in my previous comment uses definition #1.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16812957

- definition #3: "talent" is an inherent property of ability and maximum potential. "born with it", "gifted", "a natural" etc. That determines how much effort it takes to learn a skill for #1 and your maximum possible rank / whether you should bother trying in #2.

I don't like this definition, but it is definitely one of them. If it is accurate I think it is in the fact that training / practice from a young age can give an edge that is difficult to overcome later in life. But this would only apply to the top of the top.

In sports even physical attributes can determine peak talent.

To go on about sports, hasn't there been some research done about slow twitch and fast twitch muscles and their importance for being a fast sprinter? I think Usain Bolt has a much higher number of fast-twitch muscle cells than normal. That could be called talent.

The research I've seen appears to suggest that everyone has both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers and that by doing certain types of exercises you can increase the strength and size of one type more than the other. I'd guess there is a genetic component to Usain Bolt's success, but I'd be careful to claim that it is more important than training.

If you've ever participated in track and field for any length of time, you realize that the genetic component is more important for the type of events you can successfully compete in with enough practice.

Sprinters definitely have a fast twitch advantage that you can't get with any amount of training if you're not born with it. Sure, you can improve your own sprint times up to a point, but you can't really make up the gap. You just choose an event that's better suited for your body type, such as longer distance or throwing, etc. And sprinters can't compete with distance runners either.

Assuming similar amounts of training. If there's a huge difference in training, one might be able to overcome the differences. Particularly if you're more middle distance with decent speed and endurance.

This definition best matches the one I use. There's a reason both words "talent" and "skill" exist, because they're different.

This definition is better than the others, given the origin of this use of the word "talent".

Is that distinction really relevant to this debate? The advocates in #1, as best I can tell, would endorse the claims that you can improve by definition #2, except perhaps in pathological cases (like where everyone in the world is practicing at the same skill).

And anyone who disagrees with the claim in #1 would also disagree you can improve talent by #2.

I don't see how clarifying terms would make anyone think they were talking past each other.

And anyone who disagrees with the claim in #1 would also disagree you can improve talent by #2.

My view is that #1 is obviously false, but also that it can be possible to outperform someone with more natural talent by studying or practicing more effectively.

>Carol Dweck "growth mindset",

Can you point me to where Carol Dweck says this? I've read a little of her work, but do not recall such a claim. The primary work that made her famous was that emphasizing talent resulted in:

1. A focus on the very narrow area the person is talented in, and being very quick to give up outside of that discipline.

2. The same people who have the talent, when effort is emphasized, do not suffer from this.

And that at times, people with less talent often end up doing better than people in bullet one above in the long run because they're less likely to view short term barriers as made of bricks. But I don't think she ever claimed that such people will do better than those in bullet 2 above.

She said "talent can be developed" in multiple presentations and interviews. Here's one example[0]:

>Carol Dweck: ", when students had more of a growth mindset, they held the view that talents and abilities could be developed"

An interpretation can be that one can have talent_level=100 which can then be developed into talent_level=200.

In contrast to Dweck, the people emphasizing definition #2 of ranking "talent" are usually talking about the innate aptitude that "can't be taught". Talent is not a "learnable skill" but an unchangeable raw baseline of aptitude.

Dweck is not wrong in how she frames "talent" (hey let's empower people to improve themselves). However, it's worth pointing out that different people attach very different semantics to the word "talent". This makes various books and blog posts look contradictory.

[0] https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/12/how-pr...

>She said "talent can be developed" in multiple presentations and interviews.

I think she's simply being informal. Right after your quote she says:

>With a growth mindset, kids don’t necessarily think that there’s no such thing as talent or that everyone is the same, but they believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others.

The way I always read her work is: If a person has talent, having a growth mindset is much more likely to realize the talent than a fixed mindset.

>I think she's simply being informal.

No, she explains that talent is not fixed in multiple presentations.[0] To paraphrase one of her examples, "Michael Jordan wasn't particularly talented at basketball; he _became_ talented."

>The way I always read her work is: If a person has talent, having a growth mindset is much more likely to realize the talent than a fixed mindset.

Right and I agree with it but that doesn't change the meta discussion that people leave out about "talent".

She can be "correct" about "developing talent" using that type of framing (which agrees with Gladwell, Coyle, Duckworth, etc) while at the same time she doesn't point out that "talent" is also used by others as a word that describes ranking of innate aptitude which cannot be changed by a growth mindset nor explained by "practice". (For example, an 8-year old child prodigy that has mastered differential calculus even though he didn't have 10000 hours of math practice that the 19-year olds in college still struggling with remedial algebra had.)

[0] https://youtu.be/-71zdXCMU6A?t=2m58s

I'll concede that she plays fast and loose with the term.

The reason I'm pushing back is that as we are talking about talent in the innate sense, there is (AFAIK) no scientifically valid way of measuring it (beyond perhaps a binary measure). So taking a stance either way on whether it can be developed further is a bit problematic. I'd be curious to see how her actual journal papers discuss the matter.

I realize it is not what has been touted, but I always took the "10K hours" thing to mean, "it takes 10K hours to reach your potential". That is still a way too convenient round number, but good enough for a rough estimate.

But it has a flip side: "after 10K hours, that's about as good as you're ever going to get". I've easily got 10K hours on the guitar, but I'm no Jimmy Page, nor will I ever be. 10K hours of running? 40 years, carry the one...yeah, probably. Look through my comments, see anything about the Olympics? A few wins at some regional-level races is all I'm ever going to get.

On the other other hand, if you put the time in, you might not become Jimmy Page/Bobby Fischer/Usain Bolt, but I am convinced you'll get competent at whatever you pursue. No musical talent? Bah, sit down for a half hour a day of real practice for a month, tell me how little "talent" you have.

10k hours of practice - including a lot of “directed” practice, where you have some advice on what to work on, and no small amount of thoughtful critique - will generally get you to “hireable in your craft”. There’s still a lot to learn. I passed that point in my art skills around 2000, and can crank out a much better drawing with a lot less thought than 2000 me could.

10k hours of fiddling around by yourself will get you somewhere, to be sure.

(Quick math: 10k/5 = 2000, divide that by 365 and you have about five and a half years of spending 5h on your craft every day. Which sounds a lot like “majoring in your craft at a four-year college, then learning how it really works on your first job” to me.)

Seems like a miss to try and discredit the 10k hours and not mention Anders Ericsson. His work detailing deliberate practice is what spawned these 10k hours notions. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.businessinsider.com/anders-...

Practice makes performance at a given task faster, smoother, more automatic, and more robust. The "practice makes permanent" quote elsewhere in the comments is correct in this respect. Practice does _not_ guarantee that anything useful will be learned–this requires some way to measure progress, some measure of deliberate reflection regarding past failures and their causes (which will allow you to propose new behaviors to practice), and, for intellectual tasks, some deeper analysis of the underlying principles (which will allow you to propose better principles to guide future behavior, even in out-of-distribution cases which you have never practiced for).

The article appears to be attributing the difference to genetics alone, which is neither accurate nor a useful line of inquiry. And the article is attempting to argue against a Gladwellized strawman of Ericcson's work, rather than the actual research, which feels intellectually dishonest. Not a fan of this post.

I wish I knew this 10 years ago, when I decided to study math and get a CS degree. Sadly, while I'm good at programming (at least to the extent that nobody ever complained and projects got shipped), I'm really uncapable at math. I don't know what it is exactly, I just can't do it, no matter how much books, video lessons and tutoring I throw at it. I always understand theory but I cannot solve most exercises and problems despite a lot of practice.

Anyway, I wasted my 20s trying to get good enough at math, when I could've pushed on my talents instead. I really thought it was all about hard work and that I wasn't working hard enough, or maybe that I should've approached the problem from some other angle. Big mistake. Wasted opportunities.

The article says that China is doing good and the US is not doing well in this regard. I think they're both wrong. It's really stupid, and offensive and immoral, to put individuals into boxes. We don't know how the talents of individuals can express themselves to serve the needs of other people. That's why there should always be complete freedom of studying and working, instead of universities and States deciding who can do what job and on what terms.

Eventually I know programming will become a closed profession and I won't have access to it because of my inability to do math despite my ability to ship software. I can't even imagine how much we have lost in other closed fields in terms of productivity due to this belief that you just have to put in the work. I hope I'll manage to get out of programming before it's too late. Clock is ticking.

I've heard Jordan Peterson saying that, which makes sense but, It makes me sad as well, about 1/10 people are just not able to learn skilled tasks.

I wonder if we evolve kind of similar to ants, which some are just explorers, some hard workers, other just defend the nest.

I think genes are the code that render us inside of the matrix :)

Quantity is important, but quality is important as well. If I practice my karate 1,000 hours and another man in Alaska practices 1,000 hours of karate as well BUT he has received higher quality instruction, he might be practicing effectively twice as much (measured in quality, which is hard to quantify..haha)

10,000 hours of practice seems like a reasonable gauge of mastery. Its also how you define mastery. Mastery is defined by the people who came before who set the standard. If athletes' top running speed reached 3MPH and I came along and broke the record at 5MPH, I would seem like a master.

The article confuses practice with deliberate practice.

No one wants to hear that there are no short cuts, especially in today's messed up world where everything is fake and for sale.


Always had it in my mind that 10k is mastery of a topic and not as stated in that text that it makes perfect.

The ugliest moments in history started with a "genetics matter"stance. Not worth repeating.

I get that eugenics is ugly, and shouldn't be accepted, but are you telling me those 4'8" basketball players aren't in the NBA because they just don't want it enough?

The problem with this article is that it makes a huge logical leap from saying a short person is highly unlikely to become one of the best 400 basketball players on earth, to then say resources shouldn't be wasted on kids that are perceived as slow in primary school.

Height is an easily observable phenotype, cognition is massively more complex and dependent on many genes that are not well understood. Furthermore, cognitive ability is heavily dependent on upbringing, and cognitive ability develops at different rates for different people.

Not to say that the school system should be cookie cutter, but we in no way have enough knowledge about human cognition to determine a child's career path because of their performance in kindergarten.

There are a handful of truly short players who've demonstrated it's possible to play in the league without being tall. Is there a material difference between 4'8" and 5'3" when your opponents are 6'11"+?

At that point, probably not.

Assuming a person is healthy, there's nothing that makes playing in the NBA literally impossible.

It's not impossible, it's just highly unlikely. Muggsy Bogues is the extreme outlier. Most NBA players in the history of the game are above average height, despite tons of shorter people having similar access to playing the sport.

It's predictive, just not enough to make decisions on. You're not saying we don't let anyone under 6' play basketball, are you?

Of course not. I'm saying that being taller than average is an important physical attribute to playing in the NBA. Of course you have to practice/play enough to have the necessary skill level, and there are other factors that matter. If you're under 6', then those other factors need to make up for the height disadvantage.

Sure, and I'm saying that those other factors aren't genetic.

No, they are saying that in all likelihood they don't the physical ability to play the game.

All likelihood? Maybe. Literally possible/not? No.

> Assuming a person is healthy, there's nothing that makes playing in the NBA literally impossible.

Well no, but there's a reason that those short people made it to the NBA, they had other potential that got them there. Mugsy was incredibly fast. If it was all about heart we'd see an equal distribution, unless somehow being taller means you have more heart.

Mugsy was fast because he worked hard to be fast, not because he was born with "fastness".

The advantage in basketball frequently oscillates between big/slow and small/fast. The best teams always have a mix.

Mugsy choose to capitalize on his "small and fast" talent. It's coaches who make the decision to augment teams with speed.

So it was only one short guy who wanted it and a bunch of tall ones?

One? No. There are other short players in the NBA.

You're right, there have been 25 guys 5'9" and under. There are 494 players in the opening day roster for 2018-2019. I guess the little guys just lack the desire to get in there.

Desire? No. Grit? Probably.

Form follows function. Basketball's rules favor taller people. If the national sport was limbo or hide and seek, we'd have different stars. Conflating a sport's popularity with moral approval of eugenicism, even obliquely in "JAQ" sense is ... Troubling.

Like those moments where we cured previously incurable genetic diseases, and understood evolution as one of the most important advances in biology?

Twisted... that's not what the OP is suggesting.

The article says don't practice or work harder... your talent may be enough.

It very explicitly does not say that. It says that practice without talent will not make you the expert you want to be.

Anything can be taken to extremes. Ultimately one cannot deny the reality that genetics really do actually matter.

Don't the Polgár sisters contradict the author?

I guess the author would argue that they obviously must have inherited a talent for chess from their parents. Not that I agree.

Cannot take this article seriously, I think we understand certain features we have can make certain things easier for us and harder for other people, but simplifying it saying it's an IQ thing and stretching implying it's something that only happens at early ages?

Too much factors to understand why someone is successful or not, and there is a lot to practice and how you approach it to become an expert to it... acting like skill has a cap is not really gonna help you at all anyway

Depends what percentage of that 10k is quality practice. But that would mean 10k a useless number to go by.

Sometimes you can practice the wrong things, so I prefer:

Practice makes permanent.

This blogger is not very credible... have a sample of some of his other posts


Please don't commit the genetic fallacy here of all places.

Dismissing the complaint that the author might be inaccurate or not as trustworthy as otherwise as simply the genetic fallacy is an instance of the fallacy fallacy, isn't it? Consider a poor news source such as the Daily Mail - I'd say it's justified to at least be more skeptical of the claims presented in any given Daily Mail article based on their history.

I think it was a joke. I dismiss the author by the choice of URLs. I don't mind lacking the talent to find more elaborate reasons.


> A 2000 Danish Sports Science Institute investigation reproduced the earlier study, giving a large group of Kalenjin boys three months of training and then comparing them to Thomas Nolan, a Danish track superstar. When the Kalenjin boys trounced him, the researchers -- who had also conducted a number of physical tests and compared them against established human averages -- concluded that Kalenjins must have an inborn, physical, genetic advantage. They observed a higher number of red blood cells (which lent new credence to the theory that elevation makes their bodies more effective oxygen-users) but, in their conclusions, emphasized the "bird-like legs" that make running less energy-intensive and give their stride exceptional efficiency.

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/04/wh...

Nature does what nature does, not what we might want it to do. Almost everyone believes in evolution but no one thinks it applies to humans.

Am J Hum Genet. 2003 Sep; 73(3): 627–631. Published online 2003 Jul 23. doi: 10.1086/377590 PMCID: PMC1180686 PMID: 12879365 ACTN3 'Genotype Is Associated with Human Elite Athletic Performance'

"ACTN3, one of the most thoroughly studied performance genes. In 2003 a seven-scientist team published a study in The American Journal of Human Genetics in which 429 elite Australian athletes were tested for the ACTN3 gene . . .".

General discussion in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sports_Gene

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