Famous psychology writer and author of 2008 best seller “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell stated that 10,000 hours of practice will turn anybody from an average Joe into a “master” of a skill or craft. This means that I could pick up the tuba tomorrow – with no prior tuba experience – and practice 90 minutes a day, 7 days a week, each week of the year, for 20 years, and I would become a master of the tuba.
This theory, originally developed by K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer, is scientifically sound and valid. That being said, I believe that popular culture has gotten carried away with this theory and glamorized the possibility of becoming a “master”. A master is someone that is the best at what they do, someone that leads the field in their skill and essentially has no competition for the number one spot. Gladwell discussed that The Beatles became masters of music because they simply had so much exposure and time to practice their music. We have seemed to forget that practice time is not the only factor that will make someone a “master.” In the previously mentioned study, the word “deliberate” appears quite often – a key word that I believe we’ve chosen to forget.
Anybody can practice their skill for hours on end but what we need to be aware of is how deliberate, or “intentional” we are while practicing. If I were to practice the same song over and over again without making any adjustments, I would begin making the same mistakes, ultimately not quite “mastering” the skill but instead, beginning to trick myself into believing I’m mastering the skill. While mistakes are inevitable and part of the road to becoming a master, it is of utmost importance to learn from our mistakes and improve upon them on the road to mastery.
The second aspect of mastery that is often neglected is the practice of soliciting feedback. While I can sit and practice a musical instrument for years at a time, I might begin creating cognitive roadblocks, assuming that my way is right, or the best. Feedback from an individual that has a fresh perspective and unbiased lens allows us to truly grow through evaluation. Evaluation sheds light on specific tasks that require more practice to achieve mastery.
While I am by no means a master of a specific skill, it is clear to me that while the 10,000-hour rule may hold true, there are other factors that must align to become a “master” of a skill. One must receive ongoing feedback to improve their performance and it is imperative understand that practice makes permanent, it doesn’t make perfect.