By October 29, 2010 Read More →

The Power of Practice

In his bestselling book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.

Whether the correct amount is 10,000 hours or 20,000 or 5,000, the fact remains that we get good at what we practice.

I know this from personal experience. I’ve been practicing musical instruments since I was a young boy.   First it was the clarinet, then the bassoon, and after college, the saxophone.

I still put in a couple of hours a day, and in so doing, I continue to make progress, sometimes haltingly, towards the ever-receding goal of becoming  a master jazz musician.

Better yet, what I’ve learned from practicing music I’ve also applied to learning filmmaking, writing and business overall.

The first thing you learn is how to slow down, which is no small feat in our hyped-up world.  You learn how to be patient, how to feel comfortable moving ahead in small incremental steps.

You also learn how to think long-term.  As you notice progress, however meager, you start to be able to imagine how these tiny improvements in your skill could add up over the long-run.

Moreover, you learn that the long-run is, well, not all that long.

Think about it:  according to Gladwell’s analysis, if you put in 2.7 hours a day for 10 years, you’d approach mastery.  If your job enabled you to practice your skill for 40 hours a week, in under 5 years you’d be there.

On top of that, my experience indicates that you attain about 75% of mastery in the first half of your journey.  What this means is that you could get to a comfortable level of competence relatively quickly.

It’s also important to understand that practicing is not a
disagreeable experience.

I, for one, love it.

Sure, there may be stretches of time in which you feel that you’re just not moving ahead. But if you stick with it, breakthroughs do occur which bring you to a new level of skill and understanding.  You may then remain on a new plateau for a while until the next breakthrough happens.

Best of all, practicing is fascinating, because practicing is all
about learning.

We try to do something.  We can’t.  We try again.  We fail again.

We analyze what’s wrong.   We try to break down the task into
simpler units.

We move slowly, consciously, trying to discover a way in to the solution.

We give it another try, approaching things from a new angle.

And then suddenly, we can do it!   We’ve mastered a small portion of
the skill.

We repeat this process, step by step, again and again.  Our confidence grows.

And so we slowly build up a series of small skills which eventually fuse together into an almost intuitive understanding of the discipline we’re trying to master.

Like I said up top, I’ve applied what I’ve learned from practicing music to many facets of life and business.

When faced with something new to learn, whether it’s a complex software program or an advanced editing technique, rather than feel overwhelmed, I recognize that if I just approach it in the same deliberate, measured way I’ve approached playing the sax, things will work out fine.

And they have.

That’s the power of practice.

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