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Ten thousand hours of practice
14 July 2015
Executive career coach Joanna Maxwell on how forging a successful new career takes more than just talent and motivation…
I’m always interested when clients tell me they want to change careers, or start their own business, or introduce a sweeping change in their workplace – especially when they expect to make this shift without a learning curve.
I recently had a client who was planning a total career overhaul, which seemed to me to be exactly what she needed to do (her present work environment was quite appalling). She had a plan of action and plenty of motivation (so far so good). But when I suggested that she might need to take an entry level position in her new field, while she learned on the job and did a couple of short courses, she was clearly taken aback. ‘I can’t afford a pay cut, and I’ve invested so much time getting where I am. I know I’ll show my talent in my new field, isn’t that enough?’
Why do we expect to become masters of the universe, without any practice or time spent? You’d be horrified if your doctor was given a practising certificate just because he was motivated or talented, or the CEO of your super fund was unskilled (bad example, maybe?). But when it comes to second careers, or parenting, or taking up a musical instrument in our thirties, (or that fabulous new career path that we’ve suddenly realised is our true calling), we assume that because we have some life experience and one solid career behind us, the rest will be easier.
Er, no. Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, “Outliers: The Story of Success” develops a very convincing argument that the most successful people are successful not necessarily because they are more talented but because they practised more – 10,000 hours more. He devotes chapters to the lives of the Beatles, Bill Gates and others, to demonstrate that none of them had the ‘overnight’ success we might have thought.
Why do we expect to become masters of the universe, without any practice or time spent? You’d be horrified if your doctor was given a practising certificate just because he was motivated or talented.
‘What’s really interesting about this 10,000-hour rule is that it applies virtually everywhere,’ Gladwell told a recent conference in New York. ‘You can’t become a chess grand master unless you spend 10,000 hours on practice. The tennis prodigy who starts playing at six is playing in Wimbledon at 16 or 17 [like] Boris Becker. The classical musician who starts playing the violin at four is debuting at Carnegie Hall at 15 or so.’
Yes, life experience and time spent in the workforce will always help with general skills, attitudes and expectations, but for task-specific stuff, there are no real short cuts to excellence.
I recently developed a tragic (though mercifully short-lived) addiction to Flight Control, a deceptively simple iPhone app. You swipe the screen to land planes (…and helicopters). That’s it. As a game novice, I was VERY bad to start with, but over the pathetically considerable number of hours I spent doing it, as you’d expect, my score went up. By the time I came to and deleted it from my phone, I had a top score of 69 planes. It was a simple reminder: if you want to develop a new skill, or change a habit, or change careers: PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND MORE PRACTICE!