Shelves and shelves of self-help books are stocked in America with the canon of the quick fix. The 10,000-hour concept, though, is based on academic research into the idea that success is a choice — made, not born. At first glance, it feels like a very American idea — you can be anything you want to be — but it is an unsentimental view of the world. It helps to be tall in basketball, and it helps to start violin lessons at a young age, but what separates the few truly great from the many merely good is not talent or magic or luck. It's dedication and discipline.
The secret to success isn't a secret. It's work.
Dan played competitive tennis as a boy, and was good at it, and then quit. He ran one year of cross country in high school, and was good at it, and then quit. He wanted to run on his own. He followed his brother to Boston University for a year and was a physics and math major, and then quit. Instead, he traveled, alone. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in photojournalism and was a photographer for a newspaper in Chattanooga, Tenn., for a year, and then quit.
He has started five novels.
He took one piano lesson. . . .
Steve McLaughlin also didn't think his son would take this as far as he has. Neither did his mother. Neither did his brother or his sister or his girlfriend.
"Dan's always been an ideas guy," his brother, Matthew McLaughlin, said. "The fact that he would think of such a thing isn't surprising. But ideas are one thing. Execution is another. He would get frustrated and quit."
At this point, though, more than 1,000 hours and nearly a year into the plan, they're more than surprised. They're impressed.
The people who really change the world are farmers. Steve Jobs works constantly on his products, every waking minute of every day. He lives and sleeps and breathes them. He's obsessive and crazy and kind of scary — but he's trying to build something. He didn't just say, "Here's my idea: smart phone! BAM! Go make it happen. Ima jump in the sauna." That simply doesn't work. God is in the details. In the implementation.
The most amazing thing about getting to go to TED was discovering that all the people I admire are farmers. The doctors and DNA-researchers and dancers and chocolate-makers and oceanographers and cosmologists and investors all have one thing in common: they are total nerds. They work on the thing they love literally all the time. You can't talk to them without talking about their passion.
The secret of success turns out to be so incredibly simple: Work your ass off. Really care about what you're creating, not the fame or fortune you'll get. You'll succeed.
Lewis Terman, the inventor of the Stanford-Binet IQ test, came to a similar conclusion. He spent decades following a large sample of “gifted” students, searching for evidence that his measurement of intelligence was linked to real world success. While the most accomplished men did have slightly higher scores, Terman also found that other traits, such as “perseverance,” were much more pertinent. Terman concluded that one of the most fundamental tasks of modern psychology was to figure out why intelligence is not a more important part of achievement: “Why this is so, and what circumstances affect the fruition of human talent, are questions of such transcendent importance that they should be investigated by every method that promises the slightest reduction of our present ignorance.”
Unfortunately, in the decades following Terman’s declaration, little progress was made on the subject. Because intelligence was so easy to measure - the IQ test could be given to schoolchildren, and often took less than an hour - it continued to dominate research on individual achievement.
The end result, says James J. Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, is that “there was a generation of social scientists who focused almost exclusively on trying to raise IQ and academic test scores. The assumption was that intelligence is what mattered and what could be measured, and so everything else, all these non-cognitive traits like grit and self-control, shouldn’t be bothered with.”
Smokers who crushed computer-simulated cigarettes as part of a psychosocial treatment program in a virtual reality environment had significantly reduced nicotine dependence and higher rates of tobacco abstinence than smokers participating in the same program who grasped a computer-simulated ball, according to a study described in the current issue of CyberPsychology and Behavior.
So how does one design a building where people actually use the stairs? There are three key features.
1) Fewer turns between the stairs and the closest entrance.
2) Stairs with large surface areas (not too narrow and steep).
3) Create a view, either up, down, or across, from the stairwell. No one wants to walk up a tiny, white box.
The Booth School of Business staircases meet all of these requirements (perhaps it’s no surprise the building won a major design award last year). For those who can’t build new stairwells, there are a few other nudges to try. Displaying motivational signs in the lobby and throughout the building, and playing music in the stairwell can increase stair use. Together, these two nudges can increase usage by as much as 9 percent. Hanging artwork on the stairwell walls, closing elevators occasionally, and offering incentives like fruit are also known to work.
The truth, of course, is that creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice. It seems to be built up through submission (think a musician practicing scales, or Einstein learning tensor algebra). Identifying creativity with freedom harmonizes quite well with the culture of the new capitalism, in which the imperative of flexibility precludes dwelling in any task long enough to develop real competence. . . . We're primed to respond to any invocation of the aesthetics of individuality. The rhetoric of freedom pleases our ears. The simulacrum of independent thought and action that goes by the name of "creativity" trips easily off the tongues of spokespeople for the corporate counterculture. . . .
What is it that we really want for a young person when we give him or her vocational advice? The only creditable answer, it seems to me, is one that avoids utopianism while keeping an eye on the human good: work that engages the human capacities as fully as possible. . . .
So what advice should one give to a young person? If you have a natural bent for scholarship; if you are attracted to the most difficult books out of an urgent need, and can spare four years to devote yourself to them, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. But if this is not the case; if the thought of four more years sitting in a classroom makes your skin crawl, the good news is that you don't have to go through the motions and jump through the hoops for the sake of making a decent living. Even if you do go to college, learn a trade in the summers. You're likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems or low-level "creative."
By practicing . . . performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.
Then our young writer would find a mentor who would provide a constant stream of feedback, viewing her performance from the outside, correcting the smallest errors, pushing her to take on tougher challenges. By now she is redoing problems — how do I get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times. She is ingraining habits of thought she can call upon in order to understand or solve future problems.
The primary trait she possesses is not some mysterious genius. It’s the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.
The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.
Music | “The success of Guitar Hero means that the onus is now on the manufacturers of ‘real’ guitars to make them easier,” a blogger says. “Why are they still making guitars with ‘real’ strings that are difficult and boring to learn how to play and really make your fingers hurt? What is the point?” Are musicians to be protected like some sort of medieval guild? [Guardian]
The goal of the creators of The Big Chart, The Counter-Intuitive Comparison Institute of North America (CICINA), is to find the single best thing in the world through an NCAA basketball tournament-style bracketing system. This video explains their plans.
“Is the Bilbao Guggenheim better than McDonald’s french fries?Are penguins better than Miracle Grow? Can anything beat heated seats on a cold November day?”
(via design observer)
Okay, I’ll admit it: work on my new novel, Finch, is going well because every morning my long-suffering yet often amused wife Ann hides the router box and my cell phone. I get up around 7am, I have my breakfast and watch something innocuous like BBC News or Frasier for about half an hour, and then get down to work. Around noon I take a break to get some lunch, then go back to it, usually at that point editing or organizing notes. Around 2:30 I call Ann on our landline and she tells me where the router box and the cell phone are (it has internet access on it) so I can finish up the afternoon with necessary emails and other work, before going to the gym.
The internet in its many forms is, for me, a harmful and insidious enemy of novel creation. A novel takes a great deal of uninterrupted thought, not to mention uninterrupted writing. A novel in gestation does not brook interference of this kind. This isn’t just a matter of procrastination or time-wasting. It directly affects quality and depth in my opinion. The sustained effort required by a novel should not include multi-tasking on other things, if you have the option.
Ten years ago this is not something I, or anyone else, would have had to worry about. In fact, I remember writing parts of one novel in an apartment that didn’t even have electricity. Or, heck, any furniture to speak of. I got up around dawn, went to my day job, and then came back and wrote until it got dark. Sometimes I’d go to a coffee shop so I could write longer.
The point is, some forms of modern technology are, in a certain context, dangerous. Sometimes in workshops, Ann and I will force students to write longhand just to cut them off from their laptops and all the stuff that comes flying up onto the screen. Some hate it. Some realize what they’ve been missing.
In the journal of the young James Boswell (later Samuel Johnson’s biographer), . . . a document otherwise notable chiefly for its obsessive focus on social climbing and fornication, we get this: “I went to Mayfair Chapel and heard prayers and an excellent sermon from the Book of Job on the comforts of piety. I was in a fine frame. And I thought that God really designed us to be happy. I shall certainly be a religious old man. I was much so in my youth. I have now and then flashes of devotion, and it will one day burn with a steady flame.”
It is safe to say, I think, that Boswell would not be renowned for his piety at any stage of his life. Kierkegaard’s mouthpiece Anti-Climacus speaks well to this topic [in The Sickness Unto Death]: “In general, it is extremely foolish . . . to suppose it should really be such an easy affair with faith and wisdom that they just arrive over the years as a matter of course, like teeth, a beard and that sort of thing. No, whatever a human being comes to as a matter of course, and whatever things come to him as a matter of course, it is definitely not faith and wisdom.”
Two major ambitions defined my childhood. One was to become what I imagined headlines would refer to as “the first kid in space.” The second, which seemed more reasonable, was to become a great pianist. I realized when I was very small that I wasn’t like most people: I was double-jointed. I could bend the top joints of my fingers forward at will to create a sharp right angle, and pull my thumb all the way forward or backward to touch my wrist. This would, I thought, give me abilities at the keyboard that no other pianist could boast. I could only imagine the wild flourishes and the daring arpeggios I would master. I had a natural advantage, and I intended to use it.I was also a bit of what you might call a quitter back in those days. So when my mother took me down to the music Conservatory and the stern woman in charge told me I would have to learn the recorder—that fat, beige, orthopedic-looking thing—I walked away in disgust.
I nurtured no lack of rock-star fantasies and concert pianist daydreams over the next couple of decades, but I never touched another instrument—until now, at the probably-too-late age of 31. Maya, my enthusiastic and very patient teacher, begins the process by explaining the basics of music theory: tones, pitches, harmonics, chords, rhythm. I’m also learning how to read music, a completely different challenge than the instrument itself. Getting from this theoretical stage to actually playing a song feels like learning to dance by studying the properties of gravity. How do you turn these concepts and rules into something beautiful?
Well, for one, you play a lot of scales. I play them until my hands ache. I feel like every sullen adolescent forced to practice by well-meaning parents. When was the last time I actually had to practice something, anyway? I’m out of practice at practicing.
Quit smoking without a patch. Committed Action to Reduce and End Smoking is a savings program offered by the Green Bank of Caraga in Mindanao, Philippines. A would-be nonsmoker opens an account with a minimum balance of one dollar. For six months, the client deposits the amount of money she would otherwise spend on cigarettes into the account. After six months, the client takes a urine test to confirm that she has not smoked recently. If she passes the test, she gets her money back. If she fails the test, the account is closed and the money is donated to a charity. MIT’s Poverty Action Lab found that opening up an account makes those who want to quit 53 percent more likely to achieve their goal. No other antismoking tactic, not even the nicotine patch, appears to be so successful.
Stop compulsive gambling. Over the past decade, several states, including Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri, have enacted laws enabling gambling addicts to put themselves on a list that bans them from entering casinos or collecting gambling winnings. The underlying thought is that many people who have self-control problems are aware of their shortcomings and want to overcome them. Sometimes recreational gamblers can do this on their own or with their friends; sometimes private institutions can help them. But addicted gamblers might do best if they have a way to enlist the support of the state.
Dollar a day. Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem, and girls who have one child, at, say, 18, often become pregnant again within a year or two. Several cities, including Greensboro, North Carolina, have experimented with a “dollar-a-day” program, by which teenage girls with a baby receive a dollar for each day that they are not pregnant. Thus far the results have been extremely promising. A dollar a day is a trivial amount to the city, even for a year or two, so the plan’s total cost is extremely low, but the small recurring payment is just enough to encourage some teenage mothers to take steps to avoid getting pregnant again. And because taxpayers end up paying a significant amount for many children born to teenagers, the costs appear to be far less than the benefits. Many people are touting “dollar a day” as a model program.
Soltzberg: So given that there are all these patterns and themes around us, yet being adept at noticing requires practice, how can people sharpen their noticing “chops?”
Portigal: I’ve assigned students to routinely maintain a noticing log, either a blog (words with pictures) or a Flickr account (pictures with words). The exercise helps sharpen noticing skills by giving people permission to simply observe and document. There’s never any requirement to suggest a fix; indeed what they observe may not be broken in any way. It just has to arouse their interest, and in documenting it make the details of that interest explicit. Establishing some discipline for this behavior can be very helpful.
Soltzberg: Sometimes I do an exercise with workshop groups, which works in a similar way. Everyone takes a turn describing something they saw or experienced between the time they got up and the present moment; something that they haven’t talked about with anyone that day. It could be something unusual or something really mundane—just a quick description with maybe one or two details. People are always surprised when they realize how many things they are actually experiencing but not really noticing. It’s such a simple activity, but people have told me later on that they felt much more awake after doing it.
Portigal: That’s a good place to be solving problems from. Well, let’s get out there and keep noticing.
This is the first portion of the talk I gave in Nashville this past week. I began the talk with a kinetic visual. For 30 seconds I danced in front of everyone. It was a very ridiculous-looking version of modern dance (and, c’mon, that’s a long time to look ridiculous). Then a professionally trained modern dancer (with Stillpoint Dance Theater) danced for 30 seconds. Hers was beautiful. I said, “Folks: exhibit A, exhibit B, this is the summary of my talk.” And with this my talk officially began.
She keeps the disciplines of a dancer. In her words:
“I start with Pilates warm-up in the mornings. I take 2 ballet classes per week and 3 modern dance classes per week along with improvisation and composition. I rehearse approximately 12-15 hours a week with StillPoint. I also use the YMCA 1-2 times per week for extra cardio and weight training. I teach dance as well so I am in the studio creating classes or working on choreography many hours of the day.I have to keep an anti-inflammatory diet in order to keep inflammation down in my body due to minor injuries and the intensity of the rehearsing. This means staying away from sugar, dairy and wheat, and it means eating lots of “superfoods,” such as blueberries, walnuts, and salads. I require more food and sleep whenever we are in an intense rehearsal season.”
I do none of them. She is free. I am not.
She has obeyed the laws of her craft, its “order,” and so earns the right to improvise in a way that reveals the beauty of the craft. I have obeyed none and so earn the right only to look like a fool.
My temptation based on my minimal experience and training is to say: “I caaan’t do it. It’s too hard. You can do it because of course you’re better than I.” In saying this I sanction both my ignorance and my unwillingness to learn about the craft.
Maybe if I simply imitate her movements, I say to myself, then perhaps I can dance like her. But without adopting the disciplines of modern dance I will not become a person for whom the movements and graces of modern dance come “naturally.” I will simply be attempting to behaviorally conform.
Eighty percent of success is showing up.