Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 book, Outliers, tells a surprising story about how success can be measured. While common thought pegged successful people as extraordinarily driven or talented, Gladwell argued that success is really comprised of multiple factors. One of the most popular rules is the 10,000 hours theory. "Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness," he wrote.

In the book, he cited examples of successful people who practiced their craft for about 10,000 hours, such as Bill Gates and the Beatles. But there's been a huge dialogue in the scientific community as to whether Gladwell's theory stands true. Much of this has been because of misinterpretation or oversimplification of Gladwell's ideas. He doesn't want people to think that 10,000 hours of practice guarantees success, but that "natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest."

But all of our teachers and coaches have always encouraged us to practice. So is what they're saying totally wrong? According to a 2013 Princeton meta-analysis study, practice didn't really increase performance all that much. For example, music practice just accounted for 21% of performance improvement, and professional practice, just 1%.

This is contrary to everything we've been taught. Franz Johansson's The Click Moment explains this by saying that disciplines with a more creative structure are difficult to measure based on a quantitative amount of practicing. When a subject is more structured, regimented practice will be more likely to make perfect, or close to it, anyway.

But overall, practice is not the only factor when it comes to achieving a high level of performance. It could also have to do with personality, your genes, or how early you started. The moral of the story is that hard work is one thing, but it's the quality of your practice, your pre-disposal for success, and the honing of your natural ability that comprise the foundation of potential success. Nothing in life is a guarantee, but these factors will help you be in the best position to become the expert you want to be.

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