Monday, October 19, 2009

10,000 hours

In his book "Outliers" Malcolm Gladwell introduces the 10,000 hour rule. It isn't his idea but he devotes a whole chapter to it so he deems it very important. The long and short of it is quite simple: To become world class in any field, be it violin playing, computer programming, hockey, basket ball, piano, mathematics, or what have you, about 10,000 hours of practice is required.

10,000 hours is a lot of practice.

And what's more he says, in study after study, authors never found any "naturals," i.e. individuals who can get by with a lot less, nor "grinds," or individuals who worked a lot harder than everyone else but never made it to the top. All of that makes a lot of sense.

I do want to point out that there is such a thing as innate talent. Although a lot of practice is required to become good at something, it does matter where you start from.

Some people are born with the innate ability to run 5:30 miles, while others are clocked at 7 and up. The same applies to reading skills, mathematical ability, hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and musical ability. There are differences that matter and these differences have a genetic basis. There is such a thing as natural selection.

Although Gladwell appears to agree with that statement, he tends to underestimate its weight. Partly that is because he has an individual-centric view. He wants to stress how important an individual's environment and timing is for that person's own success. It does matter when you are born -great cycling talent did not do anyone much good before the invention of the bicycle. It even matters what time of year you are born -hockey players tend to be people born in January and February. And it does matter where and how you grew up and how well your parents took care of you.

These conditions are not mutually exclusive. It still takes a lot of training and good luck for the gifted to make it to world class. From a gene perspective this does not matter much. There are several individuals to pick from. Each is a role of the dice. But I digress.

For you as an individual, it is good to know that no amount of training is going to get you from being a natural slowpoke to becoming a world class runner. All we can do here is invoke the property of self-similarity at scale. If you are a natural 7 minute miler, practicing for 10,000 hours will get you to the top of your (innate 7 minute miler) class. It won't get you to challenge Gebrselassie.

Which brings me to triathlon and swimming. It is true that I have achieved much in this discipline although I never qualified for Hawaii. I would have loved to qualify for Hawaii. But it isn't going to happen without a major improvement in swimming. And although I have swum a lot since 2004, I am light years away from 10,000 hours of swimming. It would take me 2 years almost non-stop swimming to get even close to half that level. And that is not something I want to do now. It is not something I enjoy all that much in any case.

Instead I plan to focus on distance cycling. That is the sport I truly like and enjoy. It is the sport that I want to devote my energies to. That is another reason for building my KOM.

Today I rode 1:10 on rollers. I burned 1,221 calories. It is raining outside (again).

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