Bounce by Matthew Syed is a study of high achievement.  It cities compelling evidence that excellence comes from purposeful practice for thousand of hours – the 10,000 hours of practice trope.  Sports champions, chess masters, mental math whizzes, musical prodigies can all be explained by looking at how long and how well they practiced their skills.  What is interesting is not why these people excelled – years of expertly focused practice is a sufficient explanation – but why they spent all that time on  a specific specialized activity.

The answer turns out to be circumstance.  Many superstars – Tiger Woods, Mozart, Susan Polger – turn out to have had fathers who started them early and who built an environment where practice was easily available and positively encouraged.  Sometimes the circumstance of an  exact place of birth with a local nexus of expertise was what mattered.  It seems that both luck and and hard work are necessary together with  lots of time – childhood time.  Children are not burdened with the responsibilities of life yet.  They have the time and the freedom to explore.  Some lucky few will end up on a golf course everyday or behind a ping-pong table or across a chess board.   Their natural inclination to learn and improve will take over.  By the by these days such kids have video game to fulfill such needs.

What about the rest of us – the good but not nearly great.  Our circumstances put us in school. We  spent many hours- doing homework, reading our textbooks, being good or at least dutiful students.  We improved and the more time on task the better we got.  A good college education  must include many hours of work outside of class – writing, solving problems, reading and reflecting or it will have little effectiveness or staying power.  My job, seen in this light, is to be sure that my course requirements encourage purposeful practice and plenty of it.


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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