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.