Is it talent? Or hard work? Science has an answer.
Becoming an expert takes more than practice.
We all know people, writers in this case, who work very hard at their craft yet never quite achieve success. Our egalitarian hard work mantra states that if you put in at least 10,000 hours of practice, you'll become good. An expert perhaps.
Take professional baseball players. It takes incredibly hard work to make it to the major leagues. Dedication and perspiration is the least it takes.
Yet, most players hit somewhere around .230 or .250. Why? The obvious answer is innate ability. As coaches will tell you, "you can't teach speed." Apparently you can't teach a .300 batting average or hitting 25+ homeruns either.
I once was part of a critique group with a woman who worked harder than any of the rest of us, and had worked very hard for years. I don't know how many hours she had put in, but it's a good guess that she had passed the 10,000 hour threshold. Her story lines were well thought out, often intriguing. Yet her prose was wooden. Her dialogue was stiff and artificial. Her ideas were great, but she just couldn't deliver them on paper.*
Here's the story:
Practice over time does not seem to play a huge role in performance
Deliberate practice may not have nearly as much influence in building expertise as we thought, according to research. The new study indicates that the amount of practice accumulated over time does not seem to play a huge role in accounting for individual differences in skill or performance.
Scientists have been studying and debating whether experts are "born" or "made" since the mid-1800s. In recent years, deliberate practice has received considerable attention in these debates, while innate ability has been pushed to the side, due in part to the famous "10,000-hour rule" coined by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book Outliers.
The new study, from psychological scientist Brooke Macnamara of Princeton University and colleagues, offers a counterpoint to this recent trend, suggesting that the amount of practice accumulated over time does not seem to play a huge role in accounting for individual differences in skill or performance.
"Deliberate practice is unquestionably important, but not nearly as important as proponents of the view have claimed," says Macnamara.
Macnamara, with colleagues David Z. Hambrick of Michigan State University and Frederick Oswald of Rice University, scoured the scientific literature for studies examining practice and performance in domains as diverse as music, games, sports, professions, and education.
Of the many studies they found, 88 met specific criteria, including a measure of accumulated practice and a measure of performance, and an estimate of the magnitude of the observed effect. The researchers took the 88 studies and performed a "meta-analysis," pooling all of the data from the studies to examine whether specific patterns emerged.
Nearly all of the studies showed a positive relationship between practice and performance: The more people reported having practice, the higher their level of performance in their specific domain.
Overall, practice accounted for only about 12% of individual differences observed in performance across the various domains.
However, the domain itself seemed to make a difference. Practice accounted for
- about 26% of individual differences in performance for games,
- about 21% of individual differences in music, and
- about 18% of individual differences in sports.
But it only accounted for
- about 4% of individual differences in education and
- less than 1% of individual differences in performance in professions.
Deliberate practice is important
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Macnamara and colleagues speculate that the age at which a person becomes involved in an activity may matter, and that certain cognitive abilities such as working memory may also play an influential role. The researchers are planning another meta-analysis focused specifically on practice and sports in order to better understand the role of these and other factors.
* Interestingly, the woman in question did achieve success. She knew someone who knew someone who knew an established television producer. Through this pipeline the producer received some of her story synopses, which he purchased and had developed by the writers on his shows. She made good money, which offers another insight into success. It's who you know that at least opens the door to achievement.
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Story Source: Materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. 1.B. N. Macnamara, D. Z. Hambrick, F. L. Oswald. Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Science, 2014