I stand corrected. When I was examining the Prodigy Myth, I highlighted talent as one of, though not the critical, element to raising a prodigy. After reading Outliers, it appears that talent is squat if you don’t spend the time developing it. This fundamental rule applies to everyone – all-star sportspeople, chess masters, Bill Gates, Mozart, and The Beatles – and there are no exceptions to this rule. All the talent in the world won’t make you brilliant if you don’t practice enough.
Do you want to know how much you need to practice to become brilliant? 10000 hours. That’s roughly 2.7 hours a day, everyday for 10 years. Bill Gates, Mozart and The Beatles all clocked in their 10,000 hours religiously, and then some, and that’s how they became brilliant at what they do. So if you want your children to be brilliant at something, that’s what you’re aiming for – 10000 hours of practice. That’s a lot of practice time so it makes sense if it is something that your child has an inclination for, and preferably an interest in. Now how do I turn Gavin’s obsesssion with Thomas into something useful? Unless we can find something else that Gavin can really get into.
As much as I disagreed with Amy Chuah’s methods, there is one thing she said that I have to agree with – nothing is fun until you get good at it. It’s the “getting good at it” part that is challenging. If you’re lucky and your child discovers his passion like Bill Gates, he will be motivated to find time to practice on his own. But the other thing that Outliers also highlighted is the importance of having opportunity. If you don’t provide your child the opportunity to get good at it, he will never excel at it (it being anything your child desires to learn more about – music, sport, science, chess,…).
The other thing that these 10000 hours is beginning to remind me of is the study in Brain Rules for Baby that showed that children who learned a musical instrument for more than 10 years had the ability to pick up emotion-laden cues with lightning speed. 10 years of music study can equate to 10000 hours of practice. That means, in order for your child to benefit from music lessons so that he can read emotions quickly and easily, he has to become an expert at it. But the thing about becoming an expert at one field is that you usually don’t have the time to work on becoming brilliant at something else. It’s either music or something else. Food for thought…
Suzuki was right – talent has to be cultivated through practice – lots and lots of practice. Anyone can be brilliant at anything they choose to be if they can be diligent about their practice. That’s probably what creates the illusion of talent. It’s probably not so much talent that we see but our innate interest in a subject that directs us towards a specific field. For Bill Gates, it was programming; for Mozart, it was music (although it appears that there was a lot of Daddy’s firm guidance going on there); for Michael Jordan, it was basketball. And that’s probably why Michael Jordan excelled at basketball but was never really brilliant at baseball despite his efforts to break into the sport – he just didn’t have the hours of practice behind him on the baseball field.
So what is your child’s passion? If you want your child to become a prodigy and make a career out of it, then ideally, you’ll want him to discover his true passion by the time he’s about 10 years old. Add another 10 years of solid practice and he’ll be 20 years old by the time he’s ready take on that field and make waves. Why 10 years old? If he’s working in another field, he’ll be too busy to practice. Once he’s working to make ends meet, it will be tough to break away.
That brings us full circle back to early childhood development. Early exposure to a wide variety of subjects allows your child to discover his passions. Help him discover it, then give him the opportunity to practice it and excel at it.