F*** 10,000 Hours: Thoughts on Process, Perfection and Good Enough
I recently watched a fascinating talk given by Josh Kaufman at TEDx CSU (found below for your viewing pleasure) in which he tackles the popular belief that learning new skills takes a very long time. I really enjoyed it because it answers a question I get asked a lot when teaching: "how long will this take to learn?" The initial stage of learning is uncomfortable. People (myself included) usually want to know when it will be over. At the moment, the prevailing conventional wisdom is something along the lines of: "well, I read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, and it takes 10,000 hours to be really good".
While this is interesting information it fails to address the actual question:
How long will it take me to be able to do this?
Now, it seems like I am picking on Mr Gladwell here. I really have no reason to. He wrote a very well researched and thoughtful book, and it became very popular. Three cheers! It means that people are reading and are interested in the nature of their minds! That makes me baby-panda-level happy.
What I've noticed here, that I think could use a little work, is this: through that popularization, the piece of information that made it through our collective game of telephone was: "it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something". You can almost hear the "so why bother" that follows. To me, this speaks to a generalized fear of imperfection and vulnerability. Learning often becomes something people do in secret, and as quickly as possible.
When we do this we miss the exhilarating, steep arc of the initial learning process. The part where we go from knowing nothing to knowing quite a bit (thank you very much). This can be tremendously fun if you aren't scared, or ashamed, and give yourself plenty of pats on the back (or gold stars, or high fives... whatever floats your boat). We're wired to enjoy this process. It is biochemically satisfying and healthy on so many levels.
I think some of this fear stems from not thinking of learning itself an improvable skill. Absorbing information is not the same thing as learning. The skill of learning is based on resilience to failure, curiosity and commitment. Finding satisfaction in all of the incremental steps and successes is essential.
Sure, it takes 10, 000 hours to become a master, but mastery is a long road, and there are so many interesting and satisfying points along the way. Not to mention other roads that split off and take you in entirely new directions. So I think we are better served by asking: what does good mean to you in this context? What would be satisfying?
As a friend of mine once said: "it's not just good, it's good enough".