10,000 Minutes

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Been thinking about the 10,000 hour rule.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized it in his 2008 book Outliers. Based on studies of elite performers in a spectrum of disciplines Gladwell proposed that people aren't born geniuses, but arrive there through hours upon hours of practice and work.

He contends that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness."  He backs that up by giving examples of greatness, and how Bill Gates, Mozart, and the Beatles achieved mastery by combining their nascent talent with 10,000 hours of practice.

Whether you're learning to code, play piano, illustrate, or wrangle dinosaurs, Gladwell says it'll take 10,000 hours of practice to master it.

10,000 hours of hard learning is daunting. It can be insurmountable for anyone over 40, and it is crippling to a teen. How can you live a balanced life when 5 hours of free time a day for 8-9 years is spent holed up in your room practicing?

Here’s a question: Maybe you don’t need to be a master in order to be successful?

Sometimes to be successful at something you just need to be above average. Maybe even just 1% better than the next guy. Mastery can come later if you want it. In fact, I think if you spend 10 years practicing at an above average level, mastery will be a nice side effect.

Let mastery happen on its own schedule, In the meantime just strive for being above average.

To get to above average you’ll need a lot less time than 10,000 hours. How about we see what you can learn in 10,000 minutes?

10,000 minutes as about 167 hours. If you attack this full time, and spend 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, you’ll get your 10,000 minutes in a MONTH. I don’t think that’s healthy. Do not try it.

Let’s look at something a little more doable: 2 hours every week day (weekends off) gets you your 10,000 minutes in just 3 months.

That’s way more manageable. You can still have a life while doing this. Which is important for having a well stocked creative bank account.

But not all hours drawing are created equal. Just drawing for fun 2 hours a day isn’t going to get you to above average. You need to make those hours really count.

In order to make this the most effective use of your hours here’s FOUR things you need to do.

1) Define the micro skills

Being a great artist means mastering 40+ different micro-skills. These small skills are stacked on top of each other and make it look like the master artist doing magic, when really she is just doing 40+ small things all at the same time.

Some of these skills are:

Line weight
Tone
Proportion
Silhouette
Light
Shadow
Design
Concept
Form
Composition
Color
Value

That’s a good list to start with. If you want to know more, study up on some of your favorite artists. Perhaps ask them what skills they think are most important, then add those to your list of micro skills.

2) Deliberate Practice

Now that you’ve got the list of micro-skills you need to learn set out to learn each one individually. You do this through deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is seen as one of the most effective ways to learn because it’s about narrowing in on specific sub skills and mastering those first.

For example, line weight is the first on the list there. What you might do is print out a line drawing that someone has already done, then you’ll trace over that drawing trying to copy the line weight exactly. Repeat this as many times as it takes so that you learn when to do thick heavy lines and when to do thin light lines.

Once you’ve gotten good at that, do the same with tone. Copy drawings that are excellent examples of tonal structure. And try to match that with your drawing.

Repeat this for all the micro-skills one-by-one.

Note: this is hard. Professionals who practice this way state that they can only concentrate for, at most, 4 hours every day on learning one specific micro-skill.

So don’t get frustrated if you can only do this for 30 minutes at a time at first.

3) Establish a feedback loop

One of the best ways to spot your problem areas and identify ways to improve is by creating a feedback loop for yourself. For some skills you’ll be able to track your performance by yourself. Just by comparing your line weight to the line weight of the drawing your learning from you should be able to see where you nailed it and where you need improvement.

But some skills are a little more subjective, or you haven’t learned enough yet to know what’s working and what isn’t in your studies. For that you’ll need to either find a mentor or find a community to show your work to. A place like the SVSlearn.com forums is a great place to share your progress and get feedback.

Showing a teacher or a professional is also a great way to get feedback.  Many online schools offer access to their teachers in live classes. Schoolism, CGMA, and SVSlearn.com all have great options. 

4) The 1% Rule

Just try to be one percent better today than you were yesterday. I learned about this from James Altucher who writes about this here.

Do this and you’ll see your expertise compound. Don’t worry about making giant strides every day. Just look at yesterday’s work and try to make it one percent better than it was yesterday.

Do this for 167 days and that 1% becomes… 167% better? I don’t know exactly. I’m not very good at percentages, but you get the point.

Get Started!

So that’s it, forget the 10,000 hour rule and see what you can accomplish in 10,000 minutes.

I’ve seen massive gains in my abilities by doing these four things. Check your own learning regiment and see if introducing micro-skill tracking, deliberate practice, feedback loops, and the 1% rule make any difference in the next 3 months.

I’d love to know how it goes for you.

Also, let me know what other learning techniques you do that have proven super effective. I’d love to try and apply those to my learning as well.

Thanks,
Jake

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