I’m reading an interesting book that my dad sent me, that was a result of the arguments we had at Thanksgiving where I was saying that talent is something you’re born with, and with the proper environment and practice you can to that outlier point on the right side of the bell curve. In other words, what it takes to be great in a particular activity. The book, by Malcolm Gladwell begins with a story about a doctor who finds that the rate of heart disease in a small town in Maine is half the U.S. rate.
They find that the people in the town (are all from the same small town in Italy). But they have adopted American eating habits. Many are overweight. Many smoke. But the conclusion is that the environment where everyone knows each other, where there are extended families living together, in short, the social network which has been transported from the small Italian town is the critical factor.
From there, the author looks at hockey players, and discovers that the best players were all born in the first third of the year. He finds this in other sports as well. And to make it short discovers that the reason that there are so many great players who were born in the first third of the year goes back to a relationship between how much bigger and more mature these kids were in the early school grades. In other words, since these kids were nine months older than the other kids, they were more coordinated at sports, and were chosen for special sports leagues at an early age. And this leads to them getting more playing time, which leads to them getting better… The point is, that these kids, and in fact almost all geniuses that he looks at (including Mozart) had 10,000 hours of practice before they became great. In Mozart’s case, although he wrote a number of fair scores at an early age, he didn’t really write his first great piece until he was 21 years old, and the author calculates that this was around the time that he had had 10,000 hours of practice.
Only up to chapter two – but so far this all makes sense to me. Talent alone is not enough. There are factors that must be in place that give you enough time to work at your craft in order for that talent to blossom. He’s going through one case at a time. Right now talking about the guy who wrote a lot of Unix, who also was lucky enough to be able to hit 10,000 hours of programming by the time he was in his early twenties.
So there you have it. Start early. And make sure you are born at the right time so that you are older than the other kids in your class when you are in the first grade. Oh, and be good at something.