Reflections

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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.

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Dave

My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a photographer and programmer working in New York City.

2 thoughts on “Reflections”

  1. I read that book. I think the best example he gives is the Beatles. They were extremely gifted, of course, but they didn’t just burst upon the scene. They played innumerable, all-nights stands for two years in Hamburg honing their talents. In other words, thousands of hours of practice made them the Beatles.

  2. I’ve not read Gladwell’s book but the results
    don’t surprise me.

    Taking Lester’s favourite example ‘The Beatles’
    though I wonder if they would have remained any
    more than a small underground band had it not
    been for Brian Epstein’s management?

    It’s interesting how quickly the Beatles
    disintegrated after he died, (although
    individually they did some pretty cool stuff).

    One of my close friends is a pretty exceptional
    musician and now makes his living as a music
    teacher. In the 1970’s he was part of a band
    called ‘the 101ers’. It played at pubs and clubs
    and died the death of many such bands.

    The fact is though the leader was none other
    than Joe Strummer who went on to form ‘The Clash’.

    It’s pretty well acknowledged these days that
    ‘the 101ers’ were equal to ‘The Clash’ talent
    wise yet today few know of them.

    I suspect ‘The Clash’, ‘The Beatles’ and ‘Mozart’
    all had good management.

    This somewhat circuitous post is a way of
    acknowledging that whilst undoubtedly you’re
    a talented photographer much of your success
    comes from activities outside of taking and
    printing photographs.

    For example you have selected a niche, you
    have set goals for the new year, your web-pages
    are well laid out and optimised, (after years
    of meticulous experiments and testing), and
    you’re networking with others in your field.

    These are all management activities.

    I’m not suggesting that Gladwell is wrong,
    but that his theories when applied to
    artistic success, (as opposed to plain
    artistic talent), need to incorporate
    the influences that led the artist to
    become well known in their own lifetime.

    Stephen

    PS I may well be wrong about all this ‘cos
    I was born in September, see?

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