The Magic Number

What makes a person excel in his field? Does innate ability exist? What allows a Tiger Woods, Yo-Yo Ma, or Bill Gates to soar ahead of his competitors? Some researchers maintain these individuals, who may have vastly different backgrounds and abilities do have one thing in common: They achieved outstanding success through determination and practice. Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, makes a case that “prodigies” are actually individuals who have had the good fortune to find something that they love and the ability to invest a great deal of time perfecting their skills. And the magic number of hours is 10,000. He quotes neurologist Daniel Levintin: “The emerging picture from such studies is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert—in anything.” Gladwell contends, “It’s all but impossible to reach that number by yourself by the time you’re a young adult. . . Most people can reach that number only if they get into a special program. ”
So both time and opportunity are factors for phenomenal success. Supportive parents are, therefore, part of the equation. In fact, even Mozart comes into consideration with this formula. His father recognized his talent and developed it. But although Mozart began composing as a child, he produced his master work when he was twenty-one, after he had been composing concertos for ten years.
This research certainly has academic implications. Like the athlete who trains, or the musician who practices relentlessly, the serious student needs to invest time and energy in his pursuits. His parents need to foster his interests and abilities. He needs to ignore distractions. He must shut off his electronic devices: computer, cell phone, music player, etc., and study! Those who wish to score high on SAT’s would be wise to start practicing very early—several years prior to the test —to achieve a perfect score. So, the message seems clear: The harder a person is willing to work, the better he becomes at something, or, to quote an adage, “Practice makes perfect.”

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