Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taking the 10,000 hours of practice theory seriously

On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan [McLaughlin] had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer.

He had almost no experience and even less interest in the sport.

What he really wanted to do was test the 10,000-hour theory he read about in the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers. That, Gladwell wrote, is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — "the magic number of greatness." ...

The Dan Plan will take six hours a day, six days a week, for six years. He is keeping diligent records of his practice and progress. People who study expertise say no one has done quite what Dan is doing right now. ...

Back when he first pitched his idea to Christopher Smith, a Nike-affiliated coach who has written a book about golf, Smith was not just uninterested. He was insulted. Golf is famously frustrating. Smith told Dan it was much harder than he thought. He told him to Google K. Anders Ericsson at Florida State University, a psychology professor and a leading expert on expertise.

Dan Googled him. Then called him. Then read his scholarly work. Smith started to think Dan was more committed than he had originally thought. Perhaps Dan was an opportunity. How would he teach golf to a person who was relatively fit, clearly willing and totally untouched, with no bad habits to undo because there were no habits at all?

Dan persuaded Smith to coach him. He got Nike to give him some free shoes, clothes and clubs. He set up a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a blog at By now, on Dan's loose team of interested consultants are Smith, Ericsson, a personal trainer in Portland and a professor of kinesiology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Here's how they have Dan trying to learn golf: He couldn't putt from 3 feet until he was good enough at putting from 1 foot. He couldn't putt from 5 feet until he was good enough putting from 3 feet. He's working away from the hole. He didn't get off the green for five months. A putter was the only club in his bag.

Everybody asks him what he shoots for a round. He has no idea. His next drive will be his first. ...

People, of course, have become world-class after practicing 10,000 hours, in golf and tennis and violin or anything else. But never, not in anything, according to Ericsson, has anyone done it like this: to start at this age, with no experience, and to keep statistics from the beginning, and to be so self-reflective about it, and to last even this long. Dan, Ericsson says, is "like Columbus here, sailing out in new territory."
--Michael Kruse, St. Petersburg Times, on becoming an outlier. HT: Franklin Shaddy

1 comment:

Katie said...

I read this book and I think the 10,000 hours was only one element - you also had to have natural talent / flair whatever you want to call it, and passion. Still, will be interesting to see if he manages it!