I’ve been hearing many folks mention the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell noted are required for mastery.  Unfortunately, more often than not, I’m hearing it used more or less as a weapon, at least when it comes to passing the notion on to kids.  “You know, it takes 10,000 hours to master something so no, you can’t skip practicing today!”  or “Get going – you’ve got a lot more hours to go!”

But it’s not the sheer quantity of hours spent that leads to mastery.  You have to not only spend the hours, you have to spend them a particular way.  David Shenk, in The Genius in All of Us, describes the research of expertise expert (!) Anders Ericsson: “…it was observed that the uppermost achievers not only spent significantly more time in solitary study and drills, but also exhibited a consistent (and persistent) style of preparation that Ericsson came to call ‘deliberate practice.'” Deliberate practice, Shenk goes on to explain, is “the type of practice where the individual [italics mine] keeps raising the bar of what he or she considers success.” Continue reading

Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert makes a strong case for depersonalizing genius and creativity (see link below).  If we were to return to older ways of referring to genius as something one has as opposed to is, we make room for error as well as fuller success, thus freeing ourselves up a bit.  (More than a bit, probably.)

My cousin’s daughter said recently as she was painting “What?  I’m drawing an airplane?  I was supposed to be drawing a bird!”  It got me wondering whether perhaps kids are freer creatively not only because they haven’t yet figured out that we have the distinction between “good” and “bad” but because they don’t experience as direct a connection between their selves and what they create as older people do.  If that’s true, it also raises interesting questions about their behavior in general, and could explain a lot of the impasse at which so many parents and kids find themselves when it comes to expectations of behavior (at any age).

I think it’d be interesting to imagine how we might nurture creativity in kids if we saw it as something to have and not something to be.  Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk has more to offer than the bit I’ve written here.  Have a look, see what it offers in how you are with your kids and their art (and other behavior), and let me know what you think.


A.J.’s teachers tell me he’s bright, but struggles with slow processing speed.  Things take him a very long time to do.  I noticed early in my work with him that he didn’t actually seem to be processing anything slowly.  He was just doing things slowly.  He could produce a response to a question fairly quickly, but he would think about his answer for quite awhile before offering it.  I pointed out a few times that if he worked more efficiently (in his case, that would mean choosing to write down the first answer he came up with, which was always plenty sufficient for the task at hand) he would have more time to spend on the books and music he likes. It didn’t change the pace of his work, and I finally got to thinking.  What if there’s something in this pace of his, a pace we’re trying to teach out of him, that’s serving a purpose, or making room for something?  What is there to discover if we step back and watch what they’re doing before we start trying to mess with it?

Next time you’re tempted to say “stop doodling and pay attention”…

Yet another suggestion that things are not always as they seem. This reminds me of how many folks I’ve heard say that they can only focus on what someone’s saying if they don’t make eye contact, though we tend to assume it’s the opposite. Take a look at this summary of a study (published earlier this year in Applied Cognitive Psychology) about the effect of doodling on recall.

Art Starts Early

Well-known artisan Angela Adams recently told Martha Stewart that her thriving business started with childhood doodling.  There’s no telling what’s brewing when kids don’t seem to be getting much done.  You can watch the clip on Martha’s website. (Scroll down and click on Angela Adams Rugs.)