Two Thousand Hours

A couple weeks back I posed this question to some folks at work, and then again on Facebook, and it got some interesting responses. So here it is again: If you could spend two thousand hours diving into any one new hobby or skill, what would it be?

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites 10,000 hours as the amount of time required to become a world-class expert in a subject. To be fair, Gladwell’s embrace of this rule might be more breezy than scientifically accurate. That aside, I’m willing to accept 10,000 hours as a gut-level assessment of how long it takes to become a real expert.

What about a smaller time investment, a couple hundred hours or less? Last quarter, I took a basic drawing class at Mission College. Those of you who were art students remember this stuff — ink and charcoal, the prerequisite for every class you might want to take in visual arts, you know the drill. I’d never had any talent for art, but I do like looking at art, and I figured what the heck. Don’t be afraid to try something you suck at, right?

Conservatively speaking, between evening classes and homework, I sunk about 150 hours into that drawing class. And compared to most the kids in the class, particularly the ones who were future visual arts majors, I did suck. But the good news is that after 150 hours, you do get better. I went from being barely able to sketch little plastic toy dinosaurs with vine charcoal to drawing actual human faces. Not that these faces actually looked like the original people. If you’re slightly off on the shape of the nose or the mouth… well, let’s just say that Homo Sapiens‘s built-in facial recognition software is powerful and damned unforgiving. Still, being able to draw any faces at all was way more progress than I expected.

Two thousand hours is an interesting timescale because logarithmically, it sits sort of close to the midpoint between 150 hours (starting to make progress) and 10,000 hours (mastery). It’s the equivalent of taking a full year off to study, or of taking one class at a time for several years. It’s enough time to learn a skill that will impact your life forever, without necessarily making that skill your full time job. It’s enough time to become “pretty good” at just about anything, even if you lack God-given talents in that direction. It’s enough to actually know something.

Nothing about this is mystical. Lance Armstrong has trained for well over ten thousand hours and is a mutant for cycling. Henri Matisse painted for well over ten thousand hours and was a mutant for art. So no, you can’t be Armstrong or Matisse, unless you’re a mutant with lots of free time too. But you can still be accomplished — in playing the violin, in metalwork, in basketball. I think that my two thousand hours is in painting and drawing. What’s yours?

I Will Make You Stuff!

The first five people to comment on this post will get something made by me! My choice. For you.

This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:

  • I make no guarantees that you will like what I make! What I create will be just for you.
  • It’ll be done this year. (might be a little while)
  • You have no clue what it’s going to be. It may be a story. It may be poetry. I may draw or paint something. I may bake you something and mail it to you. Who knows. Not you, that’s for sure!
  • I reserve the right to do something extremely strange.

The catch? Oh, the catch is that you have to repost. We can all make stuff!!

(hat tip FutureSarah)

I’m so evil and… skanky. And I think I’m written for the IBM 7094!

The things you learn from conversations on Facebook…

  • Evan Goer [status]
    Oh, $5 clearance wine from Santa Rosa — you are surprisingly delicious! Why oh why did I only buy four bottles of you?
  • Michael Toback at 7:30pm January 8
    I sense a problem here.
    Cheap therapy for cheap wine.
  • Evan Goer at 7:34pm January 8
    You: Why did I not buy enough cheap, delicious wine?
    Eliza: Can you elaborate on that?
  • Sarah McNeil at 7:41pm January 8
    I think… I think it was your girlfriend’s fault. 🙁
  • Michael Toback at 7:43pm January 8
    Eliza: But you are not sure you think it was my girlfriends fault?
  • Evan Goer at 7:44pm January 8
    You: Ek er rei??r ok ?? brand!
    Eliza: Please go on.
  • Evan Goer at 7:47pm January 8
    Wait — has Eliza just come out? After all these years?
  • Michael Toback at 7:50pm January 8
    Yes. First LiLo, now Eliza!

Note for the People Magazine-challenged: “LiLo” refers to an actress/singer/starlet named Lindsey Lohan, not Lilo Pelekai of Hawaii or LILO the Linux bootloader. Now back to your regular programming.