How to be Brilliant at Anything

In a nutshell? “Practice makes perfect.” If you want to be brilliant at something, there are no short cuts to simply “putting the hours in.”

I am currently reading another of Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating books, “Outliers: the story of success.” The second chapter is about the 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell quotes neurologist Daniel Levitin,

“The emerging picture … is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything.”

He then outlines how many times this has been repeatedly proved in the sciences, sports, and arts. The compelling implication is that Mozart (for instance) became who he did through the accumulated effect of about 10,000 hours of practice. Of course there was some giftedness to begin with but it was those hours at the keyboard that made the difference.

Winston Churchill in Downing Street giving his...
Winston: He's the man!

Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” I believe he is saying exactly the same thing. I have never looked at it like this before but this morning it dawned on me: Practice is a long string of failures. How many times have you or I set out to achieve mastery of something or other only to be confronted  by failure within a few minutes and (crucially) have interpreted this failure to mean that I am not a “natural” or that it is “too hard”? If we approach practice with a different attitude, expecting it to be a story of repeated failure, then we’ll be well on our way to those 10,000 hours.

So how can anyone be brilliant at anything? Provided there is some shred of ability to begin with, for all of us it is simply a case of putting the hours in. I find this enormously encouraging rather than discouraging. For a writer, it means hundreds and hundreds of hours of writing and possibly hundreds of rejection slips. For a musician, it is racking up millions of wrong notes year after year. For a chef, it is about turning out thousands of imperfect dishes.

So, quit dreaming about the day your talent will be noticed and start grafting …

4 thoughts on “How to be Brilliant at Anything

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