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10,000 Times

by Doug Davidoff | Jul 27, 2010 11:32:48 AM

I’ve been fascinated with the feedback I’ve gotten from my post last Thursday, “In Pursuit of the ‘Ah-ha!’”  The opening quote has received the most attention, and as I was talking about it with a friend and client of mine, I gained an insight that I’d like to share.

In case you haven’t seen the post, here’s the quote I’m referring to:

Don’t fear the man who has tried 10,000 kicks,
Fear the man who has tried 1 kick 10,000 times.   – Bruce Lee

Here's what happens after the proverbial 1,000th kick -- you stop making progress.  You stop learning things.  If you're not careful, the entire exercise of learning becomes rote.  Even though most people realize they haven't yet mastered the skill, they get bored by the activity.  As a result, they move on.

Those who stick with it and maintain a learning posture gain a breakthrough at some point, say around the 2,500th proverbial kick.  It hits them that when they adjust their foot a degree to the left, it has one effect, while a degree to the right has a very different effect.  It's an "ah-ha" of amazing proportions.  Here's the thing, if they had stopped after 2,000 kicks they wouldn't have gained the insight.  That's why mastery is such a challenge, and why the great ones never - NEVER - stop learning.  They never feel as though it's good enough.

That's why coaches are so important.  They can provide the leadership and the guidance to ensure that your learning doesn't become rote and to keep you on the path.

Think about this discovery from Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule in his book Outliers.  K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin's elite Academy of Music found that what separated the best violinists from the good and average performers was not talent, but rather the amount of time they practiced throughout their life.  By the age of 20, the best performers had practiced for a total of 10,000 hours, the good performers practiced a total of 8,000 hours and the average performers practiced only 4,000 hours.

The next time you don't get the results you want, ask yourself if you spent enough time practicing.