Practice Makes Perfect, Or Does It?

We are told for a long time that practice makes perfect but with research is this really true? We take a look.

When we were young we were told a million times by many who chose to play the mentor that practice makes perfect. 

This paper from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information states, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” 

The book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, was recommended to me by one of my Urology mentors, Dr. Kevin Kwan. 

The book explores factors that contributed to the high levels of success of some individuals. It dissects the steps of how Bill Gates created the world’s largest PC software company, Microsoft, as well as how Joseph Flom transformed Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates into one of the most powerful law firms in the world.

In the second chapter, Gladwell introduces the concept of the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’ and how it helped the Beatles become world famous musicians by having the opportunity to perform live as a group in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times between 1960 and 1964. 

Although they initially started at strip clubs, they accumulated more than 10 000 hours by playing nonstop. 

Throughout his book, Gladwell repeatedly refers to the ‘10,000-hour rule’, asserting that the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply a matter of practicing, albeit in the correct way, for at least 10,000 hours.


Noah And Oscar

Now here I am reminded of an acquaintance whom we’ll call Noah. He grew up being dominated by his mother and was forced to learn and practice playing the viola for at least 3 hours each day. 

Noah’s mother was a soprano. She wanted her son to eventually play as a professional in a symphony orchestra. Dutifully, Noah would practice, including on weekends until he finally did become a professional musician and joined one of the well known symphony orchestras, though with a little help from his mother. 

Along the way his mother passed away and Noah who’s now in his late 40s continues playing for the orchestra but must practice at home for those three hours each day. 

As he himself says, even with those tens of thousands of hours of practice he’s far from perfect and not able to play without looking at the notes. 

The reason being he’s tone deaf and no amount of practice is going to help him.

Another acquaintance whom we’ll call Oscar was born in a family of limited means. He wanted to be a drummer. 

Since buying him a set of drums with cymbals and all was out of the question, he picked up used paint cans and a couple of sticks that he pulled out from clothes hangers and began to teach himself, often in front of a mirror. 

As it turned out, he excelled from day one onward mainly because he had been rehearsing in his mind and had the talent. 

As a result, over the years he became so good that he’s a much sought after drummer and plays in many parts of the world. 

Ask him if it was practice and the answer is no. He says he was just born for it and  it was his calling. In other words he possessed that inherent talent.

What one learns from Noah and Oscar is, one might be able to hone up on skills to a limited extent with practice which surely is important and must be combined with other forms of learning to achieve some success. Coexistent with that practice must be fundamental and implicit talent which may lead to perfection.


Finding The Results

This paper appears to fully and clearly explain with nothing being implied, “To try to sort things out, psychologist Brooke N. Macnamara of Princeton University and her colleagues reviewed 157 experimental results connecting total time spent practicing to ability in sports, music, education and other areas. 

On average, practice time accounted for just 12% of the variation in performance. 

Practice had the biggest effect on games such as chess – it explained 26% of the differences in performance – but it had almost nothing to do with ability in academic classes or professions, such as computer programming. 

“The more rigorously each study judged its subjects’ ability – such as by having experts evaluate their performance – the less total practice time mattered.”

This age old adage about practice doesn’t appear to carry much weight. It often will make us better at what we diligently practice and other factors surely are more important. It’s just that practice won’t put us at a disadvantage so long as we aren’t attempting anything perilous or life threatening.

More Youth Time goodness here:

I Tracked Every Minute Of My Day – Here’s What I Learned

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