Magazine article Work & Family Life

Things We Can Learn from Superachievers

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Things We Can Learn from Superachievers

Article excerpt

How does one explain the greatest achievers among us? Was Bill Gates born with a gift for software design? Was Tiger Woods "hard-wired" to play golf?

A growing body of research on what people do to become great in a particular field of endeavor suggests that innate talent has litde or nothing to do with it. Many high achievers have a passion for what they do, but, as Geoffrey Colvin emphasizes in a Fortune magazine report on this subject, the key trait they have in common is hard work.

Practice makes perfect

Researchers came to this conclusion after observing this pattern: people tend to learn rather quickly at first, then more slowly and then they stop. But some people don't stop. They are so motivated that they keep working-and the very best in virtually any field are those who devote more time to what researchers refer to as "deliberate practice."

For example, in a study of 20-year-old violinists, cognitive psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University found that the most accomplished group (as judged by their conservatory teachers) averaged 10,000 hours of practice, the next most accomplished averaged 7,500 hours, and the next, 5,000.

Dr. Ericsson, who has studied the "acquisition of expert performance" for more than a decade, focuses mainly on fields that are relatively easy to measure such as music, sports and chess. But studies looking at expertise in other fields, including business, have found that hard work over many years counts there too.

The 10-year rule

No one is saying that innate talent is a mydi-and some rare individuals are indeed prodigies. It's also clear that many human traits are inherited. But researchers say that genetic traits tend to have more influence over what a person does not do than what he or she does. Hence, if you're short, you will not play professional basketball. If you are tone-deaf, you will not become a musician. Yet no researcher has found any evidence to date of high-level performance that comes without experience or practice.

Even the most accomplished performers need a decade of hard work before becoming "world-class." It's called the "10-year rule." It's a rough estimate of how long it takes to achieve mastery in a field-and researchers think of it as a minimum, not an average. Elite performance is some fields can require 20 or 30 years of preparation. …

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