Formula for Genius : 10000 Hour Rule

Genius“Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work…”  – Albert Einstein

Nobody in history has ever been able to quantify the genius. What makes a person gifted? Why does he or she scale heads and shoulders above rest of the mankind? What makes them tick? We don’t understand it so we just use words like God gifted or genius. Remarkable achievements of eminent individuals have traditionally been explained by the concept of innate talent or giftedness. Some arguments for innate talent derive from the assumption that many extreme individual differences defy explanation in terms of known mechanisms for learning and development. If the above quote by Albert Einstein is true then there is nothing called as Genius? If given, everything remains constant and everybody does the same level of hard work, Will that make everybody a genius? Is there some kind of a Formula for genius?

Anders Ericsson, in his research paper approached the issues of gifts and innate talent a little differently. Rather than create new definitions and global theories, he applied the analytical methods of the expert performance approach and focused on the empirical evidence for reproducibly superior performance. In 1980, Ericsson and Bill Chase tried to replicate an early study where several students were able to double their performance on a test of short-term memory with a few weeks of practice. They invited a college student to engage in memory practice for a few hours per week. Before the start of training, the student could recall around seven presented digits—the typical performance for almost all of the college students. After several hundred hours of practice he dramatically exceeded the original target of doubling his memory performance and was able to perfectly recall over 80 presented digits—an enormous improvement of performance corresponding to an effect size of over 70 standard deviations. These large training effects on memory performance have been replicated many times with many participants in several independent laboratories. So the question that has bothered many scientists for long is, does training have an effect on becoming a genius? Did that memory training make an average student a Genius? The question came back to same – Is there a formula for Genius?

Exceptional achievements attributed to innate ‘gifts’ are typically thought to arise abruptly and naturally, that is, without additional training. Ericsson in his detailed research found that the development of performance assessed by representative tasks and competitions can be charted for individual experts from the time they are first introduced to the domain until they reach their superior expert performance. Ericsson found compelling evidence that even the most ‘talented’ need 10 years or more of intense involvement before they reach a level where they can consistently demonstrate superior performance in international adult competitions in sports, sciences and the arts.

In the early 1990s, a team of psychologists in Berlin, Germany studied violin students. Specifically, they studied their practice habits in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. All of the subjects were asked this question: “Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?” All of the violinists had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age twenty, the elite performers averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only 4,000 hours of practice. One fascinating and astounding point that came out of the study: No “naturally gifted” performers emerged. If natural talent had played a role, we would expect some of the “naturals” to float to the top of the elite level with fewer practice hours than everyone else. But the data showed otherwise. The psychologists found a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts. No naturals.

Let’s pick a genius of our generation. Bill gates had to be a genius. Right? It’s that simple: Drop out of college, start a company, and become a billionaire, right? Wrong. Study reveals that Gates and Allen had thousands of hours of programming practice prior to founding Microsoft. First, the two co-founders met at Lakeside, an elite private school in the Seattle area. The school raised three thousand dollars to purchase a computer terminal for the school’s computer club in 1968. A computer terminal at a university was rare in 1968. Gates had access to a terminal in eighth grade. Gates and Allen quickly became addicted to programming. The Gates family lived near the University of Washington. As a teenager, Gates fed his programming addiction by sneaking out of his parents’ home after bedtime to use the University’s computer. Gates and Allen acquired their 10,000 hours through this and other clever teenage schemes. When the time came to launch Microsoft in 1975, the two were ready. They already had 10000 hours of practice behind them.

In 1960, while they were still an unknown high school rock band, the Beatles went to Hamburg, Germany to play in the local clubs. The group was underpaid. The acoustics were terrible. The audiences were unappreciative. So what did the Beatles get out of the Hamburg experience? Hours of playing time. Non-stop hours of playing time that forced them to get better.As the Beatles grew in skill, audiences demanded more performances – more playing time. By 1962 they were playing eight hours per night, seven nights per week. By 1964, the year they burst on the international scene, the Beatles had played over 1,200 concerts together. By way of comparison, most bands today don’t play 1,200 times in their entire career.

In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell published his immensely successful book called Outliers: The Story of Success. In Outliers, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. Throughout the book, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles’ musical talents and Gates’ computer savvy as examples.

But, is it this Simple? Pick a field, Practice for 10000 hours and become a master in that field. The believers of Ericsson and Gladwell school of thoughts thinks so but the critics consider it as too much simplification of a very complex problem. The critics argue, Practice is necessary, it makes them perfect but to become a master of that perfection requires something else, something unknown. “No one disputes that practice is important,” says psychologist David Zachary Hambrick of Michigan State University in East Lansing. “Through practice, people get better. The question is whether that is all there is to it.” In last year’s Intelligence study, Hambrick’s team looked again at case studies of master musicians and chess players, the subjects of Ericsson’s research. After quizzing the players on their lifetime hours of deliberate practice (as opposed to performances or play), they concluded that practice accounted for only 30 percent of success in music and 34 percent in chess. They also found wide variability in the hours of practice. Chess grand masters had put in from 832 to 24,284 hours of work, although the average was around 10,530 hours. Musicians’ efforts ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 hours. This kind of variability in hours of practice washes away any meaning from the 10,000-hour rule.A recent study by a group of psychologists from five universities, further rebuffs Gladwell’s wisdom. The study found that different levels of deliberate practice can only explain one third of the variation in performance levels in chess players and musicians, the authors found, “leaving the majority of the reliable variance unexplained and potentially explainable by other factors.” In other words, practice is great! But practice alone won’t make you Master. It could also have to do with personality, the age you started, intelligence, or something else entirely.

Gladwell counters the above criticism by further refining the term practice. What should amount to practice and what should be counted towards 10000 hours?

A formula for Genius has been arrived at but the debate about its validity and accuracy is just starting.


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