April 20, 2011

Man devotes life to proving Malcolm Gladwell right

From the St. Petersburg Times:
Can a complete novice become a golf pro with 10,000 hours of practice?
By Michael Kruse, Times Staff Writer  
On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan [McLaughlin] had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer. 
He had almost no experience and even less interest in the sport. 
What he really wanted to do was test the 10,000-hour theory he read about in the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers. That, Gladwell wrote, is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — "the magic number of greatness." 
The idea appealed to Dan. His 9-to-5 job as a commercial photographer had become unfulfilling. He didn't want just to pay his bills. He wanted to make a change. 
Could he stop being one thing and start being another? Could he, an average man, 5 feet 9 and 155 pounds, become a pro golfer, just by trying? Dan's not doing an experiment. He is the experiment. 
The Dan Plan will take six hours a day, six days a week, for six years. He is keeping diligent records of his practice and progress. People who study expertise say no one has done quite what Dan is doing right now. ... 
Here's how they have Dan trying to learn golf: He couldn't putt from 3 feet until he was good enough at putting from 1 foot. He couldn't putt from 5 feet until he was good enough putting from 3 feet. He's working away from the hole. He didn't get off the green for five months. A putter was the only club in his bag. 
Everybody asks him what he shoots for a round. He has no idea. His next drive will be his first. 
In his month in Florida, he worked as far as 50 yards away from the hole. He might — might — have a full set of clubs a year from now.

Of course, if he practices for 10,000 hours and doesn't become a successful touring pro, that won't prove Gladwell wrong, that will just prove this guy Didn't Practice Right. The 10,000 Hour Rule is unfalsifiable.

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Could anything be more laughable? Golf pros have three very different sets of skills. First, they can hit the ball far and straight. Two, they can putt incredibly well. Three, they can concentrate and do well even when thousands and evens hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line.

Anyone who's wagered significant sums, knows there's a big difference between making a ten-foot put for show and making a ten-foot put with $500 on the line.

The key point is great putters are born and not made. The same is true of any hand coordination skill or athletic skill. The man might as well spend 10,000 hours trying to be the fastest man in the world or lift a 1,000 lbs.

Anonymous said...

Why golf? Why not weightlifting? He'll find out a lot sooner.

David said...

If he succeeds, that wouldn't necessarily prove that practicing was the sole casual agent.

It could be possible that he's also naturally good at golf.

In short, the unadmitted premise in the latest Gladwell blah is that the would-be Tiger is for sure NOT a natural talent. Exactly how do we know that? Has this factor been controlled for, and screened out? And if so, how? "an average man, 5 feet 9 and 155 pounds" means nothing in this regard, for many golfers have average-looking bodies like that. (Maybe Gladwell is confusing basketball with golf?) This "an average man, 5 feet 9 and 155 pounds" is squid ink, intended to get you to grant the premise that he's an "average man" in terms of ability. But we don't know his ability.

>if he practices for 10,000 hours and doesn't become a successful touring pro, that won't prove Gladwell wrong, that will just prove this guy Didn't Practice Right.<

You're assuming Gladwell would do a follow-up in such case.

Anonymous said...

You know, maybe Gladwell is really onto something. He bullshat for 10,000 hrs and got 'great' at it.
On the other hand, maybe not.
He seems to fool only liberals, not least because liberals have fooled themselves.

Anonymous said...

If you're a NAM, 100 hrs of sucking up to white liberals pays off more handsomely than spending 10,000 hrs to really learn anything.

Anonymous said...

I too am testing the Gladwell theory.

Perhaps the most outrageous contra-factual claim that Gladwell makes is that Mozart - the universal example of a prodigy - didn't write anything very good until he had put in his 10,000 hours at about 25.

As it happens I have been working on my Mozart project for about nine months. I work on it everyday including weekends for from four to six hours a day. I am still a couple months from finishing my MIDI version of Don Giovanni. After that there is Figaro, Così, and Flute.

I should have my 10,000 hours in in another couple years. If Gladwell is right by then I won't need Mozart. Hell I'll be Mozart.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

I wonder... how would Gladwell explain someone like Orson Welles, whose very first film is one of the best movies ever?
Or the fact that some of the greatest poets were very young.

Anonymous said...

And how come the young Muhammad Ali defeated all the other boxers with more training and experience?

catperson said...

It seems to me that the 10,000 hour rule confuses cause & effect. Gladwell claims that people are great at their craft because they practiced it for 10,000 hours (roughly ten years according to Gladwell), but perhaps the reason they devoted so much time was because they were naturally already good at it in the first place, and ten years is just the time it takes for talent to be recognized and rewarded in a given industry. It takes years to rise up through the ranks in many domains, no matter how good you already are.

Malcom claims Mozart was a crappy composer as a child because he hadn't yet put in his ten years of practice, but perhaps it was because his brain had not fully developed and he would have naturally become great as an adult even without all the practice.

People devote a lot of time to what they are good at, but that doesn't prove they are good because of the time spent.

Anonymous said...

10,000 hours spent practicing almost anything will make you better than 99% of the general public at that particular thing. This shouldn't be news to anyone. But it won't necessarily make you truly great at that particular thing, especially if that thing is professional athletics or artistic creation or scientific discovery. It'll probably make you a pretty good accountant or lawyer, though--things that will allow you to support yourself and your family. I hope Mr. Experiment has a back-up plan in the likely event he doesn't make the pro golf circuit.

Thripshaw said...

Perhaps he should train for 10,000 hours and beat a skinny Kenyan guy in the Boston Marathon.

Or - why doesn't he spend 10,000 hours trying to write an immortal symphony like Beethoven did, or spend the time producing a piece of literature rivaling Joyce, Yeats, Auden, etc?

In terms of stupidity, this guy is definitely an outlier!

Anonymous said...

When Shostakovitch first performed for the head of the Petrograd Conservatory at 13, the head of the conservatory, Glazunov, said that he had a GIFT comparable to Mozart. The word gift says it all.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is dumb. The 10k hour rule is dumb.

Time spent learning a skill while young is much more valuable than while old. The brain is more plastic.

Plus, this dude's reflexes and physical skill will start to decline before he even finishes his 10k hours.

Giant ball of stupid.

Anonymous said...

This quote from the article says it all about Gladwellian psychology: "If I put in those 10,000 hours, in my eyes, no matter the outcome, I will have been successful. Because I think I'll be much more in tune with my abilities."

Anonymous said...

This guy's getting free stuff from Nike and free publicity. He's already a stunning success.

Face it, this is not about becoming a pro golfer in six years, it's about marketing oneself to journalists and corporate schmucks. See his website for proof. Gladwell taught him well.

Anonymous said...

To be a good golfer, you have to be born one, such as the criminally underrated Moe Norman. The golf establishmnent sure stabbed him in the back, then buried him in obscurity.

Dutch reader said...

I can't understand how people can take this 10,000 hour stuff seriously. In sports and music, talent often shows very early in life and the differences between talented and less-talented kids soon becomes glaringly obvious far before anything like 10,000 hours has been spent. Yes, spending such an amount of time in a dedicated fashion can elevate a mediocre talent into a level of competence, but not brilliance.

I'm a musician myself and while I have a natural ability in some aspects of music, which have taken me relatively little time to develop, some of my weaker points have taken me a very long time to overcome.

Having started at 11 and now being 49 years of age, I have put in at least something like 25,000 hours by now. The things that I am best at (such as the ability to play by ear, analyze complex melodic lines and harmonic structures without the need to write anything down, and to improvise), I was already very good at at 12 and I'm even better at them today, although only relatively small portion of my practice time was spent on them.

The aspects that I'm relatively weak at (e.g. sight reading, subtleness of touch on the piano, rhythmic steadiness) I have gradually improved over the years and now, at 49, after countless hours of practice and live performance, I've gotten about as good as I ever expect to get, and I'm still merely 'competent' (by professional standards).

I won't ever be 'world-class' even if I'd put in another 25,000 hours - if I should even live that long.

It amazes me how a guy like Gladwell can make money writing such ignorant stuff.

Anonymous said...

The article says Dan was a good tennis player and runner as a boy. He may well have enough natural athleticism to be a very good golfer after 10,000 hours of practice. It will be interesting to see how far he can go with this.

rob said...

If Gladwell were wrong (he is), Dan McLaughlin is foolish. If Gladwell is right (let's play pretend), then McLaughlin is a sociopath. Think of all the areas he could master. 10K hours and be a brilliant cell biologist. 10K hours and create a true artificial intelligence. 10K hours and become a spectacular virologist...What does he choose: ten thousand hours to hit a ball with a stick. McLaughlin could save thousands of lives every year if his genius and hard work led to just one antiviral. He could be a prominent mathematician, an odd fame where a few people remember him, but he'd be famous forever.

All those lives down the drain, just to hit a ball with a stick. The most bestest hitter of a ball with a stick ever is not a genius.

If Dan succeeds, (he won't) that won't prove Gladwell right. It will demonstrate that performing a few simple motions over and over can lead to performing those simple movements very well. That evidence has no bearing on whether or not average Joe can practice his way to genius.

Truth said...

"Of course, if he practices for 10,000 hours and doesn't become a successful touring pro, that won't prove Gladwell wrong..."

He's also not starting his 10,000 hours at nine.

Harry Baldwin said...

On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan [McLaughlin] had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer.

Who the hell can afford to do this? Did he come into money?

"Dutch reader" put it very well. In my case, I am a professional illustrator. I had talent that was recognized in high school, I went to art school, and I have made a living in art for nearly 40 years. Still, there are a lot of people who are better at it than I am, many of them half my age. There are artists whose work I look at in awe, because I cannot conceive of producing work at their level of proficiency. 10,000 hours ain't got nothing to do with it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how scientific it is, but I actually tested this with my wife. I work on my car ('87 Buick Grand National Turbo) a lot as a hobby which naturally annoys my wife to no end. Well she was reading Gladwell's book one Saturday when I was in the garage the whole day and she decided to try out Gladwell's theory by practicing working on the car. She figured it'd be a good excuse to spend more time with me by being in the garage. The car is my baby, so I didn't want her touching anything important. So we decided to have her work on the rims. She gave rim jobs six hours a day, six days a week, for six years, and let me tell you, she got real good at rim jobs. She really buried herself in those rims. The smoothest, cleanest, shiniest rims you'll ever see.

Anonymous said...

The 10,000 hour thing is not Gladwell's idea, he doesn't have any original ideas. It comes from work by Anders Ericsson, who is a respected researcher. There's a lot of evidence to back up the 10,000 hour rule (and the 10 year rule). Even prodigies like Mozart and Bobby Fischer didn't reach world class status until they had been at it for at least 10 years. Just because Gladwell steals an idea and dumbs it down doesn't mean it's wrong.

Truth said...

"10,000 hours spent practicing almost anything will make you better than 99% of the general public at that particular thing. This shouldn't be news to anyone."

Apparently it is.

Anonymous said...

Still, I'll be very interested to follow his progress.

No, of course he won't be the second coming of Tiger Woods. But might he get respectably good, so that he might, say, beat the virtually all non-professional players at the local golf club? That would be pretty interesting. And, of course, it would be even more interesting if there were a 100 of these guys, just to see the distribution.

Anonymous said...

That guy sounds like a nerd. He's not playing AGAINST anybody, he's doing it all alone. For months on end the self-contained, repetitive process of learning is being put above the immediate thrill of competition here. Why is he not competing against other newbies?

I'm a nerd myself and I generally like other nerds, but yeah, all that patience and effort would have been better used elsewhere.

Of course, elite golfers are the best among a pretty limited pool of people. Even within the anglosphere most guys never seriously try golf and outside of it almost nobody does. The best soccer player in the world is a really, really remarkable person because billions try soccer in every generation. On a scale from soccer to curling golf is closer to curling. So the natural talents needed to be the best in it shouldn't be especially mind-blowing, I wouldn't think.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone actually read Outliers? Gladwell never claims to have come up with the 10,000 hour rule. He very explicitly credits it to Anders Ericsson, who is a very well respected researcher. Nor does Gladwell ever claim that practicing 10,000 hours is sufficient to reach mastery of a cognitively complex activity. He makes it clear that you have to have talent: its just that you can't manifest that talent without a larger than expected amount of practice. I know you are obsessed with the guy Steve. But every now and again it would be useful for you to do your homework first.

catperson said...

The 10,000 hour thing is not Gladwell's idea, he doesn't have any original ideas. It comes from work by Anders Ericsson, who is a respected researcher.

That doesn't make it true.

There's a lot of evidence to back up the 10,000 hour rule (and the 10 year rule). Even prodigies like Mozart and Bobby Fischer didn't reach world class status until they had been at it for at least 10 years.

And Robert Wadlow didn't become the world's tallest person until he had been growing for at least 10 years. Does that mean he needed to practice growing for 10,000 hours before he was ready to be super tall? Of course, not, it simply means that people do not reach their full potential until they are fully developed adults and this applies not just to physical traits like height but also mental traits like chess & music composition.

SPImmortal said...

"Perhaps the most outrageous contra-factual claim that Gladwell makes is that Mozart - the universal example of a prodigy - didn't write anything very good until he had put in his 10,000 hours at about 25."

If Beethoven was a prodigy and Tiger Woods is a prodigy, it's quite the coincidence how they and so many other prodigies fell into practicing their "natural" gift almost as soon as they were born, no? Will the tender guidance of their fathers, of course.

If being gifted was the most important factor, then it stands to reason that the gift would manifest itself at any age in which the person was introduced to their chosen art. So you'd see a more even distribution of ages in which prodigies got their start. Some in their teens, some in their 20's, etc.

There are certainly intangibles to performing creatively or athletically at a high level, but there seems to be scant evidence for the existence of the pure prodigy when all of the proclaimed prodigies out there got started before they could have even chosen to start, and practiced hard before they would have ever wanted to practice hard.

That goes for Beethoven especially.

Anonymous said...

" Nor does Gladwell ever claim that practicing 10,000 hours is sufficient to reach mastery of a cognitively complex activity. He makes it clear that you have to have talent: its just that you can't manifest that talent without a larger than expected amount of practice. "

Gladwell wrote a whole book about this? Everybody knows you have to train/practice. If you want to be a great scientist, you have to read the textbooks to know all the past discoveries. What a goundbreaking idea.

SPImmortal said...

"If Gladwell were wrong (he is), Dan McLaughlin is foolish. If Gladwell is right (let's play pretend), then McLaughlin is a sociopath. Think of all the areas he could master. 10K hours and be a brilliant cell biologist. 10K hours and create a true artificial intelligence. 10K hours and become a spectacular virologist...What does he choose: ten thousand hours to hit a ball with a stick. McLaughlin could save thousands of lives every year if his genius and hard work led to just one antiviral. He could be a prominent mathematician, an odd fame where a few people remember him, but he'd be famous forever."

It seems silly to you but being good athlete can get you laid. Being a brilliant cell biologist probably won't.

Besides, there's a cognitive floor to being a brilliant scientist that he can't reach.

Anonymous said...

This is a recording of the Quarrymen's original composition "In Spite of All the Danger." It was written by Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who were, respectively, 16 and 15 at the time. From what I understand, they had only been playing for a few years before that and they had only just started writing their own stuff when that recording was made.

Sure, it's not as good as their best songs, but to me it sounds great. It's certainly better than the vast majority of all the pop songs I've ever heard in my life. I'd say that most pop bands never produce anything that's as fun to listen to as that.

So yes, perhaps this idea of talent is not entirely fictitious.

Anonymous said...

SPImmortal,

For centuries it's been common for musicians to start teaching their kids music at a very early age. How many kids of Beethoven's generation had music beaten into them by their fathers since they could barely walk? Probably tens of thousands. Beethoven ended up rising above all of his peers. And of course that was a positively-selected population to begin with. If your father was able to make a living by playing the violin in well-heated palaces at a time when most men plowed the earth, then perhaps you had a good chance of inheriting some natural talents from him.

Luke Lea said...

I spent well over 20,000 hours trying to write a book and it didn't turn out too well.

TGGP said...

Any skiffle tune is going to sound better than most of the bleep-bloop-oonce-oonce autotuned crap made nowadays. These kids with their hippin and their hoppin, they don't know what the deal really is! Now get off my lawn.

Anonymous said...

I doubt very seriously that John Daly put in anywhere close to 10000 golfing hours before he won the PGA Championship. Not even close.

All he needed was some Jack Daniels.

Anonymous said...

This is, even when a person wants to be very good at something (okay, let's say golf), even if he had the leisure hours available to him to devote to practice, he'd peter out on practice long before that 10000 hours was reached because the reality that he wasn't getting a decent return on his hours of investment would soon dawn on him.

I mean, you can go out for hours and pound drives and practice your irons and putting all day, but unless you are talented enough to see large enough returns on that investment of effort and time (and that's the thing--most aren't talented enough), you will eventually devote less and less time and/or quit.

There is a law of diminishing returns for most.

dcite said...

"There are certainly intangibles to performing creatively or athletically at a high level, but there seems to be scant evidence for the existence of the pure prodigy when all of the proclaimed prodigies out there got started before they could have even chosen to start, and practiced hard before they would have ever wanted to practice hard."


At the time of Beethoven and other great composers, exposure to musical training was common and usually started very young. It did seem to run in families, no surprise. There were no recordings, or radios, or tv. If you wanted music (and most central Europeans especially were mad about music) you had to play it yourself, or hire live musicians. So out of many, many children who were taught to play instruments -- Mozart's sister was famed for her harpsichord playing as a young child -- a Mozart or a Beethoven emerged because they had more--well, talent. As for genius coming forth at any age, certain things have to being young to imprint on this brain. Like language. Start learning any language after the age of 12, and you almost never speak without an accent.

Anonymous said...

So, how does a little blind Korean 5 year old play tunes she just hears on the radio? She hasn't been alive long enough to do lots of practicing, and she hasn't practiced. She can just do it?

Come on Gladwell, tell us.

Freak of Nature? Gift from God?

It sure the hell isn't practice.

Anonymous said...

I hereby announce that I am quitting my corporate job effective immediately and that I intend to become a hiphop mogul within 10,000 hours.

Truth said...

"Has anyone actually read Outliers?"

Of course not, that's kind of the WN-HBD Credo; you want to attack a work by a 'NAM' but actually reading the book would thwart many of your attacks, so that becomes an inconvenient step to gloss over. It's like the whole 'Jeremiah Wright hates whitey!' Thing.

Anonymous said...

He's obviously just trying to be Rudy 2 and start a second career as a motivational speaker. When this is over he'll be good, but not PGA material. They'll give him some exhibition rounds an he'll get some good press, then spend the rest of his life talking to high school kids and trying to talk people into making a movie about him.

JW Ogden said...

I have thoroughly testes Malcolm's theory and it is dead wrong. Even a 6'5" guy putting in well over 10,000 even with coach is not enough to make him real good if he has slow reaction time and average coordination and strength.

TomV said...

Truth:

"10,000 hours spent practicing almost anything will make you better than 99% of the general public at that particular thing. This shouldn't be news to anyone."

Apparently it is.


Apparently you don't understand the difference between "better than 99% of the general public" and "successful pro" (let alone genius "outlier" like Mozart).

That's okay. Neither does Gladwell. (Do you think he wrote a whole book to make an obvious point? He's not that dumb, you know.)

Truth said...

"Apparently you don't understand the difference between "better than 99% of the general public" and "successful pro" (let alone genius "outlier" like Mozart)."

OK Tom, we're going to go for this...AGAIN (and I will apologize for getting angry in advance, this is meant for all of the 'national merit scholars' here, not just you).

I did not read Gladwell's book. I did, however, read the short version in the New Yorker. I can find no evidence WHATSOVER that Gladwell advocates that there is no meaning to natural talent in greatness.

This quote from 'Outliers' (via craigslist):

"The biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work."[3]

Now does that sound like someone telling you that 'Gary Coleman could have played in the NBA had he practiced for 10,000 hours?

I've learned a lot in my time on this website. One of the main things that I have learned concerns all of the 'National Merit Scholars' and '90th percentile' SAT guys on this board.

I would have been a lot more impressed with that 4 years ago before I started coming here. One can make one of two assumptions regarding these types populating ISteve:

1) Practically all of you are lying.

2) It ain't nearly as impressive as one would believe.

Taking for Granted that "1" is not true, one would have to start believing "2", because, again with all possible respect;

MOST OF YOU CAN'T FUCKING READ!

Day after day after day after day, there are stories printed here and your comments address some bizzaro world renderition of what you THINK the guy said, or wrote.

My new model of thought concerning you high-IQ Ivy-league Caucasoid gentlemen who have no kids and not a a plug nickel is that knowing how/when to say "Yes sir, no sir", sitting in the front of the class taking copious notes and bringing in a shiny red apple had a lot more to do with your (imaginary?) fancy achievements than real intellect.

I don't see what other inference

Anonymous said...

Truth,

Do a lot of the readers here not have kids?

Truth said...

It seems as though very few have kids...yet bemoan the fate of "disappearing whites", loudly and disapprovingly, practically every day.

Svigor said...

1) Practically all of you are lying.

I wasn't lying.

2) It ain't nearly as impressive as one would believe.

It's not all that top 1 or 1/2 percent or so. Making the upper bounds for Obama even less impressive...

Anonymous said...

The 10,000 Hour Rule is unfalsifiable.

Not really. You just need to run a sufficiently large controlled experiment. Take 1,000 randomly selected kids, make them each put 10,000 hours of study into, say, the piano, and see what percentage end up as great pianists, and what percentage as merely competent ivory thumpers. In particular, if some small fraction of the kids are better pianists after 2,000 hours than the majority ever get to be, and continue to improve even beyond that, it would certainly falsify the hypothesis. OTOH, if you end up with 950 Horowitzes, Argeriches, and Pollinis, that would confirm the hypothesis.

Not a very practical test I'll admit, but conceptually very simple.

David said...

>Malcom claims Mozart was a crappy composer as a child<

Then Malcom is a dumbass.

>all of the proclaimed prodigies out there got started before they could have even chosen to start, and practiced hard before they would have ever wanted to practice hard.

That goes for Beethoven especially.<

You've been watching too many cheesy Beethoven biopics dramatizing the old assertion that B. was once seen crying at the piano. Child prodigies start early because they like it; many not only pick out tunes at age three, but also like practicing. You don't get to be Mozart or Beethoven if you hate music. And you don't love music without having NATURAL APTITUDE for it.

And is anyone really convinced by the upshot of Malcolm's theory - which is that talent ain't nothing more than practice? Sure, he makes the usual dodges about how midgets, of course, can't become NBA players, and that he's only pointing out that "practice makes perfect." But if "practice makes perfect" really is his only point, then he should be writing for inspirational calendars, not for "intellectual" national magazines. No, Malcolm isn't attracting attention just for saying practice makes perfect. The sexy part of Malcolm's theory is that "talent" doesn't exist - but without saying as much. He says talent exists, when he's pressed. But ask yourself if the "revolutionary" "thoughtful" "genius" "thinking-out-of-the-box" quality attributed to Malcolm is on account of his saying that practice makes perfect, in other words, on account of his writing up the merest cliche?

It's possible: this is America, after all. We love and celebrate cliches.

Howard Hughes said...

Obviously Gradwell is a sloppy thinker and obviously it is more likely that 10, 000 hours is a necessary, but not sufficient, factor in mastering something. However, even if this man fail Gladwell's so-called theory wouldn't really disputed, simply because those 10, 000 hours have to take place at a quite young age.

Anonymous said...

The 10,000 hrs theory is merely popularized by Gladwell.

This guy came up with it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Ericsson