I used to be one of those people who'd tell you you can't do things. "You'll never be a good programmer." Just a few years ago, I pissed a bunch of people off with a 'we only hire the best of the best' post on my blog when Torpex was hiring. I later learned that I suffered from 'fixed mindset' thinking.
To sum up: 'Fixed mindset' is believing people are born with innate gifts. They can either do it or they can't. 'Growth mindset' is believing most people can do most anything if they work at it. If they train. There are studies these days that show not only is 'fixed mindset' thinking often wrong, but that simply believing the 'growth mindset' can make people more succesful and productive.
In other words, I was an asshole.
There was a somewhat compelling piece of evidence for my 'fixed mindset' thinking: that MIT study where they analyzed when students dropped out of computer science classes. Some were 'unable' to understand that computers did things in a sequential order. Some were 'unable' to understand recursion. Some were 'unable' to understand dynamic data structures. Some were 'unable' to understand concurrency.
Now I realize that study in no way means that the students were truly 'unable' to do these things. All that it established was at certain points they dropped out. All that it established is that some parts of the curriculum were harder than others - obviously those are the points were students who find the going rough are going to give up. It doesn't mean they can't do it - it just means they got to the point where they couldn't justify putting in the effort. More effort may have yielded success.
Some of those students may even have dropped out because of entrenched fixed mindset thinking. It's also possible the teaching could have been better at MIT - maybe a better teacher would have found better ways to help some of the students over those more difficult humps.
These days, people I talk to tend to subscribe to 'growth mindset'. The word is out. And it's empowering - particularly in indie game development. Jesse Schell used to make his experimental game workshop students draw even if they thought they weren't artists. People (including myself) are making games that suck in some respects because we know if we keep trying we'll get better.
But now I'm hearing something else. From Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers - you have to put in 10,000 hours to be great at something. You'll never be a success unless you put in those 10,000 hours. (Not crazy about Malcolm Gladwell. The science is Not At All Rigorous in The Tipping Point or Blink. I haven't read Outliers ... because I wasn't that crazy about the other two books.)
Anyhow, 'put in 10,000 hours' seems like a valuable piece of advice. It is growth mindset. And, duh, when you expect to be awesome at something when you haven't put in the work you infuriate everyone around you, particularly the people who have been doing it for twenty years.
That said, you can easily use 'put in 10,000 hours' as a club - to dismiss people.
You're saying, 'In order to do this, you have to make it your full-time job for the next five years. So maybe you shouldn't bother if you don't have the time. Focus on what you're already good at - don't switch careers.' And then you can back it up with "Science". 'Just look at Outliers.'
Here's the thing. Gladwell's book - even if it is absolutely 100% right - is talking about the people who are mega-successes. The Beatles. Bill Gates. Oppenheimer.
We don't need to be them. We just need to get by.
Competence comes much sooner than 10,000 hours. I believe you can become 'sorta good' at something with a year of practice, maybe an hour or two a day. (Maybe not good enough to go pro - depends on the demand for that skill - after about 500 hours I was a 'sorta good' guitarist but not good enough to get paid doing it - and after thousands of hours I was a 'sorta good' fiction writer but not good enough to get paid for that.)
I'll let you in on a secret. When I started designing the swinging system for Spider-Man 2 I had very little 'design' experience. Sure, I'd been making games for more than 10,000 hours at that point, but actually designing gameplay mechanics? Nowhere near 10,000 hours. But I listened to a lot of feedback and had a lot of help and believed I could do it. Turned out pretty great. Turned out being 'sorta good' was good enough.
Also, I don't know this for sure, but I don't think Kyle Gabler put in 10,000 hours of musical composition practice before he did the music for World of Goo. It's still good enough - I might even say 'perfect.'
So, yeah. Next time someone says to you, 'You can't do X' or 'You'll never be good at X' or even 'It'll take you 10,000 hours to get good at X' ... don't listen to them. Take it as a challenge. Start putting in the time - you'll get to 'sorta good' a lot sooner than they say.
What about you? What are the things you're good at that you haven't logged 10,000 hours at yet?
[Side note: I was inspired to write this because a friend told me I'd need to log 10,000 hours at graphic design before I could stop sucking at graphic design. He's since told me that this isn't what he meant. So this whole post was based on an anecdotal comment that turned out to not exist. Oh well - if anybody does ever tell us 'don't bother unless you have 10,000 hours', and actually means it, we'll be ready.]
I've always found the "we only hire the best of the best of the best" sorts of comments to be both a terrible filter and a remarkable falsework of self-justification.
On the applicant-end, there are folks who are talented but either insecure ("oh, I don't know if I meet their standards") or unwilling to let themselves be judged ("I'm great, but these guys don't get the privilege of telling me I'm not"). On the company end, this is shades of Justice Hugo Black who said of the Supreme Court ("we're not the final authority because we're infallible, we're infallible because we're the final authority"). So they go around congratulating themselves that they have hired the best of the best ("look, it says so right here on the website!"). I've worked for law firms that were explicitly "we hire the best of the best" and I've worked for a law firm that was founded by Quakers who had a pretty robust "no asshole" policy. I was infinitely prouder of my work for the no asshole policy than of the work I did where I was deemed best of the best (See, says so there on the label).
Posted by: A Lloyd | July 18, 2012 at 12:57 PM
You need 10k hours to be good at something someone else is already good at. Otherwise, you just need to be sorta good at something different to be the best at it.
The harder part is figuring out what is different.
Posted by: MSN | July 19, 2012 at 03:44 PM
The 10,000 hours rule discussed in Outliers was about becoming an expert in something. This was not limited to Gates, et al, as you suggest. In the book, it was applied to diverse things such as being an "expert" violinist, athlete (in your chosen skill), and yes, programmer. Certainly "competence" -- however you define that -- comes significantly earlier than the alleged 10k hours.
I think it isn't a stretch to say that doing something 40 hours a week for 5 years would put you into the neighborhood of "expert". In fact, when we look at peoples' resumes, we use similar criteria simply by looking at how many years they have been doing a particular job/skill.
Of course, your original premise is correct that there are some things that are more in-born, if you will, and others that can be developed. Ironically, being able to "learn on the fly" is often considered a trait in and of itself. Therefore, you may have someone who, for their entire life, has been able to learn, adapt, improve, and excel at many things that are put in front of them. It is THAT trait that is valuable in constantly changing industries such as the game business -- or any other one where there isn't a fixed skill set that is all you will ever need.
Posted by: Dave Mark | July 20, 2012 at 08:56 AM
Excellent blog.Understanding mindsets is curacil as it allows you to understand why people do things and the decisons they make, yet most of the times, people mindsets work below the surface and isn't mentioned, yet it is the driving force of everything they do.The more people talk about growth mindsets and make it more acceptable and to the fore, the more leeway this concept will gain and all will benefit who use it.
Posted by: Arun | August 04, 2012 at 05:05 AM