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.]