Ten Thousand Hours, One Million Mistakes

This past weekend I taught a seminar in Louisville, KY. What a great group of people! I got to work with my first ever Redbone Coonhound. That was pretty cool. And, a couple of really cool Westies, a Dachshund, a Field Lab, a Chesapeak Bay Retriever, a Havanese, Papillon, and then some Border Collies and Shelties. I really enjoy the opportunity to work with different breeds of dogs; not only do I get insight in to how those dogs learn, but I get the opportunity to reconfirm that indeed, the six basic cues really DO apply to all dogs, to varying degrees.

When the seminar was arranged, I had offered to give a mini-lecture on mental management and goal setting. So, Saturday after the seminar, about 20 people got together at a restaurant for dinner and discussion. I felt a little awkward, as I’m not yet well versed enough in presenting this particular content to feel entirely comfortable about how best TO present it. And, I understand that while it’s one thing to go to a seminar looking for technical help, it’s an entirely different ball of wax to open yourself to a complete stranger to discuss your mental game.

As part of the discussion, I brought up the idea of 10,00 hours. This was a concept I first read about in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. I’ve now read Blink, Outliers, and What The Dog Saw, and enjoyed all three of them. In Outliers, Malcolm discusses the idea of needing those 10,000 hours of engaging in an activity to really get good at it. And, it’s not just that you’ve spent 10,000 hours doing something, it’s HOW you spend those 10,000 hours. As part of the discussion, we got to the point where the idea of fear of making mistakes came up. My response was this – if you’ve spent 10,000 hours doing something, and the quality of those 10,000 hours is right, you’re going to get really GOOD at what you’re doing. BUT, the thing that I also think comes along with that is that if you’ve spent 10,000 hours getting good at something, that also means that you’ve probably made a LOT more mistakes than somebody who HASN’T yet spent their 10,000 hours.

It was an interesting concept for people to think about, judging by some of their expressions – if I’ve enjoyed above average success in my chosen activity, I’ve probably ALSO made an above average number of mistakes, in addition to the above average number of RIGHT choices, because overall I’ve spent an above average amount of total time DOING the activity. So, I put forth the idea that maybe people are looking at things the wrong way, being afraid to make a mistake. Maybe, the problem is that they haven’t made ENOUGH mistakes. If you want to be as good as somebody you think is really good at what you want to be good at, you need to assess whether you’ve spent as much time as they have DOING that thing, and whether you’ve made as many MISTAKES as they have, in addition to whether or not you’ve done things CORRECTLY as much as they have. I’m not sure if there are any studies out there to corroborate that, but my guess is that if you look at ANYbody who’s at the top, they’ve made WAY more mistakes than you think they’ve made, because overall, they’ve just done more, PERIOD. More successes means more mistakes as well.

So, as I sit here trying to stay awake on my plane ride, home, I’ll leave you with this thought – have YOU made enough mistakes? Your ten thousand hours will almost certainly involve a million mistakes, which are necessary for learning and for your ultimate success.