A very old watercolour - Pura Taman Saraswati (September 1992)
watercolour on Arches NOT paper
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
watercolour on Arches NOT paper
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Outliers is a fascinating and thought-provoking read. It's about unpicking the explanations behind people who have produced exceptional results. Note I didn't say that the people are exceptional. That's the point of the book. Too many times people who have done well are described as 'very smart' or 'very ambitious'. Gladwell's point is that there are lots of talented and/or smart and/or ambitious people who don't do exceptionally well. He thought there was probably a better explanation and he concludes it's one which might well be found in the culture, age, environment and opportunities that are available to those that achieve success (such as Bill Gates having access to a computer for programming software while in his teens ). Gladwell has produced some propositions in his book which I personally find very persuasive. This includes identifying a range of factors which can lead to people becoming successful - such as being born in the right place at the right time which is amazingly influential as he demonstrates.
But first........... an explanation of the above painting. It's extremely rare. That's because it's a watercolour done by me, the dry media fiend! I started it sitting next to the Lotus Pool (continuing the theme of ponds!) at the back of the Cafe Lotus in Ubud in Bali in September 1992 - which makes it 16 years old!
Just look at the leaves on those trees and the brash colour! (photos on Flickr of the real thing) At least it taught me a really good lesson at the time - which was that I hadn't yet mastered watercolour. I keep it to remind me just how 'good' I am at watercolour! I was thought of this painting this morning when looking at Joseph Raffael's website where there are various paintings of a lotus pool in Bali - which I immediately recognised as being the lotus pool in Ubud! It's always a salutary experience to take a look at the painting of a subject you've painted - but painted by somebody who not only knows what he or she is doing but has also been doing it for rather longer! (Check out Raffael's CV )
That said, I'd like to think that I've got a bit better at my art since 1992 both in terms of the switch to dry media plus all the hours I've spent on drawing and developing artwork!
Which is really the focus of this post - the need to put in the hours.
In Making A Mark in 2009 - The Plan, I indicated that I try to work by a couple of principles
Gladwell highlights the need to put in the hours as a really important explanation of why some people become very successful. He identifies 10,000 hours as being the minimum requirement for becoming seriously good at whatever you do based on various research which has been done.
Making A Mark in 2009 - The Plan
- There are no shortcuts! For me shortcuts are for keyboards rather than artwork. You become more efficient and effective at producing art through reiteration and refinement and changing the way you do things. You've got to put in the hours.
- 'Good enough' is good enough. This might seem contradictory to the above - whereas in my view it's actually the other side of the coin. You've got to put in the hours AND know when to stop. An attitude of perfectionism can be very limiting - whereas practice makes perfect.
In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals," writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin, "this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years... No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.Here's another source saying the same thing
To become an outstanding performer, one does not need an innate endowment of the right sorts of genes; instead, one simply needs to engage in deliberate practice for around 10,000 hours. Outstanding Performers: Created, Not Born? New results on Nature vs Nurtue by David R ShanksNow I guess most people's reactions to 10,000 hours is that's way too much time to find. However I guess at the end of the day, it really all depends on how much you want to be successful.
Competition in the marketplace
However Seth Godin points out that it's much easier to become a success if you put in 10,000 hours - because most people give up after 5,000 hours! He also points out that's it easier to become successful in areas where the marketplace is new and/or where competition is less prevalent and less motivated to pursue success.Remember, there's an awful lot of watercolour artists out there all vying to be the best!I commented recently that I found it very difficult to find artists who were still genuinely posting a new painting every day. That's because of the 'die-off' factor. Long time readers of this blog will remember one of my all-time popular blog posts about The Stickability Factor written in the context of vast number of artists taking up daily painting with a view to becoming a successful artist. (Can I just emphasise that the people who gave up daily painting are emphatically normal. That's the point of Gladwell's book - the people who 'make it' are those who had the opportunities or inherited a culture which enabled them to put in the hours - and they did).
"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!"
a very old adage - for a good reason
"how to paint" in 5 easy lessons
Of course the notion of 10,000 hours being a benchmark for becoming successful is the complete antithesis of the 'how to' in 5 easy lessons culture.
I'm all for breaking down learning skills into stages and digestible chunks - that's just good practice. But the implicit suggestion which one sometimes comes across that, by following the 'easy lessons', you'll become really skilled in double quick time is one which I find very difficult to digest. [Note: I've also just deleted a sentence which was very explicit about what I thought about people who make these sort of suggestions and promises! ]We seem to live in a culture nowadays where people expect to be successful really quickly. However, while labour-saving devices are enabling me to write this blog post while I do my laundry at the same time, the reality is that there is no easy shortcut to acquiring personal skills - especially those involving the exercise of the brain and the co-ordination of hand and eye.
Creating the time - minimising interruptions
It would also seem that only really concentrated focus on an activity enables people to develop skills. David Brooks in the New York Times felt that Gladwell's explanations were not sufficient. He commented as follows
Most successful people also have a phenomenal ability to consciously focus their attention. We know from experiments with subjects as diverse as obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers and Buddhist monks that people who can self-consciously focus attention have the power to rewire their brains.Jakob Neilsen this week suggested that one of the ways that one can find the hours to get things done is to become much more focused about how you work. In this week's Alertbox article, Ten Steps for Cleaning Up Information Pollution, he advocates implementing good time management practices.....
Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them.
David Brooks New York Times Lost in the Crowd
All time-management courses boil down to one basic piece of advice: set priorities and allocate the bulk of your time to tasks that are crucial to meeting your goals. Minimize interruptions and spend big chunks of your time in productive and creative activity. Ten Steps for Cleaning Up Information PollutionHe also suggests creating that focus by eliminating all sources of interruptions from information-related technology. This suggestion is based on the notion that interruptions disturb the flow and for every minute of an interruption it'll take 10 minutes to get back in the groove. Bear in mind he's also a bit of a guru around how best to use technology! I somehow feel he won't be an advocate of Twitter!I'll finish with the quote I've been using repeatedly in relation to daily painting
"What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way." Winslow HomerNote: Pura Taman Saraswati is devoted to Dewi Saraswati the goddess of learning, literature and the arts.