Don't find your niche too early

Have you heard that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become a pro? Well, it seems this doesn’t always work.

Not unless you are in a field where patterns clearly repeat, such as golf, chess, or firefighting.

There are fields where deliberate practice works; for example, you observe what happens and learn from it because the environment, conditions and options never change. It’s predictable. You can forecast it easily and it never changes.

If you practice like crazy in these fields you can become a pro.

But there are “wicked” learning environments where conditions constantly change and repeating patterns might or might not work. Like predicting an economic crisis, the election results, or whether your two-month-old baby is going to finally sleep through the night tonight, tomorrow, or in two months’ time.

Human behaviour is, by definition, erratic, irrational and unpredictable.

We don’t behave like a ball, where you only need to calculate all the possible variables to be able to predict where it’s going to land.

Enough practice will not necessarily make you a top performer, at least in certain disciplines. Other components contribute to whether you will excel or not as an economist, psychologist or dancer.

Gladwell popularized the idea of 10,000 hours of practice in his book Outliers, based on studies in the field of music that claimed that the best performers are those who practice the most.

In 2019 this study was revisited, and the results were not quite the same. The study looked at top violinists and pianists, and revealed that although practice matters it’s not as relevant as we thought.

It concludes that practice only explains 26% of top performance, and the rest is down to genetics, the environment and many other factors.

What this study shows is that early specialization is not the only path to becoming a master in a field.

Research shows that it’s not uncommon for excellent performers to go for a period of sampling different disciplines rather than straight into specialization. This sampling period is valuable for the development of their careers later. For example, Federer tried many sports before settling on tennis.

According to Epstein, while people who specialize early tend to make more money and achieve better jobs, their careers are shorter as they are less resilient to change.

People who have been exposed to different disciplines have an advantage. They learn how to match a strategy to different types of problems, rather than executing procedures than only work with particular problems.

Cultivating other fields of interest, making a late career move, choosing different options before you land in an area or job that interests you doesn’t make you a dabbler but rather a valuable contributor, who can adapt to change and employ different strategies in a complex word.


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