The 10,000-Hour Rule

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As promised in my previous post, here's some wisdom gained from an awesome book I read. Outliers by Malcom Gladwell explains how, with a certain amount of innate talent, preparation, and oftentimes extraordinary opportunities, the most successful people in their respective fields, such as Bill Gates and the Beatles, got to be that way. I believe we can apply these very same principles to the world of court reporting. I highly recommend reading this book when (and if) you get some downtime in between practice sessions.

In Chapter 2, "The 10,000-Hour Rule," Gladwell refers to a study in which violin students were separated into three groups by their professors. Those three groups were labeled the "students with the potential to become world-class soloists," "those judged to be merely good," and then "students who were unlikely to ever play professionally." The following is an excerpt from this best-selling book:

All the violinists were then asked the same question: over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced? Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old. In those first few years, everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week.  But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences started to emerge.  The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up until the age of twenty they were practicing -- that is purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better -- well over thirty hours a week.  In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice.  By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours.
Ericsson and his colleagues then compared amateur pianists with professional pianists.  The same pattern emerged.  The amateurs never practiced more than about three hours a week over the course of their childhood, and by the age of twenty, they had totaled two thousand hours of practice.  The professionals, on the other hand, steadily increased their practice time every year, until by the age of twenty they, like the violinists, had reached ten thousand hours.

The striking thing about Ericsson's study that he and the colleagues couldn't find any "naturals," musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did.  Nor could they find any "grinds," people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks.  Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.  That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

Gladwell, Malcolm (2008). Outliers. Little, Brown and Company. pp. 38-39. ISBN 9780316017923

We, as court reporting students, have been given an extraordinary opportunity by just learning about this awesome profession, and perhaps by being enrolled in a quality school with teachers who care or knowing fellow students who support you in your quest. Now you may say, "Hey, but I didn't start court reporting when I was five years old. How will I ever get to reach the 10,000-hour mark before reaching retirement?" 

The answer is that the 10,000-hour mark represents the top of our profession, the NCRA speed contest champions, the realtime champs, the fastest and brightest of our field. We want to strive to be "world-class soloists," and to do that we must put our heads down and just put in the time and dedication. We can very well become certified, working court reporters long before that milestone, but just know it takes actual time and experience to get better on our machines. Just as a pilot has to have a minimum number of hours to become certified, we too need to put in our "required hours." Where are you on the road to 10,000?