Deliberate Practice, Imagination, Openness To New Experiences

The idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master something has largely been debunked since Malcolm Gladwell first suggested it. Still, I think he did everyone a favor by suggesting this number because since then there has been a closer examination of how we come to master skills.

Theories today focus on deliberate practice where you are reflecting and getting feedback on your efforts rather than engaging in repetition over a period of time. It is quality of practice rather than quantity.

Last December on Creativity Post they examined this idea of deliberate practice a bit more and found some suggestion that variety of experience may be just as important as paying attention to the quality of the practice you engage in.

I have seen some findings on this before. They had two sets of kids practice throwing objects into a bucket. One group threw objects at a bucket three feet away and others threw objects at buckets three feet away for part of the time and five feet away for part of the time. When they moved the buckets to a four foot distance, the second group tended to be more accurate.

The Creativity Post piece reported findings with some additional nuance:

David [Epstein]: It’s one of the reasons why we see this interesting pattern in the sports realm—in non-golf sports—where kids who get highly technical instruction early in life in a single sport don’t go on to become elite. It’s completely the opposite of what you expect from a deliberate practice framework. It’s the Roger Federer model, the kids who play a bunch of different sports, learn a whole variety of skills, a lot of improv, who delay focusing, actually go on to become elite more often. Of course, there are a million different pathways. Steve Nash didn’t play basketball until he was 13. They’re behind in technical skills early on, but they get this broad exposure and range of skills so the thinking is they tend to be much more creative and able to transfer their skills.

This made me wonder if classical music training, which tends to be one of the more repetitive training regimens, would be better served by encouraging a wide variety of creative pursuits in the earlier stages rather than a singular focus.

Yes, sports are different from arts and creativity despite the frequent comparisons. But the observation about creative practice by Scott Barry Kaufman is really intriguing:

The E. Paul Torrance studies followed kids starting in elementary school and they’re still following them 50 years later. It found quite clearly that there are a wide range of characteristics that predicted life-long creative achievement—a lot more factors than just persistence or practice.

In fact, they found one of the most important characteristics was the extent to which kids fell in love with a future image of themselves. That has passion, but it also has an imagination component to it. Openness to experience, for instance, we’ve found is the best predictor of publicly recognized creative achievement, even better than conscientiousness.

Positive image of yourself in the future, imagination, and openness to experience as important predictors of publicly recognized creative achievement. Something to think about it.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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