Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, September 29, 2013

10,000 hours

In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, The Story of Success, launches the idea that 10,000 hours dedicated to an activity would bring success. He cites the Beatles, Bill Gates and J. Robert Oppenheimer to support his thesis. In his "10,000 hour rule" he posits that the key to success which is an indicator of mastery is a matter of practising for at least 10,000 hours.  And I think to myself, what have I spent 10,000 hours on, in my dilettante-ish life. Let's see, 10,000 hours, at say eight hours a working day and fifty work weeks a year comes out to five years. That's at least five years of diligent application to a craft or skill.

I can think of a few persons who have applied themselves with such dedication to a talent or gift, that I could say yes, they are masters. Many practising artists, writers, craftsmen - teachers, beekeepers, farmers -  in Trinidad and Tobago find themselves already in that category - that with success or not, they may be considered "masters."

Isabel Brash has spent the last five years making chocolate, for more than twelve hours a day on average. She has taught herself what she needs to know about processing cocoa from bean to bonbon; paid attention to the agriculture of cocoa trees; developed her own techniques while learning from observation and taste. Cocobel chocolate - in bars, or barks or bonbons - are works of art. And if they are not available anywhere else in the world but Trinidad,  they are more to be prized. Seek them out if you're a visitor. And if we live here, make sure we know the complexity of Trinidad cocoa blended with local flavours like mammy apple, Paramin basin mint, pepper pineapple and ginger.  Just because those of us who live here can, make sure there's Cocobel chocolate in our lives for anytime we feel like it. Isabel is one of those rare persons who has done 10,000 hours in her early thirties.

Isabel Brash's chocolate gems
Bunty O'Connor, the potter, started making pots as a young mother needing a creative outlet. When she moved her family to the wilds of Chickland, it was to operate a pottery built on a knoll of an old estate. For more than a decade, she worked at her craft, Trinidad clay pots and plates, bowls, art ajoupas. Her hands and the clay are dancing partners. Today she is making sculptures that celebrate our wild flora and fauna in organic forms: calabash bowls, vases and figures that are unique pieces of ceramic art. Going well beyond her 10,000 hours, she now schedules regular raku and mosaic classes to seed a new generation of potters.
One of Bunty O'Connor's organic pots
Helen Wong Chong has spent forty years in the fashion industry. As a maker of knitwear, a fabric and clothing designer, she made her mark with one of the oldest fashion houses in Italy. In retirement, she launched the secondskin label to brand personal fashion statements. Five years ago, she bought a hobby kit to experiment with glass beads. Lampwork - as the decoration of beads using lamps to melt the glass has been called - is now an ultra modern technology with high temperature torches fired with natural gas. Alone in her workshop, Helen may already have turned out 10,000 beads, and is well on her way to 10,000 hours in this craft.

Beads on a theme by Helen Wong Chong
Some people do their hours faster than others. I can think of Pat Bishop, getting to her 10,000 in the nights in panyards; and in daylight with her painting. Or her sister Gillian, who came to jewellery-making via a chemistry background, but whose fascination with stones and a flair for design developed the unique line of personal ornaments and signature gift items.

Chancy Moll - with a philosophy degree in her kit - married into a gardening life, and has co-created the most refreshing "secret garden" in Santa Cruz. Mary Hall is a master teacher, with many many more than 10,000 hours devoted to students - many productive creative students making their mark in the world - in the Michael K. Hall in Tobago. The Kariwak couple, Allan Clovis and Cynthia have certainly dedicated many more than 10,000 hours each to the small Tobago hotel that would be celebrated anywhere in the world.

Cherub in the San Antonio "secret garden"

Recognition and success have accrued to Derek Walcott and Sir Vidia Naipaul, who devoted their lives to singular craftsmanship and purposeful practice. Peter Minshall, with over 30 years of making mas art. David Rudder, lyricist, composer, performer, working at his craft for over 30 years. Behind great athletes like Brian Lara or George Bovell, you'll certainly find 10,000 and more hours. There are many who achieved success and fame. Many more who achieved mastery, but not necessarily fame or success. By considering those that are recognised, and those that aren't, we realise how civilization is built, and on whose shoulders.

I can only humbly submit two areas of endeavour in my lifetime. I think I have put in over 10,000 hours cooking, just cooking food for family and friends. It's one area in which I knew I had something to share with my children, something that they could enjoy and learn from. Hence my recipe collection, Comfort Food, with the premise that "these are the tastes of home, to be taken with you, any and everywhere you go."( The other is writing, still putting in the hours.

The essential idea of the 10,000 hours seems to be practice. And if you like what you do, it's easy to fall in love with practice.

Of course, it's unrealistic to expect that any hypothesis such as the 10,000 hour rule would remain unchallenged or untested. Studies (according to Time, May 20, 2013) are now on-going to measure the variables and extent of its validity; the particular fields or activities where it applies; and in the long run, whether there's any truth at all here.

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