mastery (was RE: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?

Subject: mastery (was RE: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: voxwoman <voxwoman -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 26 Aug 2009 09:03:58 -0400

I think the 10,000 hours refers to specific, directed practice at a particular kind of task. So, you'd have considerably less than that at the individual discrete skills that you employ to do the overall job. For example, somebody who has simply "been a working musician" for five years is not necessarily going to be a master at an instrument on which they've only dabbled, nor will they immediately master conducting, even if they got _some_ practice at it while they were busy working their way up to "first cello" during their five years with the philharmonic. On the third hand, somebody who got to be first cello after five years with the orchestra had probably put in at least ten thousand hours of cello-specific practice since discovering the instrument as a child.

So to relate that back to what we do, you'd have - like many of us here - a helacious amount of hours under your belt doing research, writing and editing, and be quite good at it, but you might not have truly mastered your tools (maybe _you_ did, but I'll explain what I mean). And you certainly would not have mastered aspects of our trade that simply didn't occur during your employment.

I'll admit that I never mastered FrameMaker in the years that I used it as my primary documentation tool. I got "good enough". When I needed to learn some additional trick or method, I learned it. If I never had cause to use half the program's features, then I never got any practice in them, and therefore never came anywhere near mastering them. I actually had the Structured version, in the years that they charged extra for that feature set, but after an initial, abortive stab at converting to SGML-based documentation, I dropped the attempt and never went back. That's because the company... um.... reverse-grew, and lost an entire division that would have justified the trouble and expense of a rigorous, structured documentation stream. So I went back to the basic functionality, as a lone writer, which was all we needed.

Prior to that, I'm not sure how much my overall mastery of my trade benefitted from many hundreds of hours working with Ventura Publisher in the late '80s. Or that year I spent with a classic Mac and Quark Express in 1990...

The practice-toward-mastery in those years would have been with respect to digging into new info, organizing and distilling it, regurgitating it in a form designed to be useful to the audience. But a whole lot of incidental stuff got in the way, along the way. Much moreso, I would think, than would have been the case if I'd been a professional musician plying my trade.

It goes back to what I was saying about us being generalists, with our fingers in many pies, rather than virtuosos in specific niches.

Gladwell used examples like Bill Gates who had early opportunities to learn and really, really, really practice computer programming (same for the founder of Novell and a couple of others) that other people simply didn't get. He was in the right place at the right time. Same idea for the Beatles, who spent _years_ in Germany, grinding away for eight-hour shifts, six and seven days per week at tough club venues. That's how they mastered their chops long before they ever showed up on the shores of America. Certainly they were talented, which is why they started and kept with it, but what really counted was all the time and hard work they had put in, mastering what they did - playing music in front of audiences.

- Kevin

From: voxwoman [mailto:voxwoman -at- gmail -dot- com]
Sent: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 3:34 PM
To: McLauchlan, Kevin
Cc: Gene Kim-Eng; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Re: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?

I heard about this number (and was talking about it with someone this morning) -10,000 hours to become a "world-class" musician (based on practice time for Julliard students, I believe).

10,000 hours may look like a very long time, but 10,000 hours is 5 years of full-time work. I've put in significantly *more* than 10K hours writing. In fact, I've put in, over the course of my life, 10,000 hours doing *laundry and dishes* (one of the "joys" of raising a family).

That 10,000 hours (being a "master" rather than an apprentice or journeyman) is what employers are looking for when they are asking for over 5 year's experience.


On Tue, Aug 25, 2009 at 12:53 PM, McLauchlan, Kevin <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com<mailto:Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>> wrote:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Gene Kim-Eng
> There is a difference between knowing how things work and how to do
> things for yourself if you have to, and being able to do them well
> enough for other people to admire you for your ability and be
> willing to
> pay you for it. :)
> Gene Kim-Eng

As Malcolm Gladwell summarized in "Outliers", the difference between the two is roughly 10,000 hours of dedicated practice and pursuit of the skill. That is, the one who has the skill enough to be admired for it was probably not actually a "natural" - s/he just had enough talent or interest to keep at that pursuit instead of ten million other things s/he might have chosen to occupy her/his time, and so became a master of that skill... over the course of those 10 thousand hours.

I think that many of us technical writers have not put 10,000 hours of practice-and-study into anything, but we've put (perhaps) thousands of hours into enough things to be good generalists... and to have a good basis on which to pick up the next skill or knowledge.

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Re: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?: From: john rosberg
RE: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?: From: Al Geist
RE: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?: From: Leonard C. Porrello
Re: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?: From: Gene Kim-Eng
RE: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?: From: McLauchlan, Kevin
Re: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?: From: voxwoman

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