Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Slow Feedback Means Slow Improvement

Invented by Anders Ericsson and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, the 10,000-hour rule is bogus. You don’t need ten years of 3-hour daily practice to become a master. Sometimes you need less, other times you need a miracle.

Put me on a golf range for 10,000 hours and I still won’t be able to hit it onto the fairway. To be fair, my body would be in an advanced state of decay.

When Gladwell wrote about the 10,000-hour rule, he probably meant it as a metaphor for commitment. One of the many factors that contribute to skill.

An often overlooked factor of skill is what you’re trying to get better at. Some activities are almost impossible to get better at.

For instance, there’s no evidence that mammographers make better diagnoses as their careers go on. And it has nothing to do with male practitioners being distracted by boobies. Female mammographers perform just as poorly.


Because roughly five out of 1,000 mammograms show signs of lesions. And when the mammographer informs the patient’s doctor of a cancerous growth, the radiologist doesn’t get the results of the biopsy until weeks or months later. By which point the mammographer likely has no memory of what she thought during the diagnosis.

Clinical psychologists, stock pickers, and pundits also have trouble getting better for the same reason. The impact of their choices take too long to show up. And so they’ll never truly be experts.

In cases where the gaps between action and feedback are large, hard work is not enough.

To make hard work count, you have to be in a field where feedback is fast. And if you want to learn fast, you have to pick a field where feedback is instant.

Step into a batting cage and every swing you take gives you immediate feedback on how well you did. Tell a few jokes in the Comedy Hut and you’ll know exactly how unfunny you are. A silent audience of readers is far more kind.

Do you feel in your bones that effort leads to reward?

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by picking the wrong hobby or profession. Pick something where you can clearly see the impact of your actions. Find out your version of playing scales. And play them every day.

Practice may not make perfect. But it definitely makes good.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach