I have been reading several things at once as always (I have a habit of pursuing a couple chapters of a book, then a few magazines, several websites, and admittedly since I live in the Washington area, the Sunday post makes the list on half of the weeks during the year) and a couple of articles caught my attention this week first for their complete contradictions, then after some thought, how similar they really are. First, if you get the chance the book, ’97 things every programmer should know’, which contains some really interesting insight into several pressing topics of importance to the programming community, contains an article by Jon Jagger title, ‘Deliberate Practice’ that contains a sort of formula for success that applies broadly to all tasks. The distinction between deliberate practice and what we do every day for pay .. be it coding, basket weaving, getting an education, whatever you are into .. is simple, the things that you are paid to do, required to do, that lead to concrete end result, as in shipping a product to a customer, receiving a diploma require a focused approach that often leaves little room for exploration, innovation, and to be honest much thought.
Deliberate practice, on the other hand, is setting out to apply your trade, craft, ideas to new and interesting problems. Problems that you may not get the chance to work on during your 9-5 life. These are the things that fall in the, ‘I wish I could just …’ category of projects. As the article states, deliberate practice is done to master the task, not complete the task.
Now, fast forward to this Sunday’s Washington Post where you will find an article by Naomi Schaefer Riley about the alarming rate at which the United States seems to be falling behind academically, or more accurately, how the developing world is catching up to the United States at an alarming rate of speed. The author bases this on a belief that tenured teachers in our universities reach that status and somehow stop being inquisitive, insightful, or driven. The author also longs for a curriculum that is paired down to the bare essentials. The declining value of education has been a popular prediction for as long as I can remember You can read the article here . One of the sentences in the story is so repetitive, you have to wonder if it has been accepted as a truth by virtue of being retold countless times. Of course I am talking about, “Executives at U.S. companies routinely complain about the lack of reading, writing and math skills in the recent graduates they hire.” In a country with labor laws that favor corporations, I have to wonder who forced these executives to hire such ill prepared graduates.
The author fails to see tenure as the ability to exercise deliberate practice, and the students education is in fact a four year study in deliberate practice.
Certain trades lend themselves to repetition, experience, and a strictly by the book approach to the task at hand, these are the trades that have been outsourced. On the other hand, those trades dependent on creativity, invention, and innovation – in short those that rely on practitioners of deliberate practice will remain relevant in the future.
The catch, deliberate practice often looks like a series of small failures or irrational projects at the time, and only later proves to be the sort of risk taking that moves countries and companies forward.