14 March 2017

More about 'Outliers'

Whenever chess pops up in my Yahoo News feed, I try to use it as the basis of a blog post. The last time this happened was for Last World Championship Hubbub (December 2016). The latest occasion wasn't a chess article, but used chess as an introduction.

The 10,000-hour rule is wrong and perpetuates a cruel myth

That Yahoo stub page leads to the full article with the same title, The 10,000-hour rule is wrong... (businessinsider.com), which is attributed to Slate.com. The Yahoo caption expanded to

Sports - Business Insider • The 10,000-hour rule is wrong and perpetuates a cruel myth: A decade ago, Magnus Carlsen, who at the time was only 13 years old, created a sensation in the chess world when he defeated former world champion Anatoly Karpov at a chess tournament in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the next day played then-top-rated Garry Kasparov -- who is widely regarded as the best chess player of all time -- to a draw. Carlsen's subsequent rise to chess stardom was meteoric: grandmaster status later in 2004; a share of first place in the Norwegian Chess Championship in 2006; youngest player ever to reach World No. 1 in 2010; and highest-rated player in history in 2012.

What makes someone rise to the top in music, games, sports, business, or science? In the late 1800s, Francis Galton -- founder of the scientific study of intelligence and a cousin of Charles Darwin -- analyzed the genealogical records of hundreds of scholars, artists, musicians, and other professionals and found that greatness tends to run in families.

Fast forward to the 1990s, where the prevailing view became 'prolonged effort, not innate talent, explained differences between experts and novices'. But there's a catch. For chess,

The number of hours of deliberate practice to first reach "master" status (a very high level of skill) ranged from 728 hours to 16,120 hours. This means that one player needed 22 times as much deliberate practice as another player to become a master.

This implies,

So, deliberate practice did not explain all, nearly all, or even most of the performance variation in these fields. In concrete terms, what this evidence means is that racking up a lot of deliberate practice is no guarantee that you'll become an expert. Other factors matter.

These other factors are age at starting the activity and genetic inequality. That second factor is the main point of the article, which concludes,

If we acknowledge that people differ in what they have to contribute, then we have an argument for a society in which all human beings are entitled to a life that includes access to decent housing, healthcare, and education, simply because they are human. Our abilities might not be identical, and our needs surely differ, but our basic human rights are universal.

Getting back to Magnus Carlsen, it's not clear why a discussion on 'differences between experts and novices' has any real relevance to his level. Perhaps it would be more useful to look at differences between experts and world-class practitioners. Maybe Dilbert was right after all: Dilbert on Mastering Chess (February 2013).

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