Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (August 3, 2017)
"Today, a friend of mine shared a story with me about a pottery teacher. This teacher wanted to see what would help his pottery students achieve the best artwork and so he divided his class into two groups. For one group, he asked them to spend the whole week focusing on the quality of their work by making one pot. For the other group, he asked them to spend the week focusing on the quantity of their work and for them to make as many pots as possible. At the end of the week, do you know which group made the best work? You might think it was the group that focused on the quality of their work like I did but it was actually the group that focused on quantity. So why was that? Well, I speculate it’s because ‘practice makes perfect’.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book ‘The Outliers’, purports that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a skill. He highlights the journey of Bill Gates, the Beatles and other successful people in their field and how they took around 10,000 hours to hone their skills.
So what does this tell us? And how does this apply to us when we teach our children?
Mastery takes time
Learning anything takes time and everyone also learns at different paces. We may get frustrated when our child doesn’t learn or master something as the pace we think they should but everyone learns differently. And even if they pick up something quickly, it will take time to develop the skill to do something well.
Mistakes aren’t bad
In my times of teaching, I have had students ask for an entire new sheet of paper because they made one mistake on their piece of paper. Or students who use correction tape more than they use the ink in their pens! We have somehow come to the conclusion that mistakes are bad, that failing means the end of the world and that it’s better to aim for perfection than to just try our best. The problem with this is that when children don’t feel they can succeed, then they give up altogether. But in the case of the pottery students, they had to make lots of pots, and learn along the way. If they were too scared to try, then they wouldn’t have had the chance to learn with their mistakes and all. So mistakes aren’t bad – they’re a way to learn. Instead of getting a child to be scared of making mistakes, teach them to learn from their mistakes.
Perseverance is key
And above all, perseverance is key. Prof Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania has found that the single largest determinant of success is not IQ, not family background, not socio-economic status but is grit. Grit is defined as the passion and perseverance to pursue a long-term goal. So in the journey of the 10,000 hours of the mistakes, of the disappointments, of improvements, the most important thing is to have perseverance in pursuing the goal. And when grit is developed in one area of life, it’s something that is transferable to other areas too.
So as we take on new tasks and help our children as they learn new skills, remember that practice makes perfect and to pursue it with perseverance. "