How long did it take you to get really good at your job?
Via Detroit Free Press : It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, be it a sport or profession. Why not governing?
I was watching Wimbledon this year and listening to the commentators gush over Serena Williams’ dominance of the other players, when I thought about an important theory about excellence.
In 1993, a psychologist name Anders Ericsson authored a paper called “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” in which he argued that among the things that explain extreme levels of excellence is many, many hours of practice.
The number he used in the paper, for reference, was 10,000. There’s been a debate since about how precise he was being, or whether others have taken his work and over-emphasized the number and cheapened Ericsson’s discussion of what “deliberate practice” actually means.
But in a lot of popular writing, including Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” the 10,000-hour rule has come to define an important baseline for exceptional performance. In sports. In arts. In negotiating or rudimentary skill-building. 10,000 hours. 416 days. That’s part of what it takes to be really great at something.
And beyond the number itself, the idea of time spent doing something as critical to success not only makes sense, it’s blindly intuitive.
So why not governing? Shouldn’t it follow that for elected officials to be their best, their most effective, they ought to be afforded time on the job, time learning and thinking and exploring, to perfect their skills?
Well, not in Michigan.
Our term limits — a clumsy and artificial construct by which we have decried that no one, shall serve in our Legislature for more than 14 years — turn the 10,000-hour theory on its head. They say that, just as a lawmaker might be hitting his or her stride, just as they might instinctively manage the people’s business, that’s precisely the time when we send them packing.
Expert? Our system is designed to prevent that from ever happening to our lawmakers.
And unfortunately, I think it’s reflective of a wider societal trend — one that downplays differentiation based on merit and performance, while indulging a dangerous false equivalency. So often, I hear term-limit supporters say things like “How hard can it be to learn how to govern?” Or “If you can’t get it in six or eight years, you’ll never get it.”
It’s an outgrowth, perhaps, of impatience. Or frustration.
But it’s also a nod to a slipshod culture of celebrated amateurism, and it has no proven capacity to carry to us to the excellence I think we all really want.
Rather than frowning on longevity, we could take a page from Ericsson’s original research and insist on the right kind of experience or “practice” for lawmakers.
What should they be doing for the 10,000 hours (or whatever other number) of experience they need to reach that expert level?
What constraints should we be putting on other influences — money, special interests — to be sure that 10,000 hours sends them in the right direction?
And once they reach that level of expertise, how can we best take advantage of it?
Those are solutions that likely require something more complex than a hard limit. And maybe that’s why we have shied from them.
But the government we want? Perhaps the one we deserve? It runs through the tougher thinking, and the tougher work. And for our lawmakers — a hell of a lot more practice than we’re affording them right now.
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