Wednesday, March 08, 2023

I'd Give Anything

Your Choices Make a Difference
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, March 8, 2023, p. A6

Following a concert, a member of the audience approached the pianist, gushing “I’d give anything to play like that.” To which the pianist replied, “No, you probably wouldn’t.”

Taken aback, the audience member asked, “Why do you say that?” The response? “Because you wouldn’t be willing to put in the necessary years of daily practice.”

Kind of like the lost tourist in Manhattan who asked a stranger, “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?” and was told, “Practice, practice, practice.”

I was reminded of these stories when reading Jeff Linder’s Gazette report of the amazing Caitlin Clark’s three-point, last second miracle to beat Indiana. What caught my eye was Clark’s comment: “I’ve shot a lot of those, whether it was with my two brothers in the driveway, a lot by myself.”

Many household names today began early (Tiger Woods at age three). Thousands of practice hours followed, whether from love of the game or adult pressure.

Most of us want to have fun with activities beyond work, not become GOAT (greatest of all time).

A similar fork in the road affects our education.

Richard Nixon’s Duke law school classmates nicknamed him “Iron Butt,” because he studied longer hours than anyone else. That’s worth sharing with today’s college undergraduates.

[Photo credit: wikimedia, commons. This is not Richard Nixon at Duke. It is "Jardin du Musee Rodin Paris Le Penseur" ("The Thinker"). The Thinker is trying to remember what was the first thing he was going to do this morning. (It was to put on his clothes before he went outside to sit on the rock.)]

Most of what students gain from their education is the result of their own curiosity, dedication, and effort. Not choosing easy courses to increase their grade point average, but courses to expand their knowledge and skills.

Sadly, some schools, students and parents cheat themselves and deprecate these motives by focusing on the economics of education in a capitalist society (“Iowa’s universities contribute $15 billion to Iowa’s economy;” “a college degree will add $1 million to your lifetime income”). Their goal is the diploma and job.

Even if one’s goal is increased income, the additional $1 million lifetime income claim is qualified with dozens of variables. As some Facebook users characterize their relationship, “it’s complicated.”

And reflect on Inc. magazine’s report that over a third of Fortune 500 CEOs are bringing the range of knowledge and skills of a liberal arts education to solving today’s unanticipated challenges.

Today’s cost of a diploma (tuition, associated costs, four years’ lost wages) can easily run over $100 or $200 thousand. If a student lacks interest in academic study, and the goal is future income, the trades may provide more satisfaction and pay than a diploma.

An auto mechanic -- honest, friendly, and highly skilled – who doesn’t charge for minor repairs, and gives customers alternatives to $2000 solutions, ultimately will do very well financially compared to the college graduate who’s now asking customers, “Do you want fries with that?”

Becoming one of the world’s best at what you do has satisfactions.

But getting there is iffy, even with thousands of practice hours. The goal of being good (not greatest) at a variety of life experiences has different benefits.

Fork in the road? Your choices make a difference.

Nicholas Johnson never aspired to becoming GOAT at anything.

I’d give anything. Sorry, but I can neither find with a Google search nor recall when I first heard this story and therefore can’t guarantee whether it is a true tale or just a story. Ditto for “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?”

Caitlin Clark. Jeff Linder, “This one lives up to the hype, and then some: Iowa 86, Indiana 85; Caitlin Clark nails a 3-pointer at the buzzer to edge the No. 2 Hoosiers,” The Gazette, Feb. 26, 2023, (“'I’ve shot a lot of those, whether it was with my two brothers in the driveway, a lot by myself,’ Clark said.”)

Tiger Woods. Devika, “Throwback Article Reveals How Tiger Woods Used to Dominate Golf as a 3-Year-Old,” Essentially Sports, Sept 19, 2021, (“Before he was five, Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods was proving that he might be on his way to becoming a golf legend. In a 1981 Golf Digest article speaking of a five-year-old Woods, a stat about his golf skills when he was three steals the show. According to Golf Digest, a three-year-old Woods ‘recorded a 48 for nine holes’ at the regulation course Navy Golf, Costa Mesa, and Los Alamitos. The course measured 6750 yards. ‘The kid’s not exceptional,’ said golf professional Rudy Duran. ‘He’s way beyond that.’”)

Richard Nixon. Dwight Garner, “A Memoir That Might Inspire You to Break a Sweat,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 2018, (“In “Nixon Agonistes” (1970), his matchless book of reportage and analysis, Garry Wills explored why Richard Nixon succeeded while smarter and more charismatic politicians did not. Among Wills’s conclusions: Nixon had what peers called an “iron butt,” a willingness to sit and study harder than everyone else.”)

John Krull, “The lonely wars of Richard Nixon,” [Terre Haute, IN] ribune-Star, March 30, 2018, (“He [Nixon] was studious, a man who climbed so high because he worked harder than anyone around him. In law school at Duke University, his classmates nicknamed him “Iron Butt,” because he could labor over the books longer than anyone else.”)

10,000 hour rule. Nathan Colin Wong, “The 10,000-Hour Rule,” Can Urol Assoc J. 2015 Sep-Oct; 9(9-10): 299, National Library of Medicine, Sep-Oct 2015, (“The book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell . . . explores factors that contributed to the high levels of success of some individuals. . . . In the second chapter, Gladwell introduces the concept of the “10 000-Hour Rule” and how it helped the Beatles become world famous musicians . . .. Throughout his book, Gladwell repeatedly refers to the “10 000-hour rule,” asserting that the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply a matter of practicing, albeit in the correct way, for at least 10 000 hours. . . . This, however, is an oversimplification. Gladwell later describes how family, culture and friendship are all critical in any individual’s success.”)

Ben Carter, “Can 10,000 hours of practice make you an expert?” BBC News, March 1, 2014, (“The 10,000-hours concept can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at the University of Colorado, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.

It highlighted the work of a group of psychologists in Berlin, who had studied the practice habits of violin students in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

All had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age 20, the elite performers had averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only done 4,000 hours of practice.

The psychologists didn't see any naturally gifted performers emerge and this surprised them. If natural talent had played a role it wouldn't have been unreasonable to expect gifted performers to emerge after, say, 5,000 hours.

Anders Ericsson concluded that "many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years".

It is Malcolm Gladwell's hugely popular book, Outliers, that is largely responsible for introducing "the 10,000-hour rule" to a mass audience - it's the name of one of the chapters. . . .

But is there a simpler way to think about all this? Maybe talented people just practice more and try harder at the thing they're already good at - because they enjoy it?”)

Iowa’s Universities. Vanessa Miller, “Regent Report Finds Universities Have $15B Impact in Iowa; ‘One out of every 10 jobs in Iowa is supported’ by regents’ campuses,” The Gazette, Feb. 23, 2023, (“A new study shows that the benefits of a bachelor’s degree from Iowa’s public universities will amount to $1 million in higher earnings than from a high school diploma or equivalent. . . . With lawmakers in the throes of deciding how much money to appropriate Iowa’s public universities for the upcoming budget year, the Board of Regents this week released a new “economic impact report” showing its campuses collectively added $14.9 billion to the state’s economy in the 2022 budget year. . . . Put another way, over a working lifetime, benefits of a bachelor’s degree will amount to $1 million in higher earnings than a high school diploma or equivalent.”)

Million-dollar diploma. Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose and Ban Cheah, “The College Payoff; Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings,” The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, (“In fact, 14 percent of people with a high school diploma make at least as much as the median earnings of those with a Bachelor’s degree, and 17 percent of people with a Bachelor’s degree make more than the median earnings of those with a Professional degree. A lot of this overlap can be explained by the occupations in which individuals are found. . . . 28 percent of workers with Associate’s degrees earn more than the median earnings of workers with Bachelor’s degrees. . . . 7 percent of people with less than a high school diploma earn more than the typical worker with a Bachelor’s degree. At the extreme, the most successful 1 percent of less than high school workers has at least the median lifetime earnings of those with a Professional degree.”)

Hunter Rawlings, “Stop Treating College Like a Commodity,” Des Moines Register, June 13, 2015, (“How much more does the “average” college grad earn over a lifetime than someone with only a high school degree? (The current number appears to be about $1 million.) . . . The value of a degree depends more on the student’s input than on the college’s curriculum. I know this because I have seen excellent students get great educations at average colleges, and unmotivated students get poor educations at excellent colleges. . . . A college education, then, if it is a commodity, is no car. The courses the student decides to take (and not take), the amount of work the student does, the intellectual curiosity the student exhibits, her participation in class, his focus and determination — all contribute far more to her educational “outcome” than the college’s overall curriculum, much less its amenities and social life. . . . Genuine education is not a commodity, it is the awakening of a human being.”)

CEOs with liberal arts degrees. Tim Askew, “Why The Liberal Arts are Necessary for Long-Term Success; The Short-Sightedness of STEM,” Inc., March 14, 2018, (“In fact, over a third of Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees. . . . It is hard for expense weary parents to see the long-term advantages of broad and deep training in how to think, in how to objectively see and analyze the rapidly changing world as it actually is. But leaders trained in the liberal arts have intellectual flexibility and the ability to think creatively. . . . The liberal arts offer a path for dealing with chaos and complexity. Graduating students need to think not only about their immediate prospects . . . but also about what will nurture long-term leadership skills for larger success and business usefulness.”)

# # #


Karl Grubbe said...

Whatever you do, do it well! An excellent statement on the values of trying to be the best in whatever you do. I suppose this also ties into the serious lack of people in the trades right now. The costs and benefits of all training and education are important to anyone starting off!

Nick said...

Thanks, Karl. Well put.