10,000 hours

woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)September 13, 2011

I've just finished reading 'Outliers - The Story of Success' by Malcolm Gladwell. It's not at all about anything garden related. But the second chapter - titled The 10,000-hour Rule - made me curious about its applicability to gardens and their design. I estimated how much time I've spent over the years working in gardens, reading about plants, gardens, garden history, garden design, taking garden design related courses at U of G, and so on. I figure I passed the 10,000-hour threshold two or three years ago. That seems to coincide with when, IMO, the garden I've created became more focused and close to the image I've long been carrying in my head as to what the garden should become.

It all made me wonder where/when in the career of a professional designer do you cross the 10,000-hour level, and do you notice a difference in the quality of what you design after you reach that point? Do you look back on the gardens you designed early in your career and think how much better you would design those gardens if you were doing them now? I would guess that someone in a Landscape Architect program might well cross the 10,000-hour limit during their education and training phase while someone in a shorter education program wouldn't pass the limit until they had been practising for a few years. So would a logical conclusion be that to get roughly equivalent expertise you could hire a young LA or a non-LA designer with a few more years of experience? I wonder how specific the 10,000-hour threshold would be - if the LA did mainly commercial work, does the hours spent on that equate seamlessly to someone who accumulated their 10,000 hours designing smaller private gardens?

Or is the 10,000-hours theory/observations applicable at all?

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I am not a landscape designer but your question is intriguing. To put it in the larger, more relatable context, I had to do the math - 10,000 hours is not quite the equivalent of 5 years work experience @ 40 hours/weeks.

But would a veteran always be more a smarter hire? If everything was equal, yes. But the 10,000 hour theory as you presented it doesn't seem to also measure intangibles such as aesthetics, empathy, common sense...

After all, it has taken my old neighbour, an avid garden enthusiast, over 25 years to come up with her own personal landscape design. And she's very happy using a ruler and string line to plant out petunias using alternating colours in a bed shaped as the first letter in her last name. Love her, wouldn't hire her in a million years.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 2:48PM
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From a professional point of view there must be an old Chinese saying to cover it. something like:-

Wise man learn from other wise mans 10,000 hours of labour and make garden in one sunny afternoon.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 3:15PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

But Adrienne, it all depends on what you are looking to hire someone for. Your neighbour is not doing landscape design; she is doing Petunia Lining Up. You could probably not find anyone on the plant who is better at doing that.

Karin L

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 3:30PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

It's well worth reading the Outliers book, if only for that chapter....

Here is a passage from the start of the chapter that is relevant to those comments above I think:

'For almost a generation, psychologists around the world have been engaged in a spirited debate over a question that most of us would consider to have been settled years ago. The question is this: is there such a thing as inate talent? The obvious answer is yes. Not every hockey playerborn in January [a reference to interesting findings discussed in Chapter 1....] ends up playing at the professional level. Only some do - the inately talented ones. Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role inate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.'

And the rest of the chapter then discusses interesting studies that led to the 10,000-hour rule and other examples of well-known people who demonstrate that rule. It's all very interesting...

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 3:36PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Ink - perhaps the relvant saying is the one most of us have heard from a parent at some point 'practise makes perfect'... :-)

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 4:13PM
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Mmmmm, as in the "nature vs nurture" theory? Works for me.

And lol @ Karin - very true!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 4:39PM
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That was a good book, wasn't it woody!
I think the 10,000 hours is in reference to a specific skill, talent or subject - but that landscape design is a bit broader than what he was talking about. Some one would probably be expert at something after spending 5 years working in a given job, but someone who has some talent who spent 5 years, 40 hours a day practicing pitching, skiing slalom, playing a violin or piano is a bit more specific. And when some dedicates that amount of time to a specific skill, they do become a prodigy/genius at it.

If you studied biology for 5 years, you would be very knowledgeable at it; but imagine how much more knowledgeable you would be if you studied hawks for 5 years, as a friend of mine did (he redefined scientists understanding of migration patterns of north and south america).

My kids compete in ski racing, which is very similar to the hockey example he gave in the book. As my older child and her age group are reaching her 10000 hour threshold in this competitive field, you do start to see a tremendous difference in the kids who have truly committed themselves to putting in the time. If they continue with the tremendous commitment of time to the sport - its amazing how expert they can become.

Doesn't gladwell also say its a combination of factors: luck, practice, inate talent, environment and idiosyncratic opportunities (like the birthday thing).

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 3:36PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Yes, there were other factors in the success explanation but to 10,000 hours was a big one that certainly makes a fair bit of sense. As you say, the narrower the skill in question is, the greater effect you'd expect those 10,000 hours to have. But I think there is a broad point that we see demonstrated on this forum at times.

Many posters here are fairly narrowly interested in a solution for a particular problem. You often get the sense that they just want things to look nice and be easy to maintain. They don't give the impression often that they are particularly interested in the 'why' of it or particularly interested in the creative or physical act of gardening (or landscaping if you differentiate the two).

Then there are the other non-pros here (including me of course) who deeply enjoy considering the 'why' as well as the 'what' and 'how'. Those of us with that interest are willing to invest the time in expanding our knowledge of and practising the skills involved. And certainly the time spent does result in improvement.

In my case I do think there was a point where it did seem that everything came into clearer focus. And I wonder if that is true of other dedicated amateurs here too and at what point that occurred for them.

As I noted in my original post, I wonder if there is a relationrhip between the length of the training program, the number of years in business and the quality of the work that has any relationship to that 10,000-hour 'rule'. Do you ever look back on the gardens you designed early in your career and think 'I could do a much better job of that now'? At what point did you feel like you went from being a rookie to being comfortable that you had reached a solid level of expertise?

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 8:54PM
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