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Cache of the Day: Sivan

Sima Freidel Steinbaum

Sunday, June 05, 2011

In the early 1990s, some amazing research was done by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, widely recognized as one of the world’s leading theoretical and experimental researchers on expertise. He's an “expert on experts.”

Ericsson interviewed violin students from the Academy of Music in Berlin, and learned that the best students had logged approximately 10,000 hours practice, the good students about 8,000 hours, and the mediocre about 4,000 hours. There were no “naturals” who became great with less than 10,000 hours, and no one with 10,000 hours who wasn't a pro. Note: 10,000 hours equals twenty hours a week for ten years.

Ericsson refers to the research of education professor Benjamin Bloom, author of Developing Talent in Young People (1985): “One thing emerges very clearly from Bloom’s work: All the superb performers he investigated had practiced intensely… that ‘consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.’ ”

Leadership expert Orrin Woodward: “The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”

Sociologist Malcolm Gladwell used Ericsson’s research in Outliers: The Story of Success, which tackles one question: what makes some people so successful?


“It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude — and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.

Two of Gladwell’s elements of success:

  1. Practice is not enough. You have to constantly strive to beat your record and outdo your performance.
  2. Looking for things that others can’t see.

Gladwell writes, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

In the introduction to his Ein Yaakov, Rabbi Yaakov ibn Chaviv brings a midrash in which three Tanaaim each choose the most all-encompassing verse in the Torah:

Ben Zoma says, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad, Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One” (Devarim 6:4). 
Ben Nanas (Rabbi Akiva) says, “v’Ahavta l’Reacha k’mocha, you shall love your neighbor as yourself(Vayikra 19:18).

Ben Pazi says, “Es ha’keves ha’echad ta’aseh va’boker ve’es ha’keves ha’sheini ta’aseh bein ha’arbayim… And one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other in the afternoon” (Bamidbar 28:4).

Rav Ploni stood up and said, ‘The halachah is like Ben Pazi.’

We can understand why Shema or v’Ahavta would be chosen. By why would a Tanna choose a pasuk about the daily offering as his defining Torah verse?

Hasmadah, from the root saf-mem-daled, (from where we get the word tamid, contstant, and masmid, one who learns all the time) means diligence, perseverance, persistence, and (physics) inertia. Inertia? Doesn’t inertia mean laziness? How can laziness be a synonym for diligence, perseverance, and persistence?

Physics is about movement. Inertia is defined as “the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion;” the principle of inertia is one of the fundamental principles of classical physics used to describe the motion of matter and how it is affected by applied forces. In other words; how things move, and why they move. The bottom line is that all objects, even the tiniest, resist change to their status quo. Unless something pushes or pulls it, no object in the universe will start moving or stop moving of its own accord.

The word “inertia” comes from the Latin, iners, meaning idle, or lazy. We think of laziness as an unwillingness to start doing anything. But it’s not about being lazy. What inertia actually is, is an unwillingness to stop doing whatever it is you’re doing. If you’re in motion, you don’t want to stop moving. If you’re motionless, you don’t want to start moving.

Ericsson: “The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts… you need a particular kind of practice — deliberate practice. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well — or even at all. It is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.” (The Making of an Expert, Harvard Business Review, July-Aug 2007))

This is how the Korban Tamid, the daily offering, every day of the year, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, made it to the top. Every day we must practice, practice, practice, in four areas:

  1. The things we aren’t doing that we should start doing
  2. The things that we are doing that we should stop doing.
  3. The things we are doing and should keep on doing
  4. The things we’re not doing, and stop continue not doing.

All of this should be good news, for all of us. It means the only thing ever holding us back is ourselves. It’s a question of hasmadah, continuous perseverance, of being a masmid in our own behavior.

Shavuos is almost here. What better time to start becoming a masmid, and to start practicing hasmadah

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