I’ve just finished reading a remarkable book called “Bounce – The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice” by former Commonwealth Games Table Tennis gold medalist Matthew Syed. If you haven’t read it, can I recommend it to you? It’s a fascinating exploration of the idea that some people are just naturally able, and that without the right combination of genes we call natural talent, for want of a better term, you can’t reach the highest standards in your chosen field. Matthew Syed makes a very convincing case that this is actually untrue. Without wanting to spoil the book for anyone, he examines some of what we might think of as incredibly gifted performers – if not geniuses – such as Tiger Woods and Mozart to give two disparate examples, and proves that the pair of them were in fact the products of practice.
I am gradually driving towards a point. The book cites the magic figure of 10,000 ( that’s ten thousand!) hours of purposeful practice being necessary to gain mastery . Now, I don’t claim for one minute to be a master quizzer – I’m certainly not that – but I was intrigued enough to start trying to work out roughly how many hours I’ve spent quizzing. I began playing in quizzes in 1988. That’s 25 years. However I stopped for pretty much a year in 1993. For my first stint I wouldn’t say that I averaged playing in more than 1 quiz a week, of an average length of an hour and a half. Allowing for a couple of weeks per year when I wouldn’t play, that means that for my first five years of quizzing I wouldn’t have spent more than 375 hours in quizzing. I only played a couple of quizzes in 1994. Then in 1995 I started playing for a team in the Neath Quiz League, and I played in my first quiz in the rugby club. My guess is that if you offset the weeks I only played in one quiz against the weeks I played in three quizzes, I’d say that there have been more of the latter than the former, so an average of 2 quizzes a week for the last 18 years is probably a little conservative. Still, working on this, then an hour and a half per quiz, 2 quizzes per week, and 50 quizzing weeks a year gives me a figure of 2700. Added to my first figure, that’s slightly more than 3000 hours.
Ah, but it isn’t just about playing in quizzes, is it? For the last 18 years I have compiled the quiz for the club at least once a month. In fact it probably averages out at about 15 a year over this period, since there have been years when I was doing it every other week for much of the year. It takes about 3 hours to put a quiz together for the club. So that gives us another 810 hours. Right. Let’s add on 20 minutes every day compiling news questions. I’ve been doing this for 2 years now, so that makes about 240 more hours. Mastermind Revision comes into play too. I would say that a conservative estimate would be 2 hour’s practice per day for and average of 6 weeks for each subject. I learned 6 subjects ( I answered on 5, but also learned one as stand in for the Champion of Champions final) So that’s another 504 hours. How’s the total looking ?
Not even halfway. OK, so there have been other times that I’ve set out to learn things for quizzes, but never in a really systematic manner, and if it added up to 1000 hours over 20 years I’d be surprised. Still, let’s say that.
What about time spent watching TV quizzes? At the moment I watch about 7 quizzes, which works out at 3.5 hours per week. Even if we say that has been an average for the last 25 years – which it hasn’t, since there are weeks and even months when I’ve gone without watching any – even if we do say that, then it works out as 4550. What does that do to the total?
Which I am sure you’ve worked out means that although I’ve spent just over a year of my lifespan quizzing, I still haven’t quite reached the magic 10,000 hours practicing. Ah, but it’s worse than that. Since the 10,000 hours of practice only works if it is PURPOSEFUL practice. Practising things you can already do is relatively worthless. Therefore any time spent watching a TV quiz where you already know 99.99% of the answers is no help whatsoever. So all those hours of watching “The Weakest Link” and “Blockbusters” can be wiped off my total for a start. In fact, a large number of the hours in my total would have to be wiped out, being of limited value in making me into a better quizzer.
I say all of this with my tongue slightly in my cheek. After all, I’m sure with most, if not all of us, while we’d like to get better, the main purpose of playing in the quizzes, and watching the shows, and making the quizzes has been the enjoyment we get from it. It does get you thinking though. I don’t know if you ever watched the old Channel 4 show “Faking It” but I often thought it would have been interesting if they’d taken a complete quiz novice, with an average general knowledge, and seen how quickly they could turn them into a competitive quizzer, using specific teaching and learning techniques, and intensively targeting certain quiz topics and areas of knowledge. If any production company out there would like to discuss the idea with me further – well, you know how to contact me.