Friday, 20 March 2015

Column 6, 2015 – The Triangle of Adequacy™

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 109, Friday March 20, 2015.
[Full text below]

After nets last week, over the couple of post-exercise pints we consider to be integral to ‘winter training’, Clive and I alighted on a surprisingly robust theory.

There is something about sitting in a fire-warmed winter pub in a slightly sweaty tracksuit that is conducive to such philosophical breakthroughs. Or maybe it’s just us.

It stemmed from how tricky it is to get people to come to winter nets. Whatever you organise – midweek, weekend, early, late, bowling machines or regular queue-up-and-bowl – the one thing you can be absolutely sure of is that fewer people will turn up than you’d hoped.

This led us to lament gloomily how generally unfair it is that some people don’t even need to bother practicing to be any good.

Now, this is a well worn path. Commonwealth table tennis champion turned sportswriter Matthew Syed wrote a fascinating book about it called ‘Bounce’.

There’s a popular theory called the 10,000 hours rule, which – and I’m heavily paraphrasing here – says that 10,000 hours of practice makes you a master. At batting, chess, piano, painting, maths, tiddlywinks. Anything.

Two other books that touch on it are Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’, and David Epstein’s ‘The Sports Gene’ which expound the theory first put forward by a guy called Anders Ericsson in 1993.

They all pretty much disagree on the baseline though. Epstein, as his title suggests, thinks natural talent is an essential ingredient, Ericsson more or less rejects the concept of talent, and Gladwell is somewhere inbetween.

The lightbulb Clive and I had was not about 10,000 hours (which we’re a bit long in the tooth for) but a unified theory of the nature/nurture argument, and the balancing mechanism for what we concluded must be the three key ingredients.

These ingredients are: talent (ability, gift, aptitude), skill (acquired proficiency, experience, learned techniques), and work (practice, application, effort, hard yards).

Over the second pint, we christened this mighty triumvirate “the Triangle of Adequacy”.

Everyone’s triangle is a different size and shape. The baseline – talent – doesn’t move. You’re born with it. Work can increase your skill levels, but the more talent you had to begin with, the less work is needed to up those skill levels: those with limited ability must work much harder than the talented to achieve similar results. The harsh reality is, the gifted grafter is uncatchable.

Now, the cynical might argue that the triangle doesn’t make nebulous quantities like talent and skill any more knowable, and can only ever be hypothetical. But I think the combination of fairy tale anyone-can-do-anything optimism and Dirty Harry ‘A man’s got to know his limitations’ realism is potentially quite useful.

Basically, once you’re familiar with it, your own Triangle of Adequacy™ can tell you whether it’s worth putting in a few extra hours with the bowling machine, or whether you might as well skip it this week, save it for the season, and go straight to the pub.

- ends 486 words -

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