Jan 6, 2010
(from one of my favorite films: Searching for Bobby Fischer)
In 2009, Charlie Munger recommended Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers which studiers outliers throughout history and discipline to find commonalities. One of the ideas professed by Gladwell is a 10,000 hour rule, where if you want to master something you must practice it for at least 10,000 hours. Gladwell uses the Beatles as evidence of this rule, pointing out that their time in Germany was spent constantly performing live which helped them gain the mastery needed to become great musicians when playing concerts and on TV.
The folks over at Study Hacks find that in chess, to become a grandmaster, you do not just need to spend 10,000 hours practicing chess. You must also spend those hours doing the right kind of work or deliberate practice.
1. It’s designed to improve performance. “The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice.”
2. It’s repeated a lot. “High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.”
3. Feedback on results is continuously available. “You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”
4. It’s highly demanding mentally. “Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate,’ as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.”
5. It’s hard. “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.”
6. It requires (good) goals. “The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”
If you’re in a field that has clear rules and objective measures of success — like playing chess, golf, or the violin — you can’t escape thousands of hours of DP if you want to be a star. But what if you’re in a field without these clear structures, such as knowledge work, writing, or growing a student club?
…It seems, then, that if you integrate any amount of DP into your regular schedule, you’ll be able to punch through the acceptable-level plateau holding back your peers. And breaking through this plateau is exactly what is required to train an ability that’s both rare and valuable (which, as I’ve argued, is the key to building a remarkable life).
This motivates a crucial question: What does DP look like for fields that don’t have a tradition of performance-optimization, such as knowledge work, freelance writing, entrepreneurship, or, of course, college?
For any investor seeking to become better, deliberate practice is essential. The key is figuring out what deliberate practice should consist of in investing. Most of us read newspapers and blogs daily. This helps keep up to date with what is going on in the world. But is that enough? I am not too sure.
I think that taking a more active approach with news reading would be helpful. Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about how David Tepper bought Bank of America stock at its low. A good exercise would be to actually sit around and try to reverse engineer that investment. Eddie Lampert has said that in college he reverse engineered many of Warren Buffett’s investment. This kind of activity would not only increase your understanding of investing but also build a model for you to look at if you ever find a similar investment.
Other investors strive to read one 10K a day. This can help build your circle of competence, but I believe it has some shortcomings. A more targeted approach with 10Ks will be more beneficial than simply jumping from reading about Exxon to reading about Bank of America. You should define goals where you are mastering knowledge of a specific industry or area of the market.
Maybe you want to learn the billboard/outdoor advertising business. Instead of looking at just Lamar Advertising (NASDAQ:LAMR) you would look at Clear Channel Outdoors (NYSE:CCO) as well. If you want to master restaurants, you would maybe start at a fast food company like McDonalds (NYSE:MCD) which is the best in its class. Then seek out Chipotle (reputed to have the best economics in the fast food business) and branch out so that you build familiarity with the industry which will help you evaluate lesser known companies like Steak N Shake (NYSE:SNS).
Feel free to use the comments or e-mail me with suggestions for implementing deliberate practice in investing.