…So a patron of the arts walks into Picasso’s studio and requests a painting of a chicken. The patron and the master artist come to an agreement and the patron leaves. A month later, on the agreed date of completion, the patron returns only to find that the painting hasn’t even been started. Concerned, the patron asks the artist why the painting isn’t finished, at which point Picasso picks up a brush, dips it into the paints on his palette and quickly but intentionally brushes several strokes onto a blank canvas that form the image of a chicken. Picasso proudly hands the painting to the bewildered patron. As the expression on the patron’s face turns from surprise to disappointment, Picasso opens a door to a back room and invites the patron in. Once inside the room the patron finds himself amongst live chickens, dead chickens, whole chickens, parts of chickens, chicken legs hanging from the ceiling, chicken feet dissected on the countertop, every practical dissection and measurement of a chicken revealed before the patrons eyes. Picasso folds his arms and focuses on the painting with admiration. The patron has his epiphany and with a renewed sense of confidence he leaves with his painting and new perspective on the creation of art.
We have no idea if this story is true. If there was an actual event that bears any resemblance to this story, I’m sure we’ve butchered it. But true or not, we tell this story all the time. We tell it to colleagues, to friends and even to clients because it illustrates something understated yet fundamental about being a professional. After a certain amount of time working at whatever it is that you do, you become an expert at it. That time threshold varies between the individual, the profession and the circumstances, naturally. Malcolm Gladwell’s theory is that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert at it. That figure can be applied and distributed in a number of different ways but the fact is this: those individuals who dedicate such time to an interest become experts at it. While being an expert doesn’t always mean that you’re right, or better, it does develop a significant distinction that the non-experts don’t have. Professionals have an immense “back-room” of experience that they are drawing from on even the simplest of actions. As architects, for instance, when we put pen to paper to draw a roof line we’ve thought through that roofline hundreds, maybe even thousands of times already. That simple line is embedded with a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge.
The point of today’s post is two fold. If you’re working toward that “ten thousand hours”, know that focusing on the day-to-day experience is imperative. Don’t just go through the rounds to fulfill the requirements. What you are doing each hour of each day (even if it’s just drafting) will be the experience you rely on in the not so distant future. It is what will make you an expert. Enjoy it, savor it, master it. If you’ve got that “ten thousand hours” under your belt already, operate with mastery and confidence. This is not to say that all of us with the 10k experience shouldn’t be questioned and criticized, it’s just that we’ve drawn that roof line 150 times, we’ve got our back room of chickens. Paint that chicken accordingly.