Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Isaac Stern and the 10,000 Hours Rule

February 12, 2013 9:11 am 0 comments

A post-concert photo of the main hall's stage inside of Carnegie Hall. Photo: Wikipedia.

Legend has it that famed violinist Isaac Stern (1920-2001) was once confronted after a concert by an admirer who said the following to him: “O, Mr. Stern, I would give anything to be able to play the violin as magnificently as you do.” Stern’s answer: “Would you give 12 hours a day?” He probably wasn’t exaggerating.

Stern was born in Poland but moved to the United States with his family before he was two years old. By 15 he had his debut as a violinist and spent decades traveling the world with his music. In his lifetime, he discovered and nurtured talent, bringing to the public eye the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and others. He first played in Israel one year after the founding of the Jewish state and maintained a close relationship with Israel, visiting and playing during wartime.

An obituary in the Los Angeles Times records the moment when Stern’s performance was interrupted during an air raid siren in Israel. To calm the audience, he played a piece of Bach; the audience put on their gas masks and watched the rest of the performance.

Carnegie Hall’s main auditorium is named after Stern, and it’s not hard to understand why. The talent Stern exhibited in his youth was honed and developed over a lifetime of playing and discovering the talents of others. Maimonides, citing the Talmud writes, “According to the effort is the gain.” And it reminds me of a Talmudic debate that also involves 12 hours. The sages believed that study demands rigor: hours, discipline and self-sacrifice. They believed the life of scholarship was earned without luxury; to acquire wisdom meant sleeping on the floor and eating bread dipped in salt. This wasn’t a prescription for knowledge. It was a warning against those who believed that study would bring them material success and status.

Study alone would not support a family so one of the debates around Jewish scholarship was how much time should be given to learning Torah in contrast to earning a living. One formula favored in the Talmud is a 3/9 ratio: three hours of work (often manual labor) and nine hours of learning. We wonder how this worked in reality, but then again this is the Talmudic equivalent of Isaac Stern in the scholarship department. You can’t create great scholars unless there is real investment in both the process of study, the skills and competencies that are necessary and the commitment to mastery. Being a lifelong learner is all about sequentially preparing ourselves to make study more nuanced, textured and challenging across the lifespan.

The 10,000 hours rule was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling book, Outliers. Gladwell used research that suggested that mastery in any field depends on spending at least 10,000 hours perfecting one’s skills and competencies. Others, like Geoffrey Colvin in Talent is Overrated, write about the importance of deliberative practice. It’s not only about how many hours you put in but about customized practice that helps you improve on your specific areas of weakness. One of the great tests of talent is one’s willingness to practice what one is not good at and willingness to practice alone.

Sometimes we want outcomes without effort, but current research suggests what our sages knew 2,000 years ago. It takes 12 hours a day, 10,000 hours a life and mental and physical drive to achieve excellence. What would you like to be great at and are you willing to put in the hours?

Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. She is the author of In the Narrow Places (OU Press/Maggid); Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Spiritual Boredom; and Confronting Scandal.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Music Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    British rock band Coldplay started its set at the Glastonburg Festival on Sunday by broadcasting excerpts of the iconic speech Charlie Chaplin delivered in The Great Dictator, the 1940 political satire in which the famous filmmaker/movie star played a Jewish barber. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone,” Chaplin begins his address. “I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    JNS.org – The seed for the city of Cleveland’s first professional championship in a major sport in 52 years may have been planted at the Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, nearly 20 years ago. That’s when a tall, lanky kid from Akron named LeBron James walked onto the hardwood court and changed the game of basketball forever. Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, conducted those sessions that attracted […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →