Some years ago, on the first day of a new term, a professor at the University of Florida called Jerry Uelsmann told his film photography students that he was going to divide the class into two distinct groups.
Everyone sitting on the right side of the classroom would be graded based on the quality of the work they produced.
The students in this group had to submit just one photograph on the last day of term – and it would be marked on its creative merits.
Everyone sitting on the left side of the classroom, however, were told they would be marked on the quantity of their work.
On the last day of term the professor said he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the photographs each student in this group had taken. The greater the weight, the higher the grade.
When the final day of term arrived the outcome of this experiment was perhaps not what you might expect.
The best photographs had all been taken by those in the quantity group.
It appeared that while those in the quality group had procrastinated, theorised, and agonised over how best to create the perfect photograph, those in the quantity group cracked on with honing their skills – one picture at a time.
In some professions the word “practitioner” or “practice” is used to describe a person or organisation that actively applies a particular skillset.
And so we have general practitioners, medical practices, legal practices and design practices.
These people and organisations may well be interested in research and theory.
But they also have skin in the game. Their income and reputation depend on actually doing the work – week in and week out.
Practice makes, if not perfect, then better. And that matters, even if you have innate talent.
“I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster,” Malcolm Gladwell, who helped popularise the idea that one should devote 10,000 hours of practice to become accomplished, once explained.
“The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.”