April 16, 2021

Being Different, Part 8: A Summary of the Topography of Skill Acquisition

In Part 2 of this series, I formally introduced my Topography of Skill Acquisition. It is comprised of five distinct parts, which I described in the following posts:

  • Part 3: The Plain of Suckitude — “When acquiring a new skill, everyone begins on this plain. It is flat, since when you are on the plain you have the distinct impression that you are not gaining any altitude. You can’t do the skill well, if at all. You don’t quite understand it yet. You fail time and again. If you are trying to sew, you stick your finger with the needle. If you are trying to learn how to ride a bike, you fall. If you are trying to ski, you crash. Repeatedly, and sometimes spectacularly. In a word, you suck. And worse, you know it and you know that everyone around you knows it.”
  • Part 4: The Elevator of Enlightenment — ” When you arrive at the “ah ha!” moment of a new skill, it is when muscle memory takes over, or when the mental grooves are finally deep enough that you suddenly “get it”. Suddenly, you aren’t falling, or dropping a stitch, or smashing your finger with the hammer. You have reached the Elevator of Enlightenment.”
  • Part 5: The Long Incline of Experience — “…the Elevator of Enlightenment saves you from the Plain of Suckitude, and dumps you out on the Long Incline of Experience. For most people, this is where you will camp. This means it is a skill that you will always have, but that you will never truly become an expert.”
  • Part 6: The 10,000 Hour Crest — “…as has been popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers: The Story of Success, it takes quite a bit of work [to truly master a skill]. About 10,000 hours, to be exact.”
  • Part 7: The Plain of Mastery — “…if you have reached the 10,000 Hour Crest for any given skill you can count yourself among the few masters of it. And that is also when you find yourself on the Plain of Mastery. Far, far, from the Plain of Suckitude, here is where you can rest in the knowledge that there are few who can match your mastery. Can you still improve? Probably, in minor kinds of ways. Do you need to? That’s up to you. The point is you don’t have to.”
So that’s the lay of the land, at least from my perspective. Now I will return to The Plain of Suckitude in my next post, where I discuss how not to die there.


Up Next: Being Different, Part 9: How Not to Die on the Plain of Suckitude

Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.