05 March 2008

On deliberate practice

I am reading Richard Sennett's (2008) The Craftsman London; Allen Lane. It is a brilliant attempt to make explicit the implicit or tacit "knowledge" which underpins craft skill; and it fails. I've read a couple of reviews, such as Roger Scruton's in the Sunday Times and Fiona MacCarthy's in the Guardian. They are both respectful and enthusiastic, but also suggest that he has missed out somewhere. Perhaps we want him to. Perhaps craftsmanship ought to be a little mysterious?

Sennett tackles his topic in the form of an erudite meditation, in the manner of Montaigne, albeit at much greater length. This is becoming, it seems to me, an ever more popular genre; I've also just read Lewis Hyde's (1983/2006) The Gift, and Thomas De Zengotita's (2005) Mediated and I confess I have given up on Michael Frayn's (2006) The Human Touch. They are all fascinating and provoke admiration at the range of material and allusion they contain, but they do tend to attract attention more to the author than to the topic, and on the whole they stay within the author's intellectual comfort zone.

The linked article from the title of this entry (pardon the political allusions in it, which will soon be very dated) is much more hard-headed and of course journalistic. It is almost certainly more useful; and I wonder why Sennett (I must confess I still have 50 pages to go) does not draw on this well-established research tradition. After all, he draws lessons from playing music and boning a chicken...

However; watch this, and think about what kind of practice regime these guys have to engage in to exhibit this effortless and entertaining skill.

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