*Cooking was on my mind the last week or so. I don’t know why. It maybe had something to do with Thanksgiving.
Cartography and cooking: they both start with C but they have something else in common, too. If you are a cook then you know that it takes a lot of time to become very proficient at it. At the very beginning of your cooking experience it doesn’t matter if you use recipes or try to cook without one – often the finished product is less than stellar. It doesn’t take too long though (maybe 3-6 months, I’d guess) before you become pretty good at using recipes if you don’t deviate from them. Then it takes a good 10 years of cooking with recipes before you are really able to start cooking things that are of your own design and that actually end up tasting good.
I tweeted something about this the other day and @entchev reminded me that Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” states that research shows it takes 10,000 hours of practice at a task or skill before you reach expert status. Some of the examples in the book are The Beatles and various child musical prodigies (they just practiced more!)
This idea of 10,000 hours, broken into years, is about 10 years of practice part-time. Most people can only sustain a concerted effort at practice for 4 hours a day. If for some reason you could practice diligently for 8 hours a day, then it would only take 5 years for you to reach expert status.
The way this relates to cartography is:
- You shouldn’t expect to be good at it right away
- You should use “recipes” a lot those first 10 years
- Recipes include: inspiration pieces, pre-defined color palettes, using the same fonts that you’ve seen on another map, finding out how others have handled mapping the geography of your map’s area and following that lead, looking up and using map standards for symbols, colors, label placement, etc.
- Once you’ve managed 10 years of cartography in this manner you’ll be able to make maps without so much up-front work