A journey of a thousand miles, said Confucius, begins with one step. What he didn't add - or didn't think it necessary to add - were the innumerable little steps one has to take after that first one. In more modern times, Malcolm Gladwell said it took about 10,000 hours to get good at something. Mr. Gladwell didn't say count the hours and stop when you reach 10,000 and expect perfection to flower thereafter.

Yet there are some Confucian and Gladwellian readers that take it rather badly when one has to trudge on and on and on, hour after hour after hour, with no sign of journey end, and no visible growth of talent. It is rather like the story of the well-meaning tourist who came to the East on a spiritual quest and enrolled in a one-month course to attain enlightenment. The venture proved more profitable for the Easterners than for the Westerner.

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