The 10,000-hour rule promises to help you become an expert at just about anything, but is there any truth in the theory?
In his best-selling book ‘Outliers’, author Malcolm Gladwell shares his theory that the key to mastering any kind of skill is sheer practice. Rather than being born with some inherited talent or ability in our DNA he says it is actually hours and hours of dedicated training over many years that sets elite performers apart from everyone else. Famous examples of ‘practice makes perfect’ he cites include Bill Gates, Tiger Woods and the Beatles.
The Fab Four
In 1960, early on in their career the Beatles began a residency of shows in clubs around Hamburg, Germany. The band were employed as background entertainment and as such were required to play for 8 hours a-day, seven days a week. This is unheard of in the music industry where live artists will typically play sets anywhere from 45 mins and will only rarely play for longer than 4 hours let alone 8. This meant that by the time the band had their first major successes in 1964, they had already played over 1200 shows which put them on course for unprecedented success in the future.
In 1968 a young Bill Gates was studying at Lakeside School in Seattle. Encouraged by his and other students’ interest in computers the school raised funds through jumble sales to invest in the school’s first computer. The old style of computer used worked through an expensive card-based system allowing time on the mainframe. However, instead of limiting the students access to the computers they managed to strike a deal with a parent of a student who allowed the school free mainframe time in exchange for software testing. This allowed Bill Gates to build up years of programming experience ahead of peers and ultimately set Gates up to spearhead a revolution in IT that would result in Microsoft PC’s in homes and offices around the world in years to come.
Training a Tiger
Pro-golfer Tiger Woods is arguably the greatest golfer of all time. The winner of 14 major championships, 79 PGA Tour wins and 18 World Golf Championship victories, Tiger Woods has shown an obsessive devotion to golf since childhood. Tiger’s father Earl Woods learned to play golf aged 42 and was captivated by the sport competing himself at amateur level in the 1970’s. By the time his son Tiger was just two years old he was already a golfing prodigy and noticeably gifted. His father went on to bring in superstar coaches such as Butch Harmon to develop his son’s game and eventually management who would secure Tiger’s pro status and earn him multi-million deals with the likes of Nike and Titleist breaking all previous financial records in the sport.
Fact or Fiction
Fellow writers such as Seth Godin have lightly criticized the 10,000 hours theory. Godin uses examples of The Doors, Devo and the Bee Gees to counter Gladwell’s claims. None of these hugely successful musicians spent the same amount of time developing their music but were still very successful. Florida State University psychologist Anders Ericsson echoes his thoughts saying that “You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal”.
Whilst critics seem to argue that Gladwell’s theory is perhaps too simplistic, there are still plenty of valid takeaways to be had. It seems clear that improving in your chosen field means putting in a level of practice, dedication and incremental improvement that many others will simply never push themselves to achieve.
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