Three Changes to the 10,000 Hour Rule

The 10,000 hour rule claims that to reach the top 0.01% level of skill you’ll need 10,000 or more hours of practice. As a conceptualization of mastery this is a good idea. However, we must address several caveats.

  1. One can be unbelievably talented with less than 10,000 hours of practice. In fact, by the time you’ve put in a couple of thousand hours you’re probably already in the top 5% or less.
  2. Becoming famous or “blowing up” does not require 10,000 hours. It’s easy to recognize singers, actors and writers who have become famous without an absurd level of talent.
  3. There is a difference between 10,000 hours of mindless practice and 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Practicing a skill without reflection, feedback or goal setting is ineffective. Mastery requires deliberate practice.

10,000 Hour Rule Criticisms & Deliberate Practice

Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule theory has helped many people to understand mastery, but it’s not bulletproof

Malcolm Gladwell is the person most associated with the 10,000 hour rule. He repeatedly mentions it in his book Outliers, which spent 11 weeks on the bestseller list. This popularized the idea, however, Gladwell has faced criticism for his claims. For example, this article on Salon points out that,

  • Gladwell chose 10,000 hours because it’s a nice round number. In reality, it’s not like this point marks some magical change. Depending on the circumstances a person could be world class with fewer hours of practice. Or it may require even more!
  • Gladwell didn’t distinguish between the type of practice that the musicians in our study did — a very specific sort of practice referred to as “deliberate practice” which involves constantly pushing oneself beyond one’s comfort zone, following training activities designed by an expert to develop specific abilities, and using feedback to identify weaknesses and work on them.

This last point is key. Deliberate practice is a conscious effort. It involves a critical self examination for strengths and weaknesses, a careful review of performance and the setting of future goals. It’s not as catchy, but perhaps a better name for the 10,000 hour rule would: Plus or minus 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

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