10,000 Hours


We all want to be considered the best at what we do. But how many of us are willing to do what it takes to get to the top? Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, wrote about the price of brilliance: 10,000 hours of study and practice. Researchers at Berlin’s Academy of Music studied a group of violin students who started playing at around the age of five, practicing for two or three hours a week. As they grew older, the students gradually increased the number of hours they practiced each week. By the age of 20, the elite performers had totaled 10,000 hours of practice apiece, while the merely good students had accrued 8,000.

So, genius (or at least mastery) is achievable for all of us. That’s the good news – you don’t have to be born brilliant to become brilliant. That’s also the bad news – you’re only as good as you want to be. In this era of instant everything, it’s typical of us to want instant recognition of our skills and compensation to match.

Try thinking about your time on the job as time spent mastering your skills. How has your performance improved over the last year? If you’re not making progress, you may be falling behind a peer who is working on mastery.

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2 thoughts on “10,000 Hours

  1. Although Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” makes some interesting points worth considering and looking into with more depth, I believe his book to be flawed. I have not read the book myself, but have read much about what is inside the book and its thinking.

    I believe he gives the Beatles success as one example of the “10,000 hours’ mantra. I would argue in this case there were other intervening factors, which were: Members of the Beatles were born during World War 2. As the first post-WW2 generation, both the effects of that war and the new freedom that generation had at war’s end played a major role in their development, as well.

    I would site the rise of 1950s Rock N’ Roll as an example of how the same effects enabled those who came of age in the decade after that war to rise to success in music, in a USA less devastated than Europe, as it grew out of the disasters of WW2. In fact, the Beatles and others who became a part of the British Invasion music scene reacted to what they heard coming out of the USA, rejuvenating Rock N’ Roll in the 1960s.

    Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” is definitely worth reading for giving one pause for thought on what makes for success. However, one should understand in making a case for a certain point of view, alternative possibilities and contributing possibilities often are left by the way-side, due to constraints placed on an author by publishers. Books tend to have size limits, if they wish to be published. Plus, a book has to take a defininte point-of-view.

    As for the violin artists you mention, I would ask: What decade do these violinists belong to? How many came from a musical family background? How many, if any, were prodigies or highly accomplished early in life or had spurts of improvements at ages others did not? The saying “Success breeds success.” could mean that as some became proficient at a certain age, this spurred them to devote more hours to their craft, while others at the same age may have found themselves being left behind, therefore chose to devote less time to their craft. The book may point out such things, but based on what I have heard about the book, I doubt it. If you have read this book, would appreciate your thoughts or those of others on my comments. Thank you!

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Gladwelll uses the 10,000 hour theory to differentiate between similarly talented (and positioned) individuals – it’s the time devoted to their craft that seems to make a difference in their careers. A you point out, there can be many factors that will contribute to success. My point is that since you can’t control when or where you are born, you should work on what is in your power – how much time you devote to your craft. Keep reading, and keep in touch!

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