Debunking the 10000 hour rule

Debunking the 10000 hour rule

What is the 10000 rule?

The book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcom Gladwell is famous for the 10000 hour rule. The rule says that you need 10,000 hours of practice to become really good at something. Given that 2,000 hours of work is a full-time job for a year, 10,000 hours means that you need 5 years of full-time job level dedication to become ‘really good’ at something. So before you die you can become really good at your job, and sleeping and maybe driving. Sounds scary, right? Like many other single sentence phrases, the 10000 hour rule is easy to remember, simple, and wrong.

The truth about the 10000 rule

While Gladwell did study people who were really good in their field, and he did properly estimate that 10000 hours was the amount of time people spent mastering their selected craft, his message has been distorted. He studied The Beatles and estimated that they each spent 10000 hours practicing, and that Bill Gates spent 10000 on programming, and he’s willing to give you a free piece of advice.

10000 hour rule Bill Gates

How long it really takes

So, you don’t have the time and patience to practice programming of music in your garage for 10000 hours. You have bills to pay, mouth, a social life and other hobbies. How long does it take to become good at something? 1000 hours? 500? Those are actually higher than the estimate. As Josh Kaufman states in this Ted Talk, it takes only 20 hours to become good. He also states that it is important how you work. First you must deconstruct the skill by breaking it down into smaller pieces, and focus on one aspect of the skill that you want to work on, focusing on the fundamentals first. Second, learn enough to self-correct that way you can turn mistakes into learning opportunities. Third, remove distractions.  At that point, you can spend only 20 hours (less than an hour a day for a month) on the skill you want to learn. You may not become a chess grand master who can defeat Garry Kasparov, but you can defeat all of your friends.

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