Monday, October 25, 2010

The 10,000-Hour Rule - In Malcolm Gladwell's Book, "Outliers"

Two common themes among many of my blog posts are....

1. Performance, achievement and success are the result of competence, motivation, resources and personal strength.

2. Competence and personal strength involve behavior patterns, which must be ingrained in the brain through substantial repetition.

One of my favorite books on the topic of performance and achievement is Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. He agrees with my two premises, but his book also talks about people who succeeded at a high level because of external circumstances, such as starting their careers at a time when their passionate interest was supported by the economy or a booming expansion in the technology related to their passion.

My favorite chapter in this book is called "The 10,000-Hour Rule."

In it he asserts, "The closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play."

He summarizes the research from the early 1990s of K. Anders Ericsson. Ericsson and his colleagues went to the Academy of Music in Berlin, where the professors had divided violinists into three groups - (1) those with the potential to become world-class soloists, (2) the "merely good" students who might play in orchestras professionally, and (3) those who probably would not, who might be public school music teachers. The researchers interviewed all the students to determine how much they had practiced by the time they were 20.

The most talented students had gradually increased their practice while growing up until they had logged over 10,000 hours. The "merely good" students had logged about 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers had totaled about 4,000 hours.

The researchers also studied professional and amateur pianists and got the same result. By age 20, the professionals had logged at least 10,000 hours of practice.

They found no "naturals" who rose to the top of their profession with less practice and no "grinders" who logged 10,000 hours but didn't rise to the professional ranks. Their conclusion: "The thing that distinguishes onr performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."

The magic number seems to be 10,000 hours. That's the equivalent of about 20 hours of practice every week for 10 years. To achieve mastery - the establishing and ingraining of neural pathways related to specific skills - takes a ton of practice.

The implication - it takes a whole lot of passion and commitment to put in that many repetitions to establish the skills and improve them, ingraining the refinements as you go. This is GOOD NEWS, because it suggests that anyone can do this if they're willing to follow through with that much work. Real good coaching helps, too, I would assume.

But man, that's a lot of work. As my West Point classmate who became a plastic surgeon once told me, "You gotta want it. You really gotta wanna."

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


nourishthespirit said...

Thanks for putting this in perspective!

wayne mcevilly said...

This is true. I have logged many more hours than the cited 10,000 at my craft. My Mozart log alone would exceed that-I play his music with more insouciance and "creative carelessness" -i.e., ease- for one reason & one reason only-I have logged in many more hours working at his music than all my other composers combined...thus it seems to come "naturally" at this point....
An eternal verity which can never be repeated too much-"Repetition is the Mother of Skill."

Robyn McMaster, PhD said...

I have always wanted to read this book because I think there is much to learn. It goes to show that rewiring your dendrite brain cells through so many hours of practice makes the difference. It's more in our brain than many realize. ;-)