Recently, I came across a few articles that suggested that the 10,000 hour rule, made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, Outliers, was no rule at all. You can read some of these articles here, here, and here.
The 10,000 hour rule gained immense popularity because the idea seemed to make sense, and it gave hope to many who wanted to become an expert in any field. I was no exception, and this idea that practicing something for more than 10,000 hours can make me an expert in a field appealed to me. So, when I read these articles destroying the 10,000 hour rule, I decided to dig deeper into the matter.
But, let’s take it one step at a time.
In 1993, a group of researchers led by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson first floated the idea of deliberate practice. The main idea of the paper they published was that expert performance was a result of long periods of deliberate practice – which was different from simple practice – rather than innate ability or talent. Gladwell in his book took the idea further and said that if you practiced something for 10,000 hours you would get really good at it.
In 2013, a group of researchers led by David Z. Hambrick published a paper titled “Deliberate practice: Is that all it takes to become an expert?” . They claimed that, “the evidence is quite clear that some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice“. They further added that there were other factors like starting age, intelligence and genes that affected an individual’s performance.
The rule was challenged further by David Epstein in his book, The Sports Gene. In this book he has made an attempt to find out if hard work and practice is the only way to achieve elite performance in sports, or were there other factors:
“In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who made our track team so successful might carry some special speed gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from East Africa. At the same time, I began to notice that a training group on my team could consist of five men who run next to one another, stride for stride, day after day, and nonetheless turn out five entirely different runners. How could this be?”
The articles claiming to debunk the 10,000 hour rule mostly based their arguments on Hambrick’s paper and Epstein’s book.
It seems that Ericsson et al may have got a bit carried away when they ascribed all kinds of expertise to deliberate practice. Malcolm Gladwell, on the other hand, had a book to sell, and therefore he may have resorted to generalising Ericsson’s research to reach a magical number that would appeal to the masses.
Whatever criticism the 10,000 hour rule may have received, I feel that no one has denied the importance of practice, especially deliberate practice. What has been said is that the 10,000 hour rule is not the only golden rule. There are other ways to become an expert, which depend on the individual and the chosen field of pursuit.
But, if you are an average guy looking to become good at something the 10,000 hour rule may still be your best bet.
(Image from sxc.hu)