World-Class Expertise takes about 10,000 Hours of Practice
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein
The 10,000 hour rule says that in order for an individual to master any complex skill, be it brain surgery or playing the cello, he/she must put in 10,000 hours of focused practice. Malcolm Gladwell was the man who was responsible for popularizing this rule through his book “Outliers”.
Most of us really believe that talented people are those who was naturally “gifted”. While, you and I can’t become chess grandmasters, or NBA superstars, or concert pianists, simply because we don’t have the necessary anatomy. Endless hours of hard work won’t compensate for our biological limitations. It seems like when fate was handing out skill, we got screwed.
“What a talent!” – A common thought that usually occurs when you see somebody performs in an exceptional way, be it athletes, scientists, writers, artists, doctors, musicians or chess players. But if you refer to their expertise as talent, you lose sight of the hard work it took that person to reach such a high level of achievement. You might mistakenly believe an innate ability was behind their success. But know this, those international experts have already dedicated 10,000 hour of honing their skills to accomplish that international stardom. Since a thousand hours seems to be more or less the maximum we humans can handle in one year, ten thousand hours equals ten years. It make sense, seeing that a lot international stars start their practice from the very early stage of their life.
One lesson that could be extracted from this rule is that, the so-called “ability” was simply one factor in success. In fact, “innate ability” actually played the smaller role and “practice” played the larger role in developing a world-class expertise. In other words, experts are made, not born.
But however, off course not just any kind of practice will work. All experts practiced in a particular way, which is a deliberate practice. Deliberate practice involves two kinds of learning: improving the skills you already have and extending the reach and range of your skills. It requires a mindset that remains unperturbed by the continuous failures inherent in practicing skills outside your current reach.
The 10,000 hour rule virtually apply anywhere.
Victoria Pendleton, a women’s sprint cycling in Beijing, get her gold medal after a humiliating defeat in Athens four years ago. After her loss, she trained herself four hours a day, six days a week and the 27 year old finally reaped the rewards.
Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school varsity basketball team and had to be satisfied with another year of JV. This spurred him to work harder.
Tiger Woods, When Tiger was an infant, his dad, Earl, moved his high chair into the garage. This was where Earl practiced his golf swing, hitting balls into a soccer net after work. Tiger was captivated by the swift movement. For hours on end, he would watch his father smack hundreds of balls. When Tiger was nine months old, Earl sawed off the top of an old golf club. Tiger could barely walk – and he had yet to utter a single word – but he quickly began teeing off on the Astroturf next to his father. When Tiger was 18 months old, Earl started taking him to the driving range. By the age of three, Tiger was playing nine hole courses, and shooting a 48. That same year, he began identifying the swing flaws of players on the PGA tour. (“Look Daddy,” Tiger would say, “that man has a reverse pivot!”) He finally beat his father – by a single stroke, with a score of 71 – when he was eleven. At fifteen, he became the youngest player to ever win the United States Junior Amateur championship. At eighteen, he became the youngest player to ever win the United States Amateur championship, a title he kept for the next three years. In 1997, when he was only 21, Tiger won the Masters at Augusta by the largest margin in a major championship in the 20th century. Two months later he became the number one golfer in the world.
The lesson of Tiger Woods is that the best way to become a superstar is to start young and get in those 10,000 hours as quickly as possible. That’s why Earl put a club in the hands of a toddler, and why Mozart was composing music before most of us can do arithmetic.
It’s important to remember that the most important skills we develop at an early age are not domain specific. (In other words, Tiger Woods is not using the same golf swing he relied on as a 5 year old.) Instead, the real importance of early childhood has to do with the development of general cognitive and non-cognitive traits, such as self-control, patience, grit, and the willingness to practice.
Good news?Bad news?
The 10,000-Hour Rule brings both good news and bad news. First, the bad news. The misconception of talent says great performers are born that way. So, if something is hard to do, you might think you lack talent, which lets you off the hook to push through the difficulty. But, the research is clear. No one reaches the highest levels of achievement without putting in ten thousand hours of practice over about ten years. No expert says getting there was easy
The good news is that you actually have more control over what you might accomplish than if you believe the myth of talent. Understanding that high achievement is more about effort and less about giftedness can boost motivation and persistence when getting to the next level is difficult. You don’t have control over innate abilities, but you do have a say about effort.
The 10,000 hour rule teaches us that through hard work, deliberate practice, and discipline we will in return get the skill, patience, professionalism, and a way to speak in our own voice. To speak in one’s own voice means to let go of all the other voices in our heads. Whose voices? The voices of what is expected of us, be it our parents, teachers, mentors, and even our own expectations of what we should be doing or ought to be thinking—what is “normal” or “right” or “the way it ought to be.” By putting sufficient amount of time (in this case 10,000 hour), those skills we’re trying to hone will be one with ourselves and it finally feels like we are just acting as ourselves.