What the 10,000 Hour Rule Is

The 10,000 hour rule claims that in order to learn a craft and develop world-class skill, one has to have at least 10,000 hours of experience working with the skill. The original report, published in 1993, found that the most accomplished students at a music academy in Berlin had put in an average of 10,000 hours of practice by the time they turned 20 years old. It seems simple enough, right? You put in plenty of practice and you can possess a world-class skill.

Why it Might Be Wrong
In his new book, Anders Ericsson (who worked on the original report), along with his co-author Robert Pool, attempt to further understand and isolate the science behind the 10,000 hour rule. They came to a number of conclusions concerning the nature of the initial study:

  • There’s nothing special about 10,000 hours: The number 10,000 was chosen specifically because it was a nice, rounded number. Plus, regardless of how skilled they were, the musicians tested were nowhere near their peak, or “world class,” by the time they reached 20 years old. It’s been proven that pianists tend to reach their peak at around 30 years old, so the 10,000 rule isn’t quite true.
  • 10,000 was only the average: By proxy, if you put in 10,000 hours of effort, you’ll only be meeting the average skill level of those who are working toward the same goal. Thus, you can’t be considered “world class” at all. Other studies have shown that it can take as many as ten years to reach a goal.
  • Practice isn’t enough: It was found that investing time and practice into a task doesn’t necessarily make you better at it; rather, it’s the quality of the practice that yields results. This “deliberate practice” pushes the practitioner beyond their comfort zone and forces them to up their game.

The Lesson: Practice Makes Perfect, Not Necessarily Time
There are a few lessons that can be learned from the 10,000 hour rule, but none of them actually have anything to do with 10,000 hours of practice specifically. They can still, nonetheless, be very helpful when learning a new skill and applying it to your life.

  • Train the right way: You can dramatically improve your own skills if you’re diligent about it, but only if you approach it in a productive way. For example, a writer who’s trying to develop their skills can’t improve if they write while the television is turned on.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Regardless if you spend 500 hours or 10,000 hours honing a craft, you’ll be improving your skills. After all, practice is the only real way to improve, and regardless of how much time you invest into it, you’ll see results.
  • There’re no limitations: Regardless of where you stand professionally, there’s always room for self-improvement. You can always reach for loftier goals, and once you start working on a skill, keep working at it. You’ll likely see your hard work pay off.

We think it’s safe to say that you can’t become an expert in a craft overnight, and that even successful business owners have skills that they can dramatically improve by focusing on the right things.

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