Outliers, The Story of Success
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Do you agree that it takes 10,000 hours to 'master' something/anything? I would be very interested in other examples of this 10,000 hour benchmark. Thanks
asked by D. McGrath on October 1, 2009
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Yes, playing an instrument or a sport are 2 prime examples that are physically easy to see the hours involved in practicing. A lot of intellectual pursuits would follow too like any complex math, engineering, or even medicine. Auto mechanics fits too if you're expecting the mechanic to be very good. Coming up with a number of 10,000 hours seems somewhat arbitrary, but it's probably a decent ballpark figure. The problem with that too involves the quality of practice/training involved in those hours. A violin player who has practiced things he/she could not previously play for 5,000 hours will outperform another player who has practiced the same songs over and over again for 10,000. The same can easily be said for athletics. 6,000 hard hours of practice will obviously reap more benefit than 10,000 hours of minimal effort. Simply put, experience doesn't equal skill level, but you can't become skilled without the hours of practice.
Janey Sittig answered on February 16, 2010

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I believe it also has a lot to do with how many people are involved. The fewer the people involved the less hours it takes to 'master' something. Especially if the result is not exactly tangible. For instance if you can keep the balls in bounds while playing tennis, can get 70 percent of your serves in and have a few specialty shots in your arsenal, what constitutes mastery? In the 30s, 40s and 50s there weren't nearly as many players as there are today. The same people (professionals) were winning tournaments over and over again. Mastery then is different from mastery now.

Additionally, people tend to marvel at the 10,000 hr principle but if we examine our own lives we will see it in action. There just may not be any great reward for being the best at our jobs, or for watching every horror flick ever created or for reading more fiction than will ever be useful. We've all put 10,000 hours into something. Some people just discovered it would be more lucrative to put their 10,000 hours in pursuits where a lot of people cared about it.

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Amazon Customer answered on May 26, 2010

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Mr. Mindes, I do not think the term mastery is ambiguous at all. Most all of us are able to tell when a musician is a master of his instrument or a physicist is a master of physics. I am a musician and I know what mastering an instrument looks like. Yo Yo Ma is a master of the cello. Chris Thiele has mastered the mandolin. Incidentally, he was also home schooled and spent all of his free time reading books and playing mandolin. Opportunity. Edgar Meyer is a master of the upright bass. These are not ambiguous examples but objective examples.

Gladwell in The Outliers does not just come up with an arbitrary number but came about the number in a specific ways ie. determining how many hours different types of musicians practiced over their growing period. But also you seem to have missed that Gladwell also credits opportunity and proper tutoring as necessary additions with both the musician examples and also the athletes and people like Bill Gates, etc.

I have long thought that to be good at something one need to put in the time and have had a problem with the word talent. A lot of my musician friends argue the opposite perhaps so that they can feel special and "gifted" and above others somehow. I am amused and a little sickened when someone stands in front of a microphone and credits everyone and their god for their achievement, but neglecting to give the real reason they are on the podium, time spent, effort, proper teaching. I mean anyone I have ever known that is good at something has been someone who has spent an enormous amount of time and resources pursuing it. This message of talent and giftedness, by what?, probably only serves to discourage future doctors, lawyers, artists, and musicians from even bothering to try.

Gladwell does concede that there is a such a thing as talent or natural ability but also states several ways that a person with talent but lacking in the hours, opportunities, and coaching will do no better than those without talent.
bookboy answered on August 24, 2010

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Is it really 10,000 hours practice or the importance of forming neural connection? Visualization practice, accurate thinking, and world class mentoring all count. However, I know two musicians, both played by ear as children and neither took lessons until adulthood. They are both outstanding muscians, one of whom is a composer. My niece painted for the first time in high school, and her very first painting drew mountains of favorable reviews and a buyer. It's gifting, faith, mind receptivity AND nurturing that develops our gifts. Persistance is understood. However it is never too late to access and develop one's gifts. Today we know that music creates states; states access the subconscious and other higher mind faculities. Pay attention; create desire; work hard and you can access your call at any age.
Love4books answered on August 3, 2010

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Consider that a PhD degree typically requires a 3-to-5 year course of study and research. At 2200-3500 hours per year (a standard 40 hour work week comes to 2000 hours per year with two weeks off), the degree is right at the 10,000-hour mark.

Gladwell carefully ignores several points in his argument. For instance, Gates was one kid in a group that had access to that terminal. What happened to those other kids, who had similar birth dates and similar "concerted cultivation" and the other factors which he points out? Why was there not an entire class (or most of them) that went on to blaze a trail of geeky stardom? Bill Joy also was in a group that hung out in the computer clubs of southern California, but he was the one who rose to prominence. Apparently, there was something special about those two Bills after all, which kind of deflates Gladwell's narrative.
R. Olcott answered on August 21, 2011

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As others have said prior to me, I can think of many examples in my life where the 10,000 hour rule applies. One basic one is math. In college, I put in hours and hours of work into calculus, yet if you asked me to answer some questions now I probably couldn't do it.

Gladwell also speaks of not just 10,000 hours of practice, but focused practice where you are not simply performing the task over and over, but analyzing what mistakes you are making and correcting them.
Joseph N. answered on July 8, 2010

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I'm just reading "Outliers" now, to comment directly on the critical question of 10,000 hours yet.
However, a couple of years ago I purchased a memoir by the comix artist Robert Crumb, (The R.Crumb Handbook, MQP) whom I've loved for years, and was surprised to learn that according to him, during his childhood: "We drew those home made comics throughout our childhood and adolescence, from 1952 right up until I left home in 1962; ten years solid of drawing comics with no let-up and no vacations." His older brother Charles constantly coerced him into sustaining their collaborative comic book production, apparently to cope with the sporadic but explosive violence of their alcoholic marine father. I never realized before the direct correlation between mastery and intensive practice; Crumb could sit down and draw anything he wanted without excessive preliminary blocking by the time he got his first adult job at the Hallmark Greeting Card Company. Later, when he immersed himself in the San Francisco counter-culture, his imaginative powers were able to soar because his drawing chops were fully developed.
I can't help but feel that his innate talent was not greater than other artists, nor of mine, but due to the bizarre circumstances that he grew up with, he logged in many thousands of hours drawing his amateur funny-animal comics while the other kids were playing stick-ball. And it made a difference.
C. E Sutter answered on February 26, 2011

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Yes. Biggest examples are those successful people who begin in childhood to study music, dance, etc. Most children jump around choosing hobbies, I know one of mine did--and he really has no talents today in any of those varied passions. My son spent too few hours on anything and did not build up enough hours to be proficient in any skill or academics so, he struggles.

But there are children (who I know personally) who really focused on something they loved (took lessons, trained relentlessly,etc.) and it paid off by helping them to get into a top college as well as their passion becoming their chosen profession. If you are bit by the bug early on with something you love enough to spend time on, then you have a greater advantage of it blossoming, the more hours you practice it. Especially,music.
sandi beach answered on October 10, 2009

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Gladwell's 10,000 rule seems to be him just throwing out a number that fits into his examples. The biggest reason I find flaw in his argument is 'mastering' something. What does that even mean to master something. Have I 'mastered' typing? If I've spent 10,000 hours typing then maybe I have. But I think that Gladwell may be overlooking the innate talent that gives us that head start. Genes are very important. The 10,000 rule is simply not a rule to mastery because not only is mastery an extremely ambiguous term, but 10,000 is fairly ambiguous too. I suggest reading Mattew Syed's Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success as a component to Outliers. It's not just about the time we put in but how we spend that time. It's not simply about sitting down and working at something for 10,000. You must do it in the correct way.
Samuel C. Mindes answered on May 30, 2010

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The 10,000 hour mark is based on research conducted by a psychologist named K. Anders Ericsson. This study has been peer reviewed, and states that to become world-class in anything takes at minimum 10,000 hours of work.

And "world-class" for Ericsson means performing at a "pro" level. Think LeBron James, or any really talented NCAA hoopster.

Further, those 10,000 must be good hours of practice. Which means being focused and deliberate in your attempts to master a skill. For instance, which do you figure will be more effective for a golfer: working with a golf pro, or just meeting socially to golf with their buddies?

Like all scientific theories, Ericsson's theories are just based on observation of what actually happens in reality. New research may unveil another theory--or it could confirm Ericsson. Which is the power of the peer review process. It is the "Pepsi Challenge," and only the most serious researchers willingly take that plunge. It should be noted that "Outliers" was not subjected to those rigors, however.

So, what I can say is this: "Based on our current level of knowledge, it will take any of us about 10 years of concentrated, mindful work to master any skill. And it does appear that context really does play a decent sized role in our lives--about 40% based on the results of the Twin Studies." Beyond that, even angels fear to tread... but it's damned fun to listen to Gladwell speculate. And think along with him.

BTW, I found this Harvard Business Review article by Ericsson online: "coachingmanagement.nl/The%20Making%20of%20an%20Expert.pdf".
thunder road answered on July 5, 2012
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