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The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Wrong: How to Really Master a Skill

James Huang | 2021.08.05

I made people wonder why I can learn and implement/ execute so many things quickly.  Do I ever sleep? 

The 10,000 Hour Rule

In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell published his New York Times bestseller, Outliers. It's within this book—based largely on the research of Anders Ericsson—that Gladwell frequently talks about the 10,000-Hour Rule, citing it as "the magic number of greatness."

The book looks at a number of "outliers", people who are extraordinarily proficient in certain subjects or skills. It then tries to break down what helped them to become outliers.

According to Gladwell, one common factor among these carefully selected individuals was the amount of time they practiced within their area of study. It appeared that only by reaching 10,000 hours of practice (that's about 90 minutes per day for 20 years) could one become an outlier. To use another of Gladwell's popular terms, 10,000 hours is the "Tipping-Point" of greatness.

It’s catchy, easy to remember, and more or less completely false from my perspective.

10,000 Hours of What? All Practice Isn’t Equal

If you wanted to get better at shooting a bow and arrow, would it be the same thing to experiment on your own for 3 hours as it would be to practice with an expert for 3 hours, who is giving you tips on form and technique and getting better? The answer is self-evident. And this is the first flaw of the 10,000 Hour Rule: It focuses on the quantity of time practicing, not the quality of the practice – and not all practice is equally helpful.

Practice Makes Perfect… or 25% Perfect

Deliberate practice hours predicted 26% of the skill variation in games such as chess, 21% for music, and 18% for sports. This is the biggest flaw of the 10,000 Rule: It leads to a misconception that anyone can become an expert in a given area by putting in the time. But clearly, since deliberate practice hours predicted only 20-25% of skill levels, there are other factors at play.  Researchers have been able to pinpoint a few of them, including age and genetics.

My Learning approach

If you want to go deeper and learn more about practice, here are my recommendation

Emotions play a critical role in learning. In order to practice and improve most effectively, you must set the ideal biological conditions for learning. Learn why keeping emotions out of it is actually a disaster, and what learning looks like at the neurological level.  Make yourself focus and least emotion is the best way to learn.

Mental practice is surprisingly powerful. Whether you’re learning and practicing a new skill, or preparing for a performance, mental practice to be remarkably effective.  If you were to undergo brain surgery, would you care if the surgeon regularly carried out mental practice of the operation? Or, would you only be interested in the physical practice?

Motivation. Without sustainable motivation, the practice loses focus, or we drop it entirely. Practice takes on meaning and relevance when the goal is connected to purpose and long-term values.

Connecting the dots.  When you figure things out for yourself, you learn you can figure things out, and that far outweighs any bit of information you might absorb about the content itself.

Solution looking for problem.   When I learn new technique, I always imagine the real-life application and use case.  This help to convert the theory/ tool to real life application.

How do you learn? Let us know!

The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Wrong: How to Really Master a Skill
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