Monday, April 13, 2009

10,000 hours

Most people probably don’t think they have much in common with the likes of Mozart, or The Beatles, or Bill Gates. However, according to Malcolm Gladwell, we have more in common than we ever realized.

Gladwell is the author of Outliers: The Story of Success, currently sitting on bestseller lists acorss the world. In the book, he analyzes countless factors – many of them unknown to the people they most impact – that determine why some people enjoy abundant success in life, while others toil in frustration and obscurity.

One of his revelations is the “10,000 Hour Rule”: in order to maximize any given talent, you need to spend approximately 10,000 hours practicing it. In other works, practice makes perfect.. who hasn’t heard that before? And specifically 10,000 hours of practice makes perfect.

For example, Bill Gates is considered a genius – and you might say ‘well, he’s prodigy, he’d make it to the top nyways.’ Or would he? There are many prodigies and child stars that don’t do much with their talent at all. On top of being a genius, Bill Gates also happened to have extraordinary access to cutting-edge technologies as far back as junior high school, and he spent every night and weekend of his youth experimenting with computer programming. Mozart wrote symphonies at age 4 (yes, child prodigy), but his main work recognized was composed another 10 years later – after hours and hours of practice. And by the time The Beatles made it big in North America, they had developed their songwriting and music in Europe by spending endless 7 day weeks, 10 hours/day in pubs, studios, etc playing all different kinds of music.

The 10,000 Hour Rule has implications for athletes as well. For example, some may have heard of the 10-Year Rule for runners. Basically, it says that ruuners will get gradually get batter (faster, stronger, etc) during their first 10 years, before their performances plateau for another 10 years, then decline precipitously over the next 10 years.It doesn’t matter what distance you run, or what age you start at: whether you’re 15 or 55, your best race times in any event will improve for up to 10 years if you train consistently. If you could somehow manage to run 1000 hours per year, you’d develop abilities on par with some of the greatest achievers of your age. Yes, natural talent also plays a role – but not nearly as much as most people attribute to it.(Sure, at first glance, training for 1000 hours per year – 3 hours per day, every day - seems shocking. However, if you ask just about any Olympic athlete, they’d tell you this is consistent with their typical regimens. There’s a reason why it’s so hard to make it to the Olympics.)

There’s a book called Once a Runner by John Parker. In one famous passage, the author ponders how somebody becomes a great runner: “What was the secret, they wanted to know … and not one of them was prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes."

In other words, there’s no secret, and no trick. Do you want to be a better runner? Go for a run. Wake up the next day and do it again. Keep doing it until you wear out the bottoms of your shoes, then buy some new ones and start again. Repeat that process over and over until you’ve done it for 1000 hours, then 2000, then 10,000. Do you want to be a better piano player, a better pilot, a better doctor.. the rule applies to anything.

You can not substitute time and hard work for anything. It’s really quite a simple process. Sometimes we just need to be reminded.

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