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The 10,000 hour idea

By JAMES COAKES Published 26th Jul 2016
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Malcolm Gladwell, the author of best sellers The Tipping Point and Outliers, famously proposed that 10,000 hours of practice of one skill or another would make you an expert. Is there anything behind what appears to be a fairly arbitrary statement?

The idea was first proposed by a group of scientists who wrote a paper in 1993 called 'The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance'. The study involved a group of violin players in Berlin over a period of 15 years, from the age of 5 to 20. When the players reached the age of eight the amount of time that they put into practice began to diverge. The study found that by the age of 20 the best players had averaged 10,000 hours while the less able performers averaged 4,000 hours. Within the group the researchers noted that there were no 'naturally gifted' players, so it was all down to how hard they worked.

10,000 hours over 15 years equates to just under 13 hours each and every week. With occasional days off a 10,000 hour commitment would equate to at least two hours a day, which is quite a commitment.

Gladwell's book, Outliers, took this idea to a wide audience and the figure has been much quoted since.

In April 2010 a man called Dan McLaughlin left his job and started to work on The Dan Plan. At that time he was not a good golfer, he did not even know if he played off a left or right handed club. He wanted to find out whether 10,000 hours of practice would take him to playing on the Champions' Tour.

In the Spring of 2015 Dan was just over 6,000 hours into his plan and playing on a handicap of 3.9, putting him in the top 3% of American golfers. He had played some of the best courses all over the world. Unfortunately it appears that an injury has halted the plan, you can find out more at this blog here. This is a shame, because this was a real novice to expert experiment.

One of the issues is how do you define 'expert'? Playing golf all over the world and becoming one of the top 3% of golfers in your country (and America is a country that loves golf) probably qualifies. The academics behind the original experiment suggested that with natural skill the figure probably reduced to 4,000 hours. 10,000 hours seems to be a fair level for pretty much anyone to achieve that expertise.

So what are your figures? How long have you been in your job? Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, is 1,680 hours a year, allowing an hour off for lunch and four weeks' holiday. On that basis you become an expert in just under 6 years.


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