Cocktail Party Conversation & Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule

In almost every conversation about learning how to play or do something, say hit a baseball, learn to play guitar, or take up a language, someone invariably brings up what is now accepted conventional wisdom that becoming an expert at something requires performing the particular task for approximately 10,000 hours. The “10,000-Hour Rule”, coined in Malcolm Gladwell ‘s newest book Outliers: The Story of Success, seems  on the verge of replacing “an apple a day” as the most often prescribed advice for living.

Repetition, repetition, repetition has been repeated by every decent coach, tutor, or teacher since the first caveman taught his son how to fling spears at unusually large and dangerous animals. In other words, it’s not a new concept.  Now this author did something really smart, he got out his calculator and guestimated the amount of time required to be positioned for success. Thus, baseball players need to hit or field for 10,000 hours to be at the highest level of play; and no violinist will play Carnegie Hall without 10,000 hours of practice.

I have no basis to conclude Gladwell’s math as inaccurate; I just want people to stop saying it so often. I mean what’s the value of telling kids they need to do anything for 10,000 hours. I am pretty sure no eight- year old sits around calculating the number of hours in his or her lifetime spent performing certain tasks. And laying down the “Rule” cannot provide alot of  motivation as kids require shorter goals.

But the worst impact is on adults for who 10,000 hours of any one thing is pretty much impossible. Thus, telling a 45 year old tennis beginner that “you know it takes 10,000 hours to be any good” will probably be at best, demotivational.  Clearly, many kinds of expertise require initiation at a young age and Gladwell does provide an interesting analyst of how much time successful people put into their respective skills. Success, unless you are a reality TV star, rarely comes without hard work, practice and dedication.  While no guarantee, focusing on these attributes places people in the position to succeed. Can we just talk about that instead?

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