Friday, August 06, 2010


Wanna get to Carnegie Hall? Got 10,000 hours?

By Andrew Taylor as posted on Artful Manager

Malcolm Gladwell has a book on Outliers, the men and women whose success or abilities lie well beyond the norm. In an excerpt published in The Guardian, he suggests that one indicator seems common to all such extraordinary people -- practice. He points to research and case studies that talented people become extraordinary people when they focus to obscene degrees on their craft. In one study of exceptional music students, for example, hours of practice was the most powerful indicator of the top tier:

...once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. What's more, the people at the very top don't just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

The magic number -- across arts, science, sports, and industry -- seems to be 10,000 hours. Gladwell quotes neurologist and music specialist Daniel Levitan:

"In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals... this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years... No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

Gladwell's larger point in the book seems to be that we tend to attribute the success of extraordinary people to their exceptional intelligence and gifts. But there are a world of additional forces, opportunities, and happenstances -- many beyond their control and ours -- that foster that success.

Of course, the trouble with outliers is that they are outliers. When we observe and analyze those who have risen to extraordinary heights, we tend to miss the thousands or millions who had similar circumstances and talents but did not rise so far (or vanished entirely). Just because highly effective people share seven habits, does not mean those seven habits lead to being highly effective.

1 comment:

Elmo Gibb said...

I tried to practice throwing pies for 10,000 hours, but I fell short by 37 hours. No wonder I stink at pie throwing.