The 10.000 hour rule to become a grandmaster in anything

Those who have read Malcolm Gladwells „Outliers“ know his 10.000 hour rule pretty well.

Gladwells states that one who practices something for 10.000 hours will become a grandmaster of this field.

Learning something like coding, a skill, a language or something else for 10.000 hours will so get us to the point where we can call us professionals. He extremely simplifies it but he points out his message clearly.

I think we should go for the bigger picture and get it in more details. One can practice for 10.000 hours, but can also make it devastatingly wrong. It´s very important not just to do something over and over again but to set little steps or goal where you can improve your practicing at every single milestone.

Let´s take speed reading. You can spend 10.000 hours reading and reading – and you will of course get faster and more efficient in reading. But why not starting it correctly? Use techniques and get more advanced after a while. Get the most out of 10.000 hours so that your speed reading skill is increasing with a factor of 2 every 1.000 hours instead of factor 1. This will lead to exponential developments.

Also something like poker. Don´t just play poker for 10.000 hours. Analyze your play over and over again to get better and learn from your mistakes. Sports, playing an instrument, learn a language.

You get my point. The 10.000 hour rule is a simplification or a rule of thumb to get going. But the real success or development kicks in with how we practice.

A great read for this is Cal Newports “So good they can´t ignore you”. Newport uses different kind of mindsets to characterize different kind of persons. The so called craftsman mindset and the passion mindset.

Newport compares himself to a famous guitar player Jordan. Both had started the same time and practice hours were almost the same. But Newport never went beyond it was comfortable learning new techniques and songs. Jordan´s teacher led him work hard. Even it was hard work, Jordan started enjoying the labor because he saw his results. Not only did Jordan´s practice require him to constantly stretch himself beyond what was comfortable, but it was also accompanied by instant feedback. The teacher was always there, Jordan explained, “to jump in and show me if I junked up a harmony”. He keeps adjusting the speed of his practicing to a point just past where he´s comfortable. When he hits a wrong note, he immediately stops and starts over, providing instant feedback for himself.

I played, but he practiced. “the harder I work, the more relaxed I can play, and the better it sounds”.

In his book Newport even criticizes the 10.000 hour rule by one point. Because one essential problem is that people who went professional after practicing for a while change their behavior and increase their performance only for a limited time until they reach an acceptable level.

Beyond this point further improvements appear to be unpredictable. We all hit performance plateaus. Work with no clear training philosophy – only with a frame like a 10.000 hour rule – let people be stuck. To successfully adopt the craftsman mindset, therefore, we have to approach our development with a dedication to deliberate practice.

Have a never-ending thirst to get better.


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