Is the 10,000 Hour “Rule” a Myth?


Malcomb Gladwell popularized the notion that 10,000 hours of repetition could make you a virtuoso in his 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success. Since then this “10,000 Hour Rule” has been batted about like a ping pong ball in training, education, and sports circles. Gladwell based his claims on research by a Florida State University professor, Anders Ericsson. Ericsson has since distanced himself from the “rule” by saying it is a bit more complex than that.

Dr. Ericsson ought to know, having studied a large group of violin players for the original study. It isn’t just “mindless” repetition, he points out, but rather a disciplined pattern of increasingly difficult exercises plus desire plus talent plus many other things that makes a musician a virtuoso.

10,000 hours is 5 years of 40 hour weeks with two weeks off each year for vacation. About the amount of time needed to earn a Masters degree at an American university. Not that a Masters degree signals “mastering” any topic. In the sports world, some have claimed that 10,000 hours represents the total amount of practice and games needed to reach the professional ranks.

A typical apprenticeship is much less than 10,000 hours. Just defining a program in terms of hours seems insufficient to prepare one for a productive professional life. It matters what you do with those hours of training, and even more with what you do after you have “graduated.”

My career in gears has taken me many places and gotten me involved in many things. It would have been a much different “me” today had I stayed in one place and confined myself to one particular type of gear or gearbox. 10,000 hours can pass very quickly if you are doing something you enjoy; it is cruel and unusual punishment if you are required to do something you hate.

Among the saddest things I have witnessed are those who continue to do something that bores them because it pays well or they are too old to do what they’d really love to do. Life is too short to just go through the motions.

About Charles D. Schultz 555 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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