Friday, August 29, 2014

The 10,000 Hour Rule: Wait, talent matters more than practice

Smithsonian Magazine
The 10,000 hour rule—first proposed by a Swedish psychologist and later made famous in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliersstates that exceptional expertise requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. The best of the best (the Beatles, Bill Gates) all amassed more than 10,000 hours of practice before rising to the top, Gladwell argued. So greatness is within virtually any person's grasp, so long as they can put in the time to master their skill of choice.
A new meta-analysis, however, indicates that the 10,000 hour rule simply does not exist. As Brain's Idea reports, authors of the new study undertook the largest literature survey on this subject to date, compiling the results of 88 scientific articles representing data from some 11,000 research participants. Practice, they found, on average explains just 12 percent of skill mastery and subsequent success. "In other words the 10,000-Hour rule is nonsense," Brain's Idea writes. "Stop believing in it. Sure, practice is important. But other factors (age? intelligence? talent?) appear to play a bigger role."  

In other words, practice matters, but only if the talent is there to begin with. Gladwell's idea -- that the ordinary can succeed if only they work hard enough -- is very American, but also, sadly, very wrong. Talent, intelligence, and other gifts are distributed unevenly throughout the population: some get more, some get less. Hard work does not even the playing field.

I would wish for two things: 1) We stop admiring professional athletes for their supposed virtues. After all, they merely exhibit gifts that they were born with. (We don't talk of a thoroughbred race horse's "work ethic.") 2) Smart people stop admiring themselves. You didn't get into Stanford because you worked hard, but rather because you were born smart, not impulsive, healthy (and rich). You already won the lottery. Rather than think about what you will buy with the prize money, think about how you can help others with your unearned bounty.


  1. Exactly.
    Hmm...our bunch of athletes versus their bunch of athletes.

    Nailed all parts of this Kiss song in a couple hours, except the makeup.
    Couple hundred hours of general practice as a teenager, not thousands. Kind of sketchy conditions too, as far as what they say about memory goes...

  2. I guess for the squares on this blog, you would prefer the Mike Douglas version...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.