In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell‘s best-selling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, was published to great fanfare. One of the nuggets from the book that many ran with the most was his coining of the term “The 10,000 Hour Rule”. Using examples such as The Beatles’ experience playing countless hours in pubs before they became the biggest rock band in history, Gladwell borrowed research from Anders Ericsson and his colleagues to remind the world that, with a great quantity of practice, we can master just about any skill.
The world ate it up. You couldn’t walk into a corporate meeting or an educational conference without being reminded of the rewards that are bestowed upon the individuals who are willing to pay the 10,000 hour price. Piano teachers felt vindicated, athletic coaches were buoyed, math homework providers danced like it was 1999. There was only one problem.
Anders Ericsson himself was flabbergasted at how his work had been interpreted. In no way, he says, does he support the notion of a 10,000 Hour Rule for the development of advanced skill or expertise. In fact, in his new book called Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Ericsson calls for a clear distinction from the idea of purposeful practice (which he says “10,000 Hours” supports) towards a recognition of deliberate practice, where you are spending time (often not at great length) practicing very specific skills under the guidance of an expert teacher or mentor.
It’s not about doing the same thing over and over. People don’t become expert walkers or drivers just by doing it over and over. What we’re arguing here is that, with deliberate practice, you are trying to change behaviour under the supervision of a skilled teacher. [People who engage in deliberate practice] are not doing the things they already know how to … they are working on correcting mistakes and receiving feedback to help them do so.
Gladwell, confronted by these challenges to his work, has been chiming in as well:
The point of Outliers (among many) was that I wanted people to move away from the notion that success is something individual. I wanted people to understand that success has a lot to do with chance, the contribution of your culture, your generation, your family. There’s this heroic notion of the lone genius that’s very popular in the United States and I wanted to convey that this notion has very little basis in reality. The 10,000 Hour Rule was only intended to perform a specific argumentative function: if it takes that long to be good, you can’t do it by yourself.
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