Outliers and the 10,000 hour rule

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Right now I’m reading three books at once, so as to satisfy my ADHD. I usually have at least two going. This has good and bad asset. On one hand, it keeps my mind fresh. Sometimes, when I continuously read one book or genre, it starts to grow stale. Like exercise, a little shift in gears can renew my interest in reading. The bad thing is sometimes I forget where I left off and I get off track, particularly if the book is very complicated.

One of the books that I’m reading is called Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. I became familiar with Gladwell a few years ago when I read another book of his, Blink. Blink was about how most people’s decisions are based off first impressions and how powerful intuition is. Gladwell made some very powerful arguments.

In Outliers, Gladwell argues that the people we consider to be very successful, such as professional athletes, people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, are actually the beneficiaries of some very good luck to go along with their natural talent. I’ve always thought about this in terms of where people are born. A person of immense physical talent may be born in a country that doesn’t have a certain sport, and thus never has the opportunity for riches and fame. This torpedoes the Genetics is Destiny argument.

One chapter is dedicated to what Gladwell terms, the 10,000 hour rule. According to information gleaned from neuroscience, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class master of almost any skill. Gladwell cites a study of music students at a music school. The study divided the students into three categories: Those that played at an extremely high level, those of mediocre ability and those that only showed enough skill to maybe be highschool music teachers. The only thing that seemed to divide the students habits between groups was how much time they spent practicing. The low level group averaged 4,000 hours over their time in school, the mid-level, 6,000 and the highest performers, 10,000 hours.

Of course, 10,000 hours is a very long time to be performing any type of activity, but it seems that all of us may be capable of high performance if we just put in the time. The difference that I’ve seen in epxert athletes and very capable people is an almost rabid drive to practice and perform. I’ve always read biographies and autobiographies. I’ve always noticed that people we consider great had an early obsession with the endeavor we consider them to have a special talent in, and that obsession resulted in lots of practice.

Whatever you aspire to, do not give up just yet. I’m sure you have a ways to go before you hit 10,000 hours of practice time.


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