The 10.000 hours rule and why it’s not only about practice

Are 10,000 hours all it takes?

Practice makes perfect! Or how the germans would say: “Übung macht den Meister” – Practice makes you a master. The famous 10.000 hours rule which is explained in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Outliers, the 10,000 hour rule explains the idea that becoming world-class in a certain area requires a long period of sweat, hard work an practice, practice, practice! Consequently, according to Gladwell, everyone can achieve great success in chess, martial arts, playing the piano etc. since the success depends on the input of practice in the “right” way and time rather than an innate ability or talent. According to Florida State psychologist Anders Ericsson it takes about 10.000 hours to be precise to reach world-class status.

Now a research by psychologists Zach Hambrick, Fred Oswald and colleagues, provide some pretty compelling evidence that there is more to expert performance than practice. To cast some light on the hetedly discussed topic, the research team reanalyzed data from studies on musical and chess expertise. The research team looked at how reports of deliberate practice throughout one’s lifetime related to a player’s and musicians ratings in famous world rankings.

What they have found is that hard work and a lot of time spend on practice does help explain who will reach the highest levels of performance in music and chess alike. BUT: in both areas, practice wasn’t even half of the whole picture– it was about 1/3 of it! Some high performers require much less practice than others to reach extraordinary performance levels. In other words, it seems that factors other than practice are important for determining who is going to climb the elite skill level.

Nevertheless, the 10,000 hour rule is an appealing one. It implies that almost anyone can become a top performer if they work hard enough. It’s one side of the whole story and we should always keep in mind but also remember that there are other important factors. Whether it’s genes, enthusiasm, motivation and drive, one’s ability to handle failure, all of the above or something else altogether, we have to owe up to the fact that factors other than practice contribute to achieving greatness. Only then will we be best able to identify areas we are most likely to excel in and have the best chance of rising to the top.


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