The Truth Behind the 10000 Hour Rule

Is incessant practice truly the one and only open door to success?

The Truth Behind the 10000 Hour Rule - door

The 10,000 Hour Rule is a concept popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers to be one of the prerequisites to a person’s success, despite any cultural or social disadvantages he or she might possess. In essence, the 10,000 Hour Rule proposes the notion of effort to be the defining factor to the achievement of one’s success.

While Gladwell illustrates this rule rather convincingly with a few notable examples of Bill Gates and The Beatles, other various studies have called into question the legitimacy and necessity of the 10,000 Hour Rule. Let us look at the original proposition of the Rule in-depth, alongside its counter arguments from other credible studies, and conclude with a few reflective ideas.

Bill Gates and Sneaking to Code

Bill Gates is often exemplified to be the inspiration of people yearning to take the unconventional route, and it’s undeniably an awe-inspiring story. A Harvard drop out turned Microsoft founder and later, the richest man in the world, Gladwell takes Gates’ example to be the pinnacle of the what it really means to be an Outlier — and an immensely successful one at that, too.

Gates’ 10,000 hours of programming practice began at Lakeside, an elite private school, and it was — as Gladwell pointed out — based on a series of fortunate events. The year was 1968, and PCs were rare even in top universities. However, owing to sufficient funds and purposeful investment, Lakeside raised three thousand dollars to purchase a computer terminal for the school’s computer club.

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The truth behind the 1000 hour rule bill gates

Furthermore, the Gates family lived near the University of Washington. As a teenager, Gates satiated his programming tendencies by sneaking out of his parents’ home after bedtime to use the University’s computers to programme.

What does this tell us? Indeed, it sufficiently backs up the 10,000 Hour Rule because Bill Gates had already enough first-hand programming knowledge due to his incessant practice when he was a teenager. Thus, when the time came to build Microsoft, Gates was ready. It was, in essence, the right person at the right time — and success was achieved.

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The Beatles and Hamburg

Another notable example Gladwell provided were that of the Beatles. The year was 1960, and The Beatles were just another run-of-the-mill high school band aching for their breakout moment. So they went to Hamburg, Germany to play at clubs where acoustics were terrible and the audiences were unappreciative.

The Truth Behind the 10000 Hour Rule - beatles

In short, though Hamburg was not the most inspiring place to play, The Beatles got hours and hours of playing time there, hence forcing them to be better as a band. In 1962 they were playing eight hours every night, seven nights a week. By 1964, the year they burst on the international scene on a dizzying scale, the Beatles had played over 1,200 concerts together. In comparison, most bands today hardly play over 1,200 times in their entire career.

Of course, the rest, like they say, is history.

The Princeton Study

However, a new Princeton study debunks the 10,000 Hour Rule. In a meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice, the researchers found that practice accounted for just a 12% difference in performance in various domains.

  • In games, practice made for a 26% difference
  • In music, 21%
  • In sports, 18%
  • In education, 4%
  • In professions, 1%
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The best explanation of the domain dependency is found in greater detail in Frans Johansson‘s book “The Click Moment.” In it, Johansson argues that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have exceedingly stable structures. For example, in fields like sports, the rules never change, so incessant practice on these would indicate improvement and success.

However, in fields where goals and processes change all the time like entrepreneurship and music, these rules and structures can be forgotten. Take Richard Branson, the CEO of Virgin Group, for example. From setting up a record company to air and even space travel — areas where he, comparatively, did not have much experience in — “practice” then seemed to be secondary.

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In the Final Analysis

In conclusion, the 10,000 Hour Rule is definitely valid — as utterly commonsensical as it may be. However, it’s truly not the only requirement to be an Outlier or success in your own right. As the Princeton study’s lead author Brooke Macnamara posits, “There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective.

It is just less important than has been argued… the important question now is, what else matters?

Keep visiting for more such insightful articles, blogging tips, how to guides, lifestyle tips, and remember we cover, “Everything under the Sun!”

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Shiyin is a writer who enjoys reading about success and social psychology theories; in her free time she loves playing with her dog and writing cool stuff!

The Truth Behind the 10000 Hour Rule

2 thoughts on “The Truth Behind the 10000 Hour Rule”

  1. 10,000 hours of practice will not make you the best in your field, yes practice is important but the thing that matters is the “creativity” and the new ideas you can have. During a study in Germany on violin players they found that their was nothing like “Natural talent” it was practice and their creativity.
    So you can’t be best just by the 10,000 hours of practice what matters is the creativity you have with practice.


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