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10,000 hours

Submitted by on Friday, 15 November 20135 Comments

10,000 hours is an amount of time that has been popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.

It’s important in management too, because it provides professionals with a rule of thumb of how long it takes to become world class (or a ‘virtuoso’) in any given subject or field. It also gives a reference point for achieving competence in that field.

10,000 hours – birth of a (very long) timeframe

Few will know that this timeframe is not that of Gladwell himself, but was taken from the research of Dr Anders K. Ericsson. Michael Masterson then defined gaining proficiency in four key stages. The stages also hopefully give a dose of reality to those in management who are seeking to close ‘competency gaps’.  Have a look at the graphic below:

10,000 hours

 You can download 10,000 hours in pdf format here

Stage one: incompetence

With zero hours of deliberate practice, we can considered to be incompetent.

Stage two: competence

Moving from incompetence to competence, as per Masterson’s rule of thumb, takes 1,000 hours of deliberate practice. This is equivalent to four and a half months at 8 hours of deliberate practice per day.

Stage three: mastery

Moving from competence to mastery takes an additional 4,000 hours of deliberate practice. This is equivalent to nearly twenty months total at 8 hours of deliberate practice per day.

Stage four: virtuosity / world class

Moving from mastery to virtuosity takes a further 5,000 hours of deliberate practice. This is equivalent to thirty nine months total at 8 hours of deliberate practice per day.

Deliberate practice doesn’t mean ‘work’ itself. It means discovering and honing your skill Head, Heart, Hand in a very focused and deliberate way.

World class – at what…?

Here’s where it gets interesting. You or I might conclude, from this timeline, that, were we, say, to practice computer coding in a very disciplined way for the best part of four years without distraction, then we could become world class programmers.

Or, if we were to practice the piano in the same way, we could become the next Mozart. Or, if we were to practice surgery, then after 4 gruelling years of focused practice, we could become world class heart surgeons.

And there’s a debate going on in cyberspace about exactly this. But it’s all theoretical we’re afraid!

What science says about your own personal development…

Let us ask you a question. Pick a subject or endeavour that you hated at school. Do you really believe that simply putting the hours in – or the months as per the graphic above – will lead you on the path to distinction in that subject?

Most people on our Talent Factor workshop will answer no.

Yet the debate still rages in cyberspace that anyone can become the next Mozart – if only they tried hard enough. And, following Gladwell’s lead, baseball coaches in the US now have scorecards where they measure players’ progress against this timeframe.

Unfortunately, this is not a matter for debate. The science has already proved that, more or less, this belief is a fallacy.

Talent Factor

Many of these commentators are blissfully unaware of the work done by the Johnson O’Connor Institute using MRI machines which demonstrate that each of us has propensity for more rapid learning (or no learning at all) in specific areas. Those areas are called talents. (For more on your talents please read this post here).

Bottom line: you may be able to improve a skill in a certain area, but, if your talents just aren’t there, you’re never going to be world class.

Where the 10,000 hour rule of thumb is useful

Where the 10,000 hour rule of thumb is useful is if you build on areas in your existing talents. Mozart was talented – he had a finely tuned ‘inner ear’ that some of us may or may not have. Yet he needed to pile on the hours of practice in this specific area to become a virtuoso. Beethoven too, while deaf, never lost his talents for music – these include pitch discrimination and tonal memory.

Hence our formula for strengths in any area: Strengths = Talents x Practice (or skill).

Building on talents is hugely useful, because it can means that you can potentially cut that 10,000 hours to, say, 7,000 hours. Or the 1,000 hours to competence can be reduced by 30 or 40% if you have talents in that area. And the empirical research carried out by Dr Johnson O’Connor discovered exactly that.

But build in areas where you have no talent, and that timeframe can become 14,000 hours – if at all! And you can find yourself utterly miserable doing so. That’s because if you don’t engage your talents, your work satisfaction can go downhill – and fast.

What you can do now

If you want to discover your own talents to boost your job and career satisfaction, have a look at our talent assessment solution here.

Or, if you want to boost workplace performance and create a strengths-based team or company, have a look at Talent Factor here.

Or just follow the link below to request a pdf…


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