10,000 Hours of Practice Makes Perfect myth

Does 10,000 Hours of Practice Make Perfect?

Is the 10,000 Hours of Practice Theory True?

The “10,000 hours theory”, that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an “outlier”, is a useful concept, but not an exact rule.

In words, the right type of practice does led to improvement, but there is no study showing there is a magic number of hours needed to practice.

Clarifying What Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours Rule

The 10,000 hours theory comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. In his book Gladwell expresses the concept of 10,000 hours in a number of ways.

Gladwell never says that it takes 10,000 hours to become “really good” or “an expert”, he simply implies that 10,000 hours of practice results in what we would consider a genius or master (i.e. an Outlier, not just an expert like so many). So, for example, the difference between a guitar expert and Jimmy Page (an outlier). [1]

Fact-Checking the 10,000 Hours Misquote

Gladwell presents his conclusions in a fun, insightful, pop-science way and thus there is no reason to overreact to his book or treat it like a submission to a peer-reviewed journal. It is meant to be insightful, not gospel (just like Gladwell’s other awesome work).

That said, despite Gladwell’s intentions, the 10,000 hours concept has been translated to “it takes exactly 10,000 hours to become an expert” by pop-culture, and that (what we are really fact-checking here) does not hold up to scrutiny.

Actual peer-reviewed studies have been done that show many more factors at play than just 10,000 hours of practice, still this doesn’t mean we should dismiss the concept completely. Below we take a look at Gladwell and the truth being his actual claims (and the pop-culture translation of his theory). [2][3][4]

TIP: 10,000 hours may not be an exact science, but as a rule of thumb it is a useful concept. Gladwell hit the nail on the head when he theorized it was the Beatle’s constants practice and playing that made them great. It takes consistent effort and focus over time to achieve mastery of anything. “Practice makes perfect” is somewhat true, on both an intuitive and neurological level (plasticity), but actual studies show more factors at play than just time spent in practice (especially in regard to success, and not just mastery). Also, there is this thing called “value bias”, specifically commitment bias, which you probably learn about before you go 10,000 hours deep into something.


What is the 10,000 hours Hours Theory?

The 10,000 hours rule is a concept devised by Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink) for his book Outliers. Outliers tells the story of modern greats like the Beatles and Bill Gates pointing out how their continuous dedication to their craft resulted in mastery, and ultimately success. If you don’t know, the Beatles and Gates (and team, like Paul Allen), worked constantly everyday with a fire-y focus on their craft. For instance, the Beatles played every night between their formation and their breaking into American pop culture. So by the time the Beatles got to America they were a well oiled machine in terms of song writing, audience charming, and performance. Of course, this fact draws out a major criticism of the 10,000 hours rule, the neither the Beatles nor Gates were “lone wolves“.

Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers 1 (2009).

Why Does the 10,000 Hours Rule Seem to Work?

The 10,000 hours rule works as an estimation because science heavily backs up the idea that you can “retrain your brain“. Roughly, when we give attention to something, over time, it becomes part of us. If focus on sad, we imbue ourselves with sad, if we focus on happy, we become happy. If we focus on playing ripping guitar solos for 10,000 hours, we are 100% going to get better at guitar solos. With that said, nuance is the enemy of the absolute, and the 10,000 hours concept belongs, for this reason, in the self-help section, with references in popular science, and not in a peer-reviewed journal (in fact the singular peer-reviewed study done on this backs up the idea it isn’t a hard-and-fast rule).

Does Practice Make Perfect?

Why 10,000 Hours Isn’t an Exact Rule

To summarize why 10,000 hours isn’t the exact number of hours needed for mastery and success:

  • There is a lack of studies done, the concept of mastery and practice is a complex issue. Generally, most people would agree that 10,000 hours is an oversimplification of a concept that will likely require decades of study.
  • The actual amount of hours required for mastery and success differs by task (it could be more or less). There is a difference between experimental particle physics in relation to rocket science at SpaceX, and mastering the tying of shoes.
  • Part of success has to do with spacetime coordinates. Or rather, when you were born and where. For instance Bill Gates is only able to be the Bill Gates of today because he was born at the right time. Otherwise he simply wouldn’t be the co-found of one of the first major software companies. He may have been more successful today, but we can hardly get to testing theories like this.
  • Part of success has to do with who you know. Pop-social-science authors like to say “the lone genius in a myth“, this concept is repeated in Gladwell’s Outliers. There is truth in this the four Beatles worked with many 5th Beatles including Brian Epstein, George Martin, Klaus Voormann, and Billy Preston. If it wasn’t for the group of 10,000 or more our less hours, it is doubtful the Beatles would have had the same impact. To the, “lone genius point”, I only partially agree, the Beatles are all strong players, and Ringo made the Beatles who they were, but was Ringo as important to Sargent Peppers as George Martin and Paul… doubtful.
  • Part of success has to do with your natural hard-wiring. How is your brain primed to handle certain types of information. I’m very good at connecting lots of general information (hence what I do), but I struggle with exact details. Not everyone has the same strengths out of the box, so we have to put our 10,000 into the right thing.
  • To the above point, people can time-share 10,000 hours. If a group of ten has 1,000 hours each, then isn’t putting their heads together 10,000 hours? Again, not proven, but possible.
  • Practice can work against you. Sometimes “a fools mind” is best suited for solving a specific problem. With great practice comes potential pretentiousness and strange biases. Practicing something incorrectly repeatedly still causes neural patterns to form and can make it difficult to break the incorrect habit you’ve learned. Try asking Keith Richards to not play like the Rolling Stones. Is Bill Gates going to be more nervous speaking on the tech of 2016 than a young upstart full of fire, and not so much knowledge. Would the Punk and New Wave bands have been as popular if they had already put their 10,000 hours in before writing their three chord songs?

TIP: Not everyone has to be “a master”. You can put 1,000 hours into learning each instrument and best a masterful music teacher. We are so obsessed with specific knowledge and skills, but we can’t forget how important teamwork is. Also, there is no shame in having 10 hours in something. You are your own person, if you love the guitar play it and rock on, don’t care what other people think. 10,000 hours happens over time, not today.

What Studies Have Found About the 10,000 Hours Rule

A number of studies have shown less than 10,000 hours was needed for success. For example one study found, “we conducted a meta-analysis covering all major domains in which deliberate practice has been investigated. We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued”[5]New Study Destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule” Bussinessinnsider.com

Short-Circuiting 10,000 hours: David Gerhard at TEDxReginan.

Does Practice Make Perfect?

The 10,000 hours rule may be a myth of sorts, but as a loose rule, practice does make perfect-ish. Consistent and directed focus over time is a pretty well proven path for success (neurologically we re-wire our brains based on our sensory input, so, all studies aside, there is specific biological proof here). One thing me, Gladwell, Zuckerberg, Lennon, Gates, and Jobs all have in common (aside from a nice smile) is that we wake up every day working on the same project. I’ve wrote 10,000 pages, Zuckerberg to 1 billion followers a day, Gates got $50 billion dollars. The numbers vary, but as a loose concept, the rule is true enough. Putting your nose to the grindstone today, and keeping it there, is the recipe for success.

Perfectionism – does practice really make perfect? Seunghee Lee (Sunny Kang) at TEDxHongKong 2013

Does Practice Make Perfect? It takes more than just practice, but consistent effort over time, for a large amount of hours, certainly seems to help. The science is still out on this as a hard fact, but as a motivator and rough rule, the hard work you put in today is an opportunity for success tomorrow.

10,000 hours — sitting with failure: Laura Isaac at TEDxWyandotte.

Article Citations
  1. What Malcolm Gladwell REALLY Said About The 10,000 Hour Rule” Problogservice.com
  2. Outliers (book)” Wikipedia.org
  3. The 10,000 Hour Rule” Gladwell.com
  4. It takes more than practice to excel” Sciencedaily.com
  5. B. N. Macnamara, D. Z. Hambrick, F. L. Oswald. Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/0956797614535810

10,000 hours works as a good motivator and a rough rule. If you put time and effort into something consistently, over time, you greatly increase your odds of success.

Author: Thomas DeMichele

Thomas DeMichele is the content creator behind ObamaCareFacts.com, FactMyth.com, CryptocurrencyFacts.com, and other DogMediaSolutions.com and Massive Dog properties. He also contributes to MakerDAO and other cryptocurrency-based projects. Tom's focus in all...

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