The 10,000-Hour Rule

The second chapter in the new book Outliers is titled The 10,000-Hour Rule.  Author Malcolm Gladwell shares his research that shows few people get to the top of their game without putting in at least 10,000 hours of preparation.

”The closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”

Whether it’s Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, the Beatles, Yo Yo Ma, Mozart, or Warren Buffet, it appears no one gets to the top without putting in their 10,000 hours.  If you put in 40 hours a week, that’s 5 years.  If you only find 20 hours a week to work on your area of excellence it will take 10 years.  If you’re just squeaking out 5 hours a week – it’s going to take 40 years.  Talent will only take you so far; it’s the hours of work that will separate you from the pack.

The problem is that we have become an “instant” society.  We have been spoiled with email, cell phones and microwaves – and become impatient with the nanosecond required to load a new web page.  College graduates expect the $100,000 job and the $500,000 house instantly.  Talented musicians and athletes expect fame and fortune long before investing 10,000 hours in practice.  Writers give up after writing their great novel in a weekend and after a month of searching for a publisher.  Christians are often confident their idea came from God, thus assuming success will be easy and instantaneous.

So where have you put in your 10,000 hours?  If you are in a job that you hate, have you been investing hours in an area of excellence that will give you a new opportunity?  Or do you just waste the hours away from work, hoping  for something more fulfilling to appear?  If you are a writer, a musician, a landscape designer, a web designer or a husband, have you put in your 10,000 hours of concentrated preparation to be great in that area? 

I trust this is an encouraging bit of information.  You don’t have to regret having average talent, or not having the highest IQ, or being born into the wrong family.  Just find your area of excellence and put in 10,000 hours of preparation.  You’ll bypass those with more “advantages” and find success that others only dream of.

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28 Responses to “The 10,000-Hour Rule”

  1. Jim Petersen Says:

    This is actually quite discouraging. I’m 44 years old, married with 2 young children, and have a full-time job. Finding even 5 hours a week for prepration is almost impossible. Even if I could put in 5 hours a week, I’d be 84 before the requisite 10,000 or preparation.

  2. Jackie O'Sullivan Says:

    Hi Dan,

    While this book has a little more substance than Gladwell’s lightweight “Tipping Point,” I wonder how you reconcile the 10,000 hour rule with your repeated contention that one can be an “expert” after reading three books on a subject?

    “Just find your area of excellence and put in your 10,000 hours” is a little facile. 10,000 hours is five years of full-time work (standard forty hour week) or 5.8 hours EVERY DAY for five years. If your answer is, “In five years do you want to be where you are now?” I counter with, “What of one’s current employment, family, recreation, spiritual development? There are not enough hours in a day, especially if one takes seriously your wise advice to find “balance.”

    As a reader of 48 Days almost since its inception, I have noticed an unfortunate turn from the substantive to the facile–even to a sort of shilling as you hawk the life-coach life-style. I fear success has distracted you from your original mission–and Kevin as well, from whose newsletter I unsubscribed after a stream of insultingly poor videos and a screed that defended corporal abuse of children. I am considering bidding adieu to 48 Days as well, and that will be a sad parting.

  3. Roy Simmons Says:

    I only recently finished reading Mr. Gladwells book, and I calculated that I was just about up to that figure of hours spent creating, thinking about, and reading about Art and painting. Probably 5 hours a week or slightly more. No surprise that I am only now feeling that I have reached a reasonable level.

    I must reply to Jim Petersen, the previous commenter. My ‘Thing’ is watercolor painting, I have found that my 10k hours leaves me well placed to teach others ways to shortcut those hours! In your chosen field, find a good teacher or mentor, maybe you can reduce the legnth of time required!!


  4. Home School College Counselor Says:

    Hmmm, Interesting observations about the number of hours needed in order to best be prepared. Here’s a thought. Many people have over that many hours completed in their current job, whether they like it or not. So it then stands to reason they have some area of expertise in that subject matter. How about taking this knowledge, and using it for a side business, whether it’s consulting, product development, etc.

    I’m currently pursuing that junction now. With a background in college admissions counseling, I’m making the switch from the educational world, to a more consulting gig, helping homeschooled students prepare for college. I never would’ve considered this niche even a year ago. I guess the old saying is true, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

  5. barak Says:

    Just read the following article by Sean D’Souza which puts a little different perspective on this.

    The Curse of the 10,000-hour ‘Talent Syndrome’

  6. Andy Traub Says:

    There is a subtle thing that I think everyone missed…Dan said to get to the TOP there’s a 10,000 hour rule. Yes, you CAN be an expert after reading three books on a subject but to get to the TOP you must work long and hard. So the distinction is subtle but important.

  7. Su Says:

    So those of us who are older and already have commitments on our time should just give up because we’ll be dead by the time we get our 10K hrs???????? Or should we just chuck the family, job, mortgage, friends, community involvement, etc. to spend our lives in our chosen pursuit (and being homeless)???????? Prison is sounding better and better!

  8. Kent Julian Says:

    Hey Dan,

    LOVE THIS ARTICLE!!!! And I’m a bit surprised by some of the negative comments here.

    Bottom line, there are no quick fixes, even if we live in a quick fix society.

    A big reasons some of my career coaching clients don’t make the transition they want to make is they are not willing to do the work to position and prepare themselves. Even when they say, “Yes, this is the life I really want,” I find that many are not willing to do what it takes–no matter how long it takes and how hard it gets. On the other hand, I’ve had many clients do whatever it takes….including make over 100 phone calls to land new jobs. Those clients always amaze me!

    Additionally, I agree with Andy Traub. You’re talking about getting to the TOP. Yet let me add something here. Even if I put in 10,000+ hours and don’t get to the “TOP,” I still think the 10,000+ hours are well worth it. The process itself makes me a better person. so I’ll experience “real success” whether or not I’m at the TOP or not (this, too, is something I think people are missing).

    Finally, this weekend, I taught 25 up-and-coming speakers ( about how to “Become an EXPERT in 3 Months or Less.” But the idea was if someone wants to be a true expert, he or she will be working the rest of his or her life to be an expert. However, that person can position himself or herself as an expert in a particular area in 3 months if he or she is very intentional.

    Okay, enough rambling. Keep sharing ideas Dan. I appreciate your broad prospective. Even more, I appreciate you.

    Live it forward,

  9. Dan Miller Says:

    I don’t think anyone is starting at zero. I think more often a person can look back and realize they’ve put in a whole lot of hours developing areas of expertise – even if they want to change the application.

    I really don’t think the hours I spent milking cows were wasted while I was waiting for my life to start. I wasn’t trying to get really good at milking cows – but I was learning the value of discipline, promptness, product margins and complimentary relationships. The time invested was then transferrable when I went from udders to others.

  10. Cody Says:

    Wow, I’m also surprised by the negative comments. Have some hope! I’m not trivializing your situations but the life you want (work, marriage, family, social, etc.) requires some planning and effort. If these folks believe that they don’t have 10K hours then I hope they are not just going to give up and die or go to prison or whatever. The time you have is the time you have so get going and do what you can.

  11. Darryl Williams Says:

    I can see both the positive and the negative with this “rule” (the excitement of learning but the slowness of the process). Frankly, I’ve been negative for so long in my profession that it’s amazing I can still see the upside to anything. I’m also a middle-aged professional (46) and don’t have extra hours in the day, but I’m willing to sleep less or do whatever it takes to find a vocation instead of a job. The problem for me is finding something that excites me and drives me to spend the hours necessary to become an expert. The inability to find that one thing is discouraging to me and leaves me frequently depressed over how meaningless my work is at this point in my life. Naturally that also causes dissatisfaction with, unfortuately, my life in general. If I could only discover that talent or desire within me, if it truly exists, I would be willing to make the time investment.

  12. Eddie Hudson Says:

    Yikes!!!! That’s 10,000 hours of my life for something I love executing, performing, helping others do and a sharing of my gift? Wow, that doesn’t seem like a lot to me! Personally, I understand the dilemma; reading the article my heart sank for a minute. I’m 47 and getting back to painting and drawing after a 25 year break.:) But here’s the thing: when I was 4 years old and begin drawing cars, those were hours in my deposit. In elementary school, when friends were drawing superheroes and cars and I did too, those were hours in my deposit. In high school, hours in art class and working on my own, those were hours in my deposit. College, of course with classes that met 4 hours each week and several of them for four years – again, hours in my deposit.

    With what seems like a turning away from the field, my heart never left it. I prayed desperately and often times without realizing ‘that’ was what I was praying for. When people said “God will take your talent away from you if you don’t use it” I thought and sometimes said “not this, he won’t take this from me.” And when I began drawing and painting again, while a bit rusty, many of the same techniques last used in 1984, came out in my exercising again. These days, though I test software to pay the bills, I eat, sleep and dream ART. I’m up late at night, squeezing a minute here or there during the day, to learn about the business, reading books regarding creativity, marketing, etc.

    I am determined. About now, that is the fuel that says 10,000 or 10,000,000 hours, doesn’t matter. The most important part of the journey is the exercise of the discipline and the message to those who will receive it. I don’t think I’m too old to begin 10,000 hours and it doesn’t matter whether I’m sitting in the barber shop or reading a small article regarding someone’s else success, I’m putting in the time. No time in pursuit of ____ is wasted time.

  13. Tony Hollowell Says:

    They say that it takes a teacher 5 years to become a “master teacher”.

    55 hours a week x 40 weeks a year (we have summers off!) = 2200 hours

    2200 hours x 5 years = 11,000 hours.

    Sure, you can teach right away, and I am a big advocate of taking people with passion and letting them figure it out. But to be at the top of your game in teaching, it takes 5 years, which is about 10,000 hours.

    Your theory matches my observations.

  14. Jason Garey Says:

    I read this before from Michael Masterson. I think it’s important that guys like Jim (he posted the first comment) don’t lose heart. Jim, rather than focusing on the skills you don’t have, count up all the preparation you have accumulated in your various roles in life over your 44 years. What have you gained as a father, husband, brother, son, employee, friend, disciple, deacon, coach, Scout master, etc? If you were to write a book, what are you qualified to write about (be brutally honest and don’t limit yourself)? I believe we all have a symphony in us. What does yours sound like? You owe it to the rest of us to share it.

  15. Brian O'Keefe Says:

    I think the key to this message is not so much this magic number 10,000, but rather the fact that it takes time and effort to achieve mastery of something. When I was young, I watched guys that were much more talented than me drop out of sports. I took the disciplined approach, and practiced all the time. People now think I’m a natural athlete, but I’m not, or at least, I wasn’t. I had to work long and hard to get to the point where I excelled at sports.

  16. Drew Says:

    The fact that this 10,000 hrs is required to be an expert is encouraging. Gladwell says that it is not innate talent, but the amount and quality of time spent doing it – well, what do I want to do?

    This is encouraging, because I try to practice like I play – focus on doing a thing the right way over and over and you will “own” it. After watching “The Princess Bride” I signed up to take a fencing class. I learned left handed because I wanted to be just as good with both hands, and my theory was: If I learn left handed, those skills will transfer much easier to my naturally dominant side much more quickly than learning it with my dominant side and transferring it to my weaker side. Also, learning on the weak side forced me to slow down and focus on technique and not force.

    It worked! I was able to easily transfer the skills. Likewise with something that you love and enjoy, but haven’t put in 10,000 hours already, you are already focusing your attention on that area. And especially if you are learning something new – slow down, do your research, learn technique – practice like you want to play. When you are the expert – the top of your game, the technique is ingrained and flowing through you.

    Most of all, don’t give up hope – with this insight you can learn anything and eventually become the best! But you gotta practice like you want to play.

  17. Daphne Says:

    My sense of this part of the book, from reading several opinions about it, is that you will truly excel at what you spend the most time doing, in a quality manner. It’s not about the number of hours, but about the content and quality of the time you spend because you love what you are doing, not because you must be the best in the world at it.

    Thank you for sharing this, Dan.

  18. UnaMary Says:

    10,000 hours sounds like a long time, especially when I consider the hours I’ve already wasted flitting from one thing to another, trying to find my passion! Dan is spot on when he mentions the writers, musicians and artists who’ve given up too quickly because they wanted instant recognition and success…..or wanted the “gift” to develop quickly…instead of putting in the hours it would take to perfect the technique. Even my personal Bible study has been short-circuited, depending on others to do the hard work, looking for shortcuts to knowledge, wisdom and insight. It doesn’t work that way…. Does anybody else hear the clock ticking? At 62, can I still develop a long dormant passion and find true personal fulfillment and financial reward?

  19. Jackie Says:

    I like to think if I want to achieve something, or become an “expert”, that is my choice. I learned to snowboard last winter. I liked it so much that I bought my own board and am looking very forward to the upcoming snow season. Do I want to put in my 10K hours and become an expert at it? No. But do I want to spend the time, probably 150+ hrs, this season and get really good at it? Yes! That is my choice.

    Everything in life comes down to the choices we make. Nobody said we all needed to be experts at something. What a boring world that would be. I think we are all ‘good’ at something, or at least want to be. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on anything. But I can run down at least five things I’m really good at and that I love doing. Fitting them into a career/vocation is up to me. It’s my choice.

    You continue to deliver great information Dan. I look forward to it each and every week. You my friend are an expert in your field.

  20. MTSU Ice Hockey Says:

    Great Posting.

    I am sure to check this website routinely for more great quality content.

  21. Jon Parrot Says:

    This article hit me like a jolt. I have been spending 7 hours a day on something for the last 4 years and its only been lately that I’ve realized I’m at the top of my field because of it. And I’m 62 years old. It was a long haul, but was worth all the effort.

  22. MIke Says:

    I think it’s a very true point, when it boils down to it,
    If you don’t put in the effort don’t expect the reward.



    I like the approach you took with this subject. It is not often that you simply find something so to the point and informative.

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