What does it take to be great at music, sports, writing, business, or technology? What key success factor do great athletes, musicians, writers and computer programmers all have in common. Success is often attributed to luck, connections, risk-taking and innate genius. Certainly those things help, but there may be more to it than that. The secret might turn out to be good old-fashioned hard work.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his new book Outliers, with the subtitle, “The Story of Success” has a chapter called “The 10,000-Hour Rule.” Drawing on research of classical musicians, computer billionaires like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and even the Beatles, he points out that shear effort and persistence are a key characteristic of world class talent. It takes about 10,000 hours of concentrated and purposeful practice to reach the upper echelons of many fields.
In one study, music school professors helped to divide violinists into three groups: amateurs, good musicians and stars with the potential to be world class performers. While all children began playing at about the age of five and practiced a few hours per week, over time there were large differences in the amount of time spent practicing. Good students had about 8,000 hours of practice by the age of twenty, while the elite performers had more than 10,000 hours. Top musicians in their peak years, practice more than 30 hours a week. In similar studies, no natural geniuses emerged. No amazing performers rose to the top without the requisite 10,000 hours. Also, there are no examples of people who put in the 10,000 hours and didn’t become great performers. We are not born with greatness, it is developed and nurtured.
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other technology luminaries had similar amounts of access to computers in their teenage years. Many were renown for spending 60 or more hours per week behind a computer. The Beatles also learned their trade by playing strip clubs in Hamburg for five or more hours a night, seven days week. Even before The Beatles became popular in the US, they had completed an estimated 1200 live performances. Gladwell writes, “most bands don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers.”
Ten thousand hours over ten years means approximately 20 hours per week of serious, focused effort. With ten years of diligence you can become a world class writer, musician or computer wizard. What are you willing to put that much effort into?