In the book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion that to become an expert in a field requires putting in 10,000 hours of practice.

The emerging picture from studies of expertise is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to reach the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert. In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals and what have you, this number comes up again and again” neurologist Daniel Levitin

Gladwell asserts that achievement is driven more by practice than it is by innate talent. This means that how hard you practice (work at your craft) is the key factor which differentiates yourself from others. As evidence, Gladwell pointed to the following examples:

  • Studies of student violinists where the development of  competency (elite performer, good performer, or non-performer) was driven largely by the number of hours of practiced (10,000 hours, 8,000 hours, and 4,000 hours respectively)
  • The Beatles who honed their craft by performing live for 8 hours or more, 7 days a week, in Hamburg Germany during the early 1960s. The sheer amount of time they had to play forced them to get better and develop their own way of playing.
  • Bill Gates who had put in roughly 10,000 hours of programming by the time he dropped out of Harvard as a sophomore to start his own software company (Microsoft).

A recent article by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool clarified what is meant by “practice” (from the study of the student violinists).

a very specific sort of practice referred to as “deliberate practice” which involves constantly pushing oneself beyond one’s comfort zone, following training activities designed by an expert to develop specific abilities, and using feedback to identify weaknesses and work on them — and any sort of activity that might be labeled “practice.

The 10,000 hour rule doesn’t just apply to performers and professional athletes. It also applies to those of us who want to become an expert in our chosen profession.  Here is a summary of key characteristics of what it takes to become an expert …

  • Significant dedication and practice over many years (think 10,000 hours).
  • Consistently pushing oneself beyond your comfort zone (e.g., taking on “stretch” assignments)
  • Participating in training opportunities that are designed by an expert to isolate and develop specific skills (e.g., specialized technical training)
  • Getting feedback on your work to identify weaknesses and areas that can be improved (it is not just enough to execute the same task over and over again, one must be open to learning how to get better)


“Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown, and Company, 2008

“Malcolm Gladwell got us wrong: Our research was key to the 10,000-hour rule, but here’s what got oversimplified”, Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.

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