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The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Not Real

The biggest meta-analysis of research to date indicates that practice does not make perfect

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The 10,000 hour rule—first proposed by a Swedish psychologist and later made famous in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliersstates that exceptional expertise requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. The best of the best (the Beatles, Bill Gates) all amassed more than 10,000 hours of practice before rising to the top, Gladwell argued. So greatness is within virtually any person's grasp, so long as they can put in the time to master their skill of choice.

A new meta-analysis, however, indicates that the 10,000 hour rule simply does not exist. As Brain's Idea reports, authors of the new study undertook the largest literature survey on this subject to date, compiling the results of 88 scientific articles representing data from some 11,000 research participants. Practice, they found, on average explains just 12 percent of skill mastery and subsequent success. "In other words the 10,000-Hour rule is nonsense," Brain's Idea writes. "Stop believing in it. Sure, practice is important. But other factors (age? intelligence? talent?) appear to play a bigger role."  

While this is the largest study to date to arrive at this conclusion, it's not the first. Soon after Outliers was published, experts began calling foul—including the expert who supposedly coined the rule, Anders Ericsson. As the Guardian pointed out in 2012: 

There is nothing magical about the 10,000 figure, as Ericsson said recently, because the best group of musicians had accumulated an average, not a total, of over 10,000 hours by the age of twenty. In the world of classical music it seems that the winners of international competitions are those who have put in something like 25,000 hours of dedicated, solitary practice – that’s three hours of practice every day for more than 20 years.

Ericsson is also on record as emphasising that not just any old practice counts towards the 10,000-hour average. It has to be deliberate, dedicated time spent focusing on improvement.

So despite the new evidence that the 10,000 rule is bull, like the studies and articles that came before it, that message will likely fall on many deaf ears. The 10,000 hour rule seems to have entered into the common lore about success: it's a nice idea, that hard work will actually pay off. And no peer-reviewed study has so far succeeded in toppling that catchy message. 

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