10,000 HOURS IS NOT A MAGIC NUMBER

Much has been written over the past decade or so about the key to being an expert in any discipline as being 10,000 hours of practice.  Initially, the early arguments seemed to have some credence.  Put in 10,000 hours of practice, and you internalize that discipline so well you become an expert.  Many examples were touted to illustrate the theory.

Well, now we are not so sure, and for good reason.  Practice alone is not the key to every “expert” door.  What you try to walk through that door with makes a big difference . . . and yes, even to the point of not being allowed through that door.  Raw intellectual horsepower is a factor.  Bryant Urstadt, drawing from David Epstein’s book, The Sports Gene, writes about this in Bloomberg Businessweek (“Oh, The Places You Won’t Go” 8/5/13–8/11/13, p. 68):

Chess players do tend to reach grandmaster status in an average of 10,000 hours, but some take 3,000 hours to get there, and others need 23,000.  And several players the researchers looked at ‘started early in childhood’ and ‘logged more than 25,000 hours of chess practice and study and had yet to achieve basic master status.’

Therefore, the time itself, although certainly a major factor, is not the only factor.  Innate intelligence, aptitude, and willingness are also extremely important.  Additionally, physical or physiological attributes will render one person more likely to succeed in any given sport than another person not equally blessed with those same attributes:

Ten thousand hours of practice, however, do not a professional make.  Research on baseball players has found that professionals have vision that is off the charts, literally.  A doctor named Louis Rosebaum, testing 87 players in the Dodgers organization in 1992, had to order new charts.  The old ones tested visual acuity only down to 20/15.  Nearly every player neared the theoretical maximum of about 20/12.  Being able to see the ball earlier is a crucial differentiator—and not one an aspiring player can work on.  And so it goes with speed in soccer and cardiovascular efficiency in cross-country skiing.

In my opinion, we have good news and bad news here:

Bad News.  Just because you invest blood, sweat, and tears into any particular discipline does not guarantee you will be a bonafide expert in that discipline.  There is no mathematical formula that guarantees you expert status purely based on practice.  Unfortunately, some people are adopting this false premise and relying on 10,000 hours, planning to attain an “expert” title.  Although this might work for some people, many others will be sorely disappointed.

Good News.  Success in life and business is predicated on a wonderful and exciting combination of many factors.  Your physical and physiological composition is extremely important.  You definitely want to pay attention to that mix.  It will give you some guidelines concerning how far you can go and where you should not go, especially in professional sports.  Understanding that ahead of time is a tremendous insight.  Additionally, by carefully assessing your innate intelligence, aptitude, interests, and passions, you can do a spectacular job understanding and pursuing the roles in which you will excel.  Some of that assessment you can do yourself.  Some of that assessment you should seek outside resources to administer most helpfully.  Sometimes friends, family, and colleagues can see things you miss.  The important matter is to do the assessments and then run with the truth they reveal.  Running with that truth will be immensely more important than any arbitrary 10,000 hours.





About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Tyco Integrated Security at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, a blogger, and a University of Phoenix Associate Faculty member. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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