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The 10,000 Hour Myth

Malcolm Gladwell writes fascinating books that offer fresh ways of looking at things and can lead to valuable insights. However, just because you found it in one of his books doesn’t mean you should accept it uncritically. I read an article on Business Insider UK tonight on Anders Ericsson’s theories about how practice can lead to success (Lebowitz S. ‘Anders Ericsson: How to become an expert at anything‘ Business Insider. 12 June 2016). Ericsson suggests that, when Gladwell talked about his research and framed the ‘rule’ that 10,000 hours of practice is what you need to become an expert at something, it was a misinterpretation.

The truth is that just plugging away at something will get you above the level of most novices and you might even become fairly skilled over time but you won’t be reaching true mastery. If I took up the trumpet and spent four hours a day practising for about seven years (just over 10,000 hours) it wouldn’t be enough to learn some one-octave scales, a few simple tunes and go round and round them. I’d have to constantly challenge myself and work on things that stretched me. I suspect that, given I’ve already got a lot of hours of being a musician under my belt (although probably still not 10,000) and a fair proportion of that hasn’t been coasting along on the E string, I’d probably get to a decent standard much more quickly.

Practice makes perfect is still a good adage but it turns out that you have to choose to move forward rather than just going in circles.


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