10,000 Hours to Greatness

What was your adolescent dream ambition?  Rock star, football player, violinist, chess master, actress, master chef, writer, film director, video game programmer, reporter, politician?   I wanted to be another Robert A. Heinlein on most days.  On other days, I pictured myself competing with Bob Dylan or Neil Young, but during those rare moments when I thought I was being down-to-Earth, I figured I’d become an astronomer.  I became a computer programmer, and not even a very exciting kind of programmer, like those guys who program artificial vision or Mars rovers, but a name and address kind of database guy.  Probably all of us, in our teenage fantasies, expected to do a whole lot more with our lives than we actual did.  So why didn’t we become rock stars?

Malcolm Gladwell explains why in his new book, The Outliers: The Story of Success.   To learn about one of the factors of success, read a significant extract in The Guardian.  Gladwell makes the case that successful people, the kind that become rock stars or computer programming billionaires, succeeded because they all have devoted at least 10,000 hours of practice to their craft.  That figure has been reported for years, but Gladwell explores the idea further and wider.  Want to be the next Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen or the Beatles, then practice a lot, a whole lot, for about 10,000 hours and you’ll be ready for Carnegie Hall.

I must be a genius at television watching because I’ve probably logged more than 25,000 hours watching TV.  Ditto at listening to music and reading novels, but those passive activities really don’t count.  And I know I’ve put in 10,000 hours at work programming computers, but I’m no Bill Joy.  I’m nowhere near as good a programmer as my friend Mike.  Mike has spent thousands of hours studying programming after work.  I seldom do that.  My guess, the 10,000 hours Gladwell is talking about, are those hours where you’re pushing your brain to learn something new, where you’re constantly trying to get something right, where you stay on the cutting edge of discovery.

Another factor I wonder about is age.  Many of the examples Gladwell covers deal with people putting their 10,000 hours in before they were 20.  That’s practicing 2.7 hours a day from the time you’re 10 till 20.  What kind of kid has that discipline?  Bobby Fischer, Bill Gates, John, Paul, George and Ringo.

To test this concept, we should start teaching about the rewards of 10,000 hour of practice to every kid that begins kindergarten and remind them every day until they finish high school.  What if we all gave copies of The Outliers to every tiny tot expressing a desire to be famous, could we create a super ambitious next generation?

Would every seven year-old that was actually able to grind out his 10,000 hours of practice become a major success?  If I could time travel back to my younger self and convince him to pick something and stick with it, would I have been able to become a rock star or science fiction writer?  We like to think winners are big successes because of lucky genes, or the lucky bastards were at the right place at the right time.  Malcolm Gladwell suggests it isn’t always so.

The answer I am seeking is whether or not I can use this knowledge now, at age 57.  I’ve tried to play the guitar more than once in my life, but I doubt I’ve put 20 hours of solid effort into the endeavor.  If someone had shown me this article before I bought my first guitar at a pawn shop when I was a teenager I might have saved myself $25.  Then again, maybe I would have bought the guitar with more realistic expectations.  But do the math.  Let’s say I was disciplined enough to practice 1 hour a day.  That’s 365 hours in one year.  Ten years of study will log me 3,650 hours of practice time.  That’s almost three decades to mastery.  Gee, I could become a studio musician by the time I’m 97.  I could speed up the process by practicing 2.7 hours a day and be looking for music work by the time I’m 67.

Are old dogs too old to become virtuosos.  Gladwell said that music students who only gotten in 4,000 hours of practice were destined to teach.  That makes me ask:  How many hours until I’d be a competent hobbyist?  Let’s say I wanted to take up the guitar again.  How many hours would it take to learn 10 of my favorite songs, and be able to perform them for my friends so they could 1) recognize the tunes, 2) endure listening to all ten songs, 3) be willing to testify that I could play the guitar without smirking, and 4) be able to play those songs in time with other musicians?  I’m not talking about being great, but being able to play like people used to do back in 19th century, when friends would play for fun because back then, if you wanted to hear music you had to make it yourself.

I can think of several hobbies I would like to be moderately accomplished at.  I’ve recently taken up digital photography.  I’m better than most snapshot shooters, but light years away from the good amateurs that I see presenting their work in online galleries or selling photos at arts and craft fairs.

I’d also like to be a better web graphic artist and master Photoshop.  At work I develop web pages, but mostly for data entry and reports.  I’d like to have the skills to create better looking web sites.  This desire overlaps somewhat with the digital photography because people wanted more photos on the web pages I maintain.

Would 1,000 hours of applied practice make me a skilled amateur?  There’s a chance I’ve already put in 100 hours at digital photography, and I can already feel a great deal of improvement.  Would 1 hour a day of dedicate study and practice get me a quantum leap ahead by next holiday season?  I think it would, despite the fact that I’m 57.  I went and shot some friends yesterday for about 2 hours.  Before I left I studied my camera’s manual and picked out a handful of new techniques to try.  Knowing about those tricks didn’t magically make me shoot better pictures, but I was seeing different looking photos than what I’ve been shooting before.

Taking MFA writing courses helped me improve my fiction writing.  Where I failed was the daily practice.  If only I had developed the discipline to practice one hour a day since Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in 2002, I would have logged 2,200 hours of practice.  I think I have put in 600 hours on blogging since last year, and I see improvements there.  To be honest, I would be much better if I consciously studied creative non-fiction techniques and applied them in a systematic disciplined way.  I should dissect great essays for practice.  To work, I think practice means pushing the envelope.

January 1 is still over a month away, but an interesting New Year’s resolution experiment for 2009 would be to apply the techniques I’m learning from Gladwell’s book to see how far I can take this old dog brain of mine.  If I really wanted to scientific, I should pick the guitar, something I’ve got about zero skill with and see how far I can get in one year.  Does the 10,000 rule apply to everything?  Or does it only apply to a person’s natural inclinations to pursue certain skills?  If we all put an hour a day into juggling, would we all reach the same skill level after a 1,000 hours of practice?

The only song I can remember the words to is “Happy Birthday,” and I still stumble on that third line.  I’ve listened to “Like A Rolling Stone” at least a 1,000 times, but I can’t recite the lyrics, nor could I hum the tune.  A friend once taught me the chords to that song, and I got so I could play them through consistently, but few people could ever guess what I was playing.  Logic tells me since I’m rounding the bend towards the home stretch to the social security years, I shouldn’t waste any of my practice hours chasing skills that have little chance of paying off.  Would any number of hours of practice help a tune-deaf person lacking any sense of rhythm learn to play music?

The only endeavor I’ve stuck to in recent years has been this blog, and piddling around with my three other web sites, The Classics of Science FictionLady Dorothy Mills and Classic Booklists, which are all extremely homely when it comes to web design.  Let’s see what 400-600 hours of disciplined practice would do for these existing efforts.

To be honest, I’d still like to be great at something, but I think I’m too old for that.  How many late bloomers make a success at 57?  Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  But is age really the factor?  If success is dedicated focus and discipline, could it be those traits always show up by the adolescent years not because those are they best years to learn, but because if you’re going be focused and disciplined person those traits would have shown up by then?

I was never great at anything because I never wanted to pick one thing and stick to it, pursuing that one skill like an idiot savant.  What would be fascinating to know if I could somehow discipline my brain to focus on one pursuit and ignore all other interests, would mastering that skill be any different at 7 or 57?  If I was 27 or 37 or even 47, I think I’d try hard to find out.

JWH 11/29/8

55 Responses

  1. Well, it depends on how great you really want to be, I suppose. I’ve managed a few milestones that take significant dedication. Quit chess when I was closing on master strength, which was attainable, realizing my peak would fall short of grand master. Did/doing the astronomy and novel thing. It really is 5-10 years of work toward chess master level, a PhD in science, or being able to write and sell a novel.

    I think that 10,000 hours is going to get you to close to peak level, but natural aptitude is going to limit where that level actually is.

    A ran a marathon last year. That takes far less than 10,000 hours of training, but is pretty impressive to a lot of people, and has some health benefits. I could train for 10,000 hours and never threaten world-class runners, however.

    I think the real magic is finding something you love doing so much that the time is meaningless. If you’re counting the hours, you’re not going to make it. Most people don’t seem to have that sort of passion, or don’t put it into something recognizable and valuable to society (e.g., your tv watching).

    I’m struggling with learning Portuguese now. I want fluency, but rote practice bores me. Immersion seems to work though.

    Do you love doing anything, really love it, that would satisfy you to master for this endeavor?

  2. hmmm, i supposed that i am most qualified to be an expert in reading considering how many hours I’ve devoted to it in my life. but what does that get me? perhaps it helps me answer questions better on jeopardy! because of all the trivia i’ve absorbed over the years.

    as for writing, i have been writing both fiction and nonfiction nonstop since 1970, so 10,000 divided by 40 years = 5 hours per week. yeah, i’ve definitely approached that figure, so next year i will officially be an expert in writing, haha.

    i guess gladwell meant that 10,000 hours is a necessary condition for expertise, NOT a sufficient condition. oh, well…

  3. I’ve always been a consumer rather than a producer. I love reading, watching television, going to the movies, listening to music, visiting art galleries, and so on. I envy people who can produce the things I love to consume.

    I wish, and this maybe a very impractical wish, that when I was young I had been urged to try harder at producing. I thought at the time, and I think this is a bad thing to believe, that if a person had talent at producing creative work, it would show up as a knack. Since I never seemed to have a knack at anything, I always gave up quickly at whatever producing enterprise I tried.

    If I had been taught that the knack theory was bogus, and to be creative required work, I might have tried harder. But I don’t know. I do know that now, and I do try a bit harder, but it’s obvious that I don’t have the focus and discipline of a true producer of creative products.

  4. Hey Jim! But how would you get the kids to read that book? If you have an answer – let me know and Ill use it on my 13 year old. He likes his drums – but there is no way he practices that much. However – he practices his signature for when he is famous ( > : a lot!

  5. Pam, try printing out the article, and see if he’ll read it. Or email him the link. Tell him it’s about the success of musicians like the Beatles. It will be a fun test to see if he’ll read it or even respond. But you could also just talk to him about it. It sounds like you have a perfect subject for the experiment.

    Of course, do you want your kid practicing the drums 2-3 hours a day?

  6. [...] Harris talks about how it takes 10,000 hours to master a [...]

  7. Maybe I’m just being optimistic having just hit 40, but I certainly don’t think age has much to do with it in its own right. Now if you consider that we theoretically have more responsibilities and busier lives now than we did at age 20 then I would consider it a factor, but just simply being older should not be a deterrent to wanting to improve in any of our hobbies or interests. What that 10,000 hrs. tells me is that the person was devoted. Now after 40, or 50, maybe our devotion has to be tapered off some due to our other commitments (and maybe not) but even if that is the case I really think it would be a shame to not try to do something if you have a passion for it. Part of the key may be setting goals in line with your digital photo thoughts…how would adding a little practice time improve you in whatever you are pursuing over the course of a years time?

  8. Carl I saw another piece by Malcolm Gladwell where he says it doesn’t matter what age you start your 10,000 hours. I found that very satisfying.

    I think you and I, and especially you, are logging our hours on getting better at blogging. I need to practice more with layout and graphics like you have already done.

    Now that my wife works out of town, I could put 2.7 hours of practice in each evening.

  9. I feel like, in some ways, I’ve taken a step backwards over the past semester that my daughter has been in school and working. Since she is gone my wife and I watch far more t.v. that we wouldn’t be watching with her were she at home and while I’ve enjoyed the time and what I watch I also feel that it has robbed me of some of the time I would spend doing other things, even various hobbies that I haven’t spent as much time on.

  10. I started reading a sample of Gladwell’s latest on my Kindle, but I stopped short of buying it. While I know you can’t grow an orchid in the desert, I’ve always felt nature is more important than nurture. Certainly 10,000 hours is going to take you quite far in any endeavor. However, if I had started playing basketball as a toddler and put in 10,000 hours in my youth, I would still be no Lebron James. If I had instead studied physics with the same passion, I would still fall short of Feynman. So today at 42, I pursue my chosen career and my interests and I don’t worry about how far I’ll go before I die. It is the pursuit that is important at this point.

  11. I was a singer at the age of 5. I loved it and thought that I would be famous. One day, a few years down the road, around the age of 21 I realized that the likability of the sound that I made with my voice was not up to me.I think I mastered my craft up to my genetic potential but that wasn’t good enough to be famous. On to the next 10,000 hours I go.

  12. thanks…you just helped me figure something out. really, thank you!

  13. [...] The mind is like a muscle, it can be improved with exercise – like I pointed out in “10,000 Hours to Greatness.”  This really is a case of “If I knew then what I know [...]

  14. You’re wrong. Your examples of popular stars who (according to you) have put in 10,000 practice hours on instruments, passions, and hobbies is incorrect and misleading. There is a certain point where the hours logged become irrelevent, and this is often where we see superstars emerge. The members of the Beatles, for example, likely never logged 10,000 hours on each of their respective instruments before becoming rock stars. The amount of dedication it takes to become truly great at something is a trait that few people have, (if you see the line between nurture and nature becoming blurred here, hats off to you) and even fewer people use. Those of us who are lucky enough to be handed a basketful of god-given talent are the ones whom we assume put this amount of practice into anything, when the reality is that they could take years off of practice of their given talent, and still be better than the rest of us “practicers.”

    • Franz, remember the examples I give are from the book Outliers, so they aren’t mine. But I’ve seen other articles about practice versus talent, and practice is very important. There are people with musical minds that require much less practice, and there are people who could practice 10,000 hours and still stink. I tend to think anyone who practices for thousands of hours will already have the talent to see its value. I do think the Beatles would have been a much lesser band if they hadn’t spent so much time in Germany.

    • Of course the members of the Beatles could have put in 10,000 hours of musical practice they were choir boys, played the guitar as kids. I have often seen kid guitarists with guitars in their hands more than two and a half hours a day from the time they are 8 to 18. Of course it is possible that they only had 5,000 hours but the Beatles are not good examples of unskilled rockers who just picked up their instruments and played. They were fluid players.

    • The main point though about mastery and the Beatles is, that we know the Beatles from their great recordings and despite what the general population believes, the reason those recordings are great come down to one man, their producer George Martin. Martin a highly skilled highly educated composer, arranger, conductor, engineer and producer, took the songs that the Beatles wrote and crafted them into greatness. Yes the they (the band) had a genius level of creativity but he had immense knowledge, skill, experience and creativity as well, so what you experience on a Beatles record is that 10,000 hours of mastery, from the “master” George Martin.

  15. [...] 2005, I stopped having this problem. Whether that’s the 10,000 hours rule, or the 5 year rule (can’t find citation, but it’s out there), that’s when I [...]

  16. [...] [...]

  17. Most of us mere mortals spend 10,000 hours trying to find what we are both truly good at and passionate about….

  18. One thing which we humans have no control is time.Time is the 4th dimension which eludes us all. I just realized that my parents are older and thus must be wiser because they lived longer hence has more experiences and insight about how to make it in the life.If we can learn from our parent’s mistakes and imitate their successful traits and practices such as achieving at least 10,000 hours of work then we would most likely be better off. But how often will a kid listen to their parents at age 5 and which kids will have the discipline to work so hard everyday?

    Furthermore,Malcolm Gladwell claims in Outlier that successful people are given the chances where was others didn’t have. Here, I am think about Tiger Woods and the Williams Sisters who were shaped into greatness and must have achieved 10,000 hours. Did they have innate abilities? Possibly but I think what really matter was the conditioning and influences of their parents to practice at an early age that lead to their success.

    • It would be hard to create an experiment that would prove Gladwell’s point. I suppose we could create a school for golf and tennis and try to recreate the same conditions that Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters experienced and see how many kids become a success that way. But having intense mentoring is very hard to come by.

  19. Hey there, I’d like to interject a bit of wisdom on the guitar front. I started playing around the age of 16, and probably noodled for at least a year before I got into serious “I’m gonna really learn how to play this thing!” I spent a good portion of all my senior year in school toiling away. If I were to guess using a median of 2-5 hours daily, I most likely logged 2,660 hours of practice. I’d say it was about the same, if not more, from 18-21. Which brings my grand total somewhere around 10,640 hours of sheer practice. I’m 25 now, spending most of my time transcribing Mozart Symphonies for the electric guitar. Anyhow, my point of this post is that there could be some validity to the argument. I’m certainly ready to go on tour should the opportunity present itself.

    To answer your earlier questions about guitar, it depends entirely on electric or acoustic. The acoustic guitar is more about the right hand than the left if you’re planning on playing songs that are chord based. For example, I could teach you for a year practicing 1-2 hours a day and you could easily play the entire Beatles catalogue. You certainly don’t have to be a music virtuoso to play the Beatles. However, if you wanted to learn to play Mozart’s Symphony No 25 in G Minor, you’re talking about 10,000 hours of practice.

    Just a bit of info from someone who’s been there and done that.

    • Wow, that’s very cool specific information related to the article. I’d like to hear Mozart on the electric guitar, do you have songs online I can go listen to?

      BTW, nice website Brad, I need to read it regularly, but I didn’t see anything about your music.

    • I am a 51 year old bass player. I started playing bass guitar at age 40. Always had the desire to be good but did make the time. Again, the desire and passion was there but not good use of time, watched a lot of T.V. I spent about 30 minutes a day practicing songs I grew up on and scales. Now at age 51, I play gospel music in church in the band where I am heard all over the planet via internet. I am working on my 10,000 hours. I do not care how old I will be, I am doing this for me and whatever perks come with it. I am making a nice supplemental income playing my bass. In the gospel music arena there is a huge demand for musicians (mainly keyboard) A very good piano/organ player can earn between $45-80K a year playing for one or multiple churches. Also, factor in getting paid for funerals and weddings to add to the amount mentioned. So, my next goal is to learn how to play keys. I have another 10 years of teaching in public schools. After that my musical abilities will help supplement my retirement. I am saying all of this to say IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO BEGIN! I started at age 40 on bass and will be starting at age 51 on piano. Just do it you will not regret it.

  20. [...] list. The basic idea is to get you to shoot as much as possible. Have you ever heard of the 10,000 hours rule? You may not need (or have) 10,000 hours to devote to photography, but one thing is for sure: [...]

  21. JWH,

    As a professional singing teacher, I can tell you that the 10,000 hour rule to master a musical instrument (including voice) or conducting etc, only works if you also have talent.
    So you need two factors the talent and the focus.
    If you do not have natural musical talent no matter how much you practice the result will not be “musical”.
    If you have talent but you do not put the time in, or have a flightly personality of a dabbler going from one interest to another, you can achieve some level of skill but you will never really be good. I see it all the time, the urge to quit or change directions, in people with this personality kicks in right when they are beginning to make real progress.
    Still some degree serious musical training, even if it does not accompany the 10,000 hours to mastery can give a person the level of skill to enjoy what they are doing and make a pleasant impression on an audience.

    • Yeah, but I doubt there are many musical greats with talent that didn’t practice a whole lot.

      To me, the real question is whether or not people with little or no talent can work their way to success.

      Another thing I’d like to know: If we train kids when they are young, can they become musical? Regardless of innate talent. Is talent just starting young?

  22. [...] to code is not an overnight thing. As the now famous saying goes, it takes 10,000 hours to be really good at something. When I think of it in that context, that it will take me 10 years [...]

  23. Am happy for this information,this is the first time am coming across such a principle and though am 27 now,living in Nigeria where the economy is not very encouraging in pursing a dream, but i believe i will make a different in the world before the age 40 with this information. As for you i believe you are great already at your age, cos your write up is touching alot of people, like me, so who ever start his journey as a result of your encouragement can’t take away the fact the you made him see the root to greatness so don’t regret ok. thanks, am c.j ..aka devoice, am a motivational speaker and human resources manager of rising academy Nigeria.

  24. There is a kind of time that is totally subjective, unlike the GMT version. Creative energy is not subjected to this. Preparedness,
    inspiration and n that sixth sense are all synthesized for success.We are not in control. Where is room for the great SOUL in this formula?

    • Our conscious mind is not the whole mind, but just an aspect of it. There are one or more unconscious minds at work in our head too. I’m sure they are all subsystems to the brain though. There is no reason to believe we have conduits to higher minds outside of our body.

  25. 10,000 hours – or even 20, 30, 40,000 hours of practice – is absolutely no guarantee of “success” in terms of fame and money. It should guarantee extreme proficiency, perhaps even mastery, over a skill, but the formula for making it “big” mostly involves luck, right-place-right-time, and a strong support apparatus, in terms of human as well as material support.

    • Absolutely, no amount of practice is a guarantee to success. But on the other hand, without those thousands of hours of practice, people will never know if they have true creative genius.

      In other words, if you want to be great at something, don’t give up until you’ve put in at least 10,000 hours.

      • Well, there is also a matter of quality time over pure quantity of time. The jazzers call it woodshedding, and that’s the idea of practicing as much as you can, whenever you can. I seriously doubt that John, Paul, and George actually “practiced” or woodshedded all that much, except when they were first learning their instruments. But obviously the hours and hours of live performances at the Cavern Club and in various dives in Hamburg made them hone their craft as musicians as well as planting the seeds of their future songwriting skills. I believe that there was something else, that doesn’t come along all that often – their songs were quite different in many ways when compared to their peers at the time. There were, and have been, thousands of bands spending hours performing in order to eke out a living, yet none have ever emerged to do what the Beatles accomplished. There was a certain spark there, and then one cannot even begin to overestimate the tremendous influence of producer George Martin. We will truly never see the likes of that kind of creative musical output – ever.

      • Gladwell goes into all that in his book The Outliers. He said the 10,000 hours of practice can’t be just any kind of practice, but conscious striving to push the limits. He also claimed The Beatles became who they were in Germany while playing hours and hours a day seven days a week. Gladwell theorizes that The Beatles wouldn’t have been the great band they became without going to Germany.

        I do believe there is such a thing as musical ability. My wife can hear a song and easily memorize the lyrics and melody. Some of my favorite songs I’ve heard a thousand times and still can’t recite the lyrics or hum them.

        On the other hand, scientists are now evaluating the concept of talent. The average person likes to believe some people are born with genius. That might only be partly true. There’s another good book to read, Talent is Overrated. Without mentoring talent doesn’t get far. Mozart and Tiger Woods would not have been the giants of their art without their dads.

        But some people might have a talent for practice and concentration. I doubt if I ever had the mental backbone to practice the guitar 10,000 hours, and even if I did, had the concentration to do that special kind of practice where I’d actually learn. I might could strum chords for 10,000 hours, but where would it get me?

        I should retire soon, and I could have 10, 20, or even 30 years of time to do something creative, like learn to play the guitar. But I won’t. I don’t have that kind of talent, to apply myself. I wish I did.

        It’s a shame we don’t teach kids how to concentrate and apply themselves to a creative endeavor early in life. Some kids are lucky and have parents that push them, or they might the right mentor, but for the most part kids just do what they want, which lacks any discipline. School is a different kind of learning.

  26. Dear Sir:
    I can assure you that age does not matter, as long as it does not hinder the capability to fulfill your intent. I have two examples as following:
    The first case is a man who worked as a plunger in his whole life. Somehow during his high school years he became obssessed with Greek literacy and took a few courses on Greek. Unfortunately he could not find enough time to futher pursue his dream as the plunger work took much of his time, so he picked up Greek till after the retirement. In a few years he was able to memorize Iliad and the Odyssey in Greek, which is a feat I would not dare to think about.

    The second case is more intimate as the subject is my father. He started to learn Japanese after retiring as a math professor, and in two(or three) years he was able to pass the 2nd level exam for Japanese (in my country there are three levels).

    So I would say that as long as your target is within the grasp, 10,000 hours of practice should suffice. Furthermore, if you only want to entertain family members and friends, you can cut down the time to 1,000~2,000 hours, which is about 3 years and two hours per day with some break now and then. And, as you said, 4,000 hours of practice can make you a teacher, which IMO is above 95% of the population already.

    The difficulty, as you described in the last paragraph, is to concerntrate. Honestly, I’m 30 years younger than you but I too find it very hard to concerntrate and let perseverance guide me to success. Because of this I cannot give you further advice on this aspect, but I do believe that encouragement from family members and taking classes can help in certain ways. Good luck!

  27. [...] James Wallace mentions Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers: The Story of Success which posits that true [...]

  28. age doesent matter one bit, people feel different older i think but i started to follow my dreams at 25 an have never looked bk, i now do anything in my power to get to where i want to be,
    it took the death of my best mate to give me a kick up the arse, now im acting an on me way, il say to anyone that anything can be done, dont be scared to follow your dreams

  29. […] This is very telling. The obvious reason why I’m not a writer is the lack the talent.  But what is talent?  Is it a gene?  Is it being born with a muse?  I am reminded of a book, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin.  Talent is mostly hard work.  If I lack talent its because I’m lazy.  But we also know that some people work very hard and never succeed, even if they put in their 10,000 hours of practice. […]

  30. Pouring 10k hours in any one direction is a huge gambling of time. You’ve mentioned Bill Gates and others who have succeeded but they are the 2%, 98% of other people that have dedicated their life to achieve greatness have failed in some way but we just don’t hear about them. There are billions on the planet but only a few rise to the top and, past the 10k initial effort, the rest remains the area of chance / pure luck. Your life circumstances might have put you in a position where becoming a rock star wasn’t possible. Or possible at the cost of having no family and “real” friends, etc.

    • Also worth considering that everyone has been distributed a different set of interests and stamina:

      A musician:

      - Playing music: can play all day
      - Cooking: yeah right, just take away
      - Playing chess: sux
      - Organising bushwalk with friends: no interest
      - Programming AI of moon rover: no idea, no interest
      - etc

      A programmer:

      - Playing music: bof.. maybe 1 hour then get sick of it
      - Cooking: enough to survive
      - Playing chess: only interested in automating the process
      - Organising bushalk: will go but won’t organise
      - Programming AI for moon rover: can do that all day

      A cook:

      - Playing music: like music, don’t like playing it
      - Cooking: Can do this all day
      - Playing chess: meh, overrated
      - Organising bushalk: makes me hungry
      - Programming AI for moon rover: what?

      So that’s for the type of people of have a “strong” affinity. Most people, believe it or not, are actually well balanced and they look more like this:

      Parent / Cook / Engineer / Artist / Traveler / …

      - Playing music: a bit
      - Cooking: a bit
      - Playing chess: a bit
      - Organising bushalk: sometimes
      - Programming AI for moon rover: I’ll try

      then, as “well balanced people” who value a whole range of different things, we look at the fanatics (people with very strong affinity in one particular domain) and think we could achieve it with a bit of effort. It’s a recipe for disaster. Unless you have some hidden talent that actually never seen the day (and that would be rare past 20 years old), then you’re more likely not a fanatic and more a jack-of-all-trades. People think it’s of lesser value but really, when you can fix your car then cook something great on the barbie while on a ski holiday visiting friends (because you actually have friends and family because you have time for them) then the life of the fanatic doesn’t look so great.

      • That’s a good take on things sriveste. I’m both good and happy being who I am. But one of the things I enjoy, is thinking about who I could have been if I had been different. I hope I don’t sound like I’m whining or depressed. I just like to speculate how I could have been different. I guess I like to think of my life as an alternate history novel.

        But I also think we all live in an aquarium that defines our limits. I got this idea from the science fiction story “The Star Pit” by Samuel R. Delany. Whatever barrier we hit, we can also see others swimming further, and that galls us. But that’s good, because it makes us push at the glass, it makes us want to go further, and sometimes we do.

    • The more you get good at once thing, the less time you have for other things. Being normal and well rounded is probably a saner pursuit. I guess now that I’m getting older I have regrets that I didn’t spend my time wisely. I speculate about whether I could have been more efficient with my time. Maybe watch less TV and spent more time on my other hobbies. But I love TV. Television has always been very entertaining to me. I like friends who watch the same shows as me.

      I never could have been a rock star. I don’t have the talent, nor could I have spent months at a time living out of hotel rooms. However, it is interesting to speculate if if I could have spent more time at learning to play the guitar or piano. I have spent way more than 10,000 hours listening to music, but only a few dozen trying to play it. It would be interesting to know if I would have listened less and played more if I could have acquired some musical skills.

      I still don’t know if talent exists, or if talent is really just a lot of hard work starting young.

      Before the advent of the phonograph if you wanted music in your life you sang or played. Lots of people sang and played. It was a social activity. Now people walk around with white buds stuck in their ears. That’s not bad, just different. I’m just speculating about whether life would be more interesting if we all still played and sang a bit.

  31. If you really want to learn how to play an instrument you should and not be deterred by your age or ability to master it immediately. Learning is something beautiful. We all have something to gain. Try something new and don’t worry whether your wasting time by learning or attempting to learn.

  32. […] quote from a blog review by James W. Harris  (I haven’t read the book, I’m posting my thoughts on the premise) […]

  33. Just recently I came across this hillarious TED talk that challenges the 10’000 hours:

    Surely worth your time!

    • That indeed was an excellent TED talk, very inspirational. I don’t think it challenges the 10,000 rule, because it’s different. I always thought the 10,000 rule was attempting to become GREAT at something, like becoming the Beatles, or a grand master at chess. However, knowing that it takes just 20 hours of concerted practice to get a good start on any skill is very useful knowledge. What he’s really saying is go for it, work at it, but don’t give up for 20 hours because you won’t see any results for 20 hours. Or more simply, don’t give up on anything until you’ve put at least 20 hours of hard work into it.

  34. […] discipline at all.  A complete wimp when it came to practicing.  If I had known about the 10,000 hour to greatness theory of practice, I would never have tried at […]

  35. […] ordinary people with decent hobbies can find flow for escaping reality.  Success is focus, 10,000 hours of practice, and a creative awareness of the past with the ability to imagine something new and […]

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