December 23, 2008

Everybody's talking about 10,000 hours.

"That's the amount of time that author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes for a talented person to master a cognitively complex skill -- like becoming a world-class pianist or an Olympic athlete -- in his new book, 'Outliers: The Story of Success.'"

"10,000 Hours" would have been a better title for "Outliers" -- don't you think? -- if that's the catchy Blink/Tipping Point take-away idea. But no, Gladwell wanted to say not only that successful people worked a long time to master their craft, but also that they got lucky. Good luck with the luck part. But you can work 10,000, so get to it.

The linked article is about how Hollywood is big on the 10,000 idea:
Will Smith... described a small movie he'd seen as featuring thespians who "I could tell . . . weren't world-class actors with 10,000 hours of experience."
Wouldn't it be bizarre if there was a resurgence in the belief in hard work? I hate to see Gladwell get lucky with one of his ideas again, and you know damned well it's not just hard work. If this 10,000 hours idea catches hold, it will also be luck. And you know what his good luck is? It's our bad luck! Long, hard work is the perfect idea for times of dire economic hardship.

***

Law students, here's a formula: 3 x 365 x 10 = 10,950. Law school is 3 years long, so with 10 hours of study a day, you'll have your 10,000 hours. Can you picture me in class, when a discussion question seems tough, asking the students if they are staying on track, studying 10 hours a day, working toward their 10,000 hour mark?

But really, the idea of 10,000 is spiffy, even as it represents a long slog. It might be helpful to think in these terms. Load 10,000 hours into yourself and you're setting yourself up for whatever good luck may come your way.

32 comments:

rhhardin said...

1200 hours logged flight time just makes it boring.

Rich Beckman said...

Gladwell is making a nice living stating the obvious.

Ron said...

Does this mean we're all Jedi Knights of Boredom? 'Cause I put in my 10K somewhere around 5th grade...

Henry said...

Law school is 3 years long, so with 10 hours of study a day, you'll have your 10,000 hours.

What cognitive skill is being mastered? I'm serious.

Henry said...

I heard a bootleg tape of young Yo Yo Ma when he only had 9,993 hours. Dreadful stuff.

Ophir said...

Most children must be geniuses at the cognitively complex skill of watching television.

Richard Dolan said...

"the idea of 10,000 is spiffy ..."

Numerology has its appeal, and it never seems to go out of fashion. All's right with the world if you only have the code. Surely, the spiffiness of 10,000 goes back to pairs of ten fingers/ten toes = 10x10x10x10, which for whatever reason the Great Gaia has decreed will be the norm for people and their chimpy relatives, along with dogs, cats and sundry lesser types.

How different things would seem if, say, the number of teeth had come to be the base, or people had sacrilized the oddball with six fingers/toes per hand/foot/paw rather than the norm.

sean said...

Newly-minted law graduates aren't of much use, and, in any case, law students don't work 365 hours a day. But it is interesting to note that law students might plausibly work 6000 hours, and young associates work about 2000 hours a year, so third year associates would be reaching the 10,000 hour mark. Which, coincidentally, is the stage at which, by general consensus, associates start to be useful. So the legal profession vindicates Gladwell's theory.

Richard Fagin said...

"Gladwell notes that 'there is a raging debate among psychologists whether there is such a thing as innate talent. I'm on the side that says there really isn't. If it does exist, it plays a small role. I'm much more convinced of the contribution of practice and effort to make excellence.'"

Gladwell is demonstably wrong, and it makes it all the more difficult to inculcate habits of hard work and diligence in those inclined to believe more in luck than in effort. I could spend 30,000 hours, or even 100,000 hours practicing basketball. I ain't never gonna be Larry Bird, not no way, not no how. End of story. Those things are readily understoood by most people in the context of pro sports. What most people have difficulty understanding is that same principle applies in almost every field of endeavor.

It is up to every individual to find the things he can do well and master those to the best of his ability. Huge success may or may not come, but at least poverty is off the table. Fail to do that, however, and personal failure is assured.

It is much easier to sell lotto tickets, as a trip to the service line in any grocery store in Texas in Wednesday night will show.

AJ Lynch said...

I think every 10,000 hours or so, Malcolm Gladwell pulls a pretty good book idea out of his butt.

Pogo said...

I would rather spend 10,000 hours embracing Rosie O'Donnell than reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell.

Well, it's a toss-up between the two for "most horrible experience evar."

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

That 10,000 hours adage is very old. It's been said in the martial arts for a long time. Here's a 1994 NYT article about it.

Ann Althouse said...

"Newly-minted law graduates aren't of much use, and, in any case, law students don't work 365 hours a day."

No, but a clever lawyer can bill 365 hours a day.

Joe said...

10,000 hours seems on the low side, assuming someone has the core talent and isn't a progeny. (And most progeny's aren't all their cracked up to be--we often give them a pass since they're usually young or blind or something.)

I've long observed that it takes 7-10 years of hard work, including overtime, to become a genuine senior software engineer. Anyone who claims that title before then is a poseur and usually worthless.

Joe said...

One more note; law school doesn't turn out lawyers, it turns out arrogant punks who think they know the law. It takes years of actual real world work to become a lawyer worth anything. (Which is why anyone who transitions from being a student to being a teacher isn't serving their students very well.)

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Joe: It takes less than 10,000 hours to learn correct vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, and usage. Put in the time.

Henry said...

Florence King observed that the main reason that people went to law school was to learn how to be mean.

Perhaps that is what takes 10,000 hours.

MadisonMan said...

I don't think I'm up to 10000 hours commenting here, so apologies for this sub-standard post.

Salamandyr said...

It should be completely obvious that it takes considerably less time to become competent, even professionally so at a skill.

It may take 10,000 hours to become a world-class concert pianist, but it's ridiculous to think that that much dedication to play pretty music that others would enjoy listening to.

William said...

This past summer the Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics was the daughter of an Olympic gold medalist. Perhaps even more than innate ability or 10,000 hours of practice is who you spend 10,000 hours practicing with. The children of concert musicians and professional athletes and politicians know where to go to learn how to hone their skills. I have had on sporadic occasions coaches and teachers who improved my game a great deal, and other who led me into a cul de sac.

Host with the Most said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Host with the Most said...

Still not yet stated here - though obvious:

10,000 hours of mediocre effort still yields mediocrity.

wgh said...

Ditto Host w/ Most. I've logged at least that many hours at the keyboard and still not world class. I may however be the class of the block.

ricpic said...

The Will Smith comment is hilarious. If acting was "cognitively challenging" theater stages and movie sets would go empty overnight.

blake said...

How different things would seem if, say, the number of teeth had come to be the base, or people had sacrilized the oddball with six fingers/toes per hand/foot/paw rather than the norm.

Didn't the Phoenicians use a base 6 system (still reflected in our clocks)?

And isn't what this guy really saying is that none of us have mastered sex?

Ern said...

I'd say that 10,000 hours is rather a serious underestimate of what it takes to become a world-class musician. A musician who started at age six (almost all world-class musicians start at least that young) who practiced three hours per day (five hours is much closer to the standard for a world-class musician) would have put in more than 10,000 hours by age sixteen, at which point he would be hoping for admission to Juilliard or Curtis or some similar place (in other words, he wouldn't yet be a world-class musician).

Ken Stalter said...

If I continue at more or less my current rate, in another 24.5 years I will have spent 10,000 hours reading Althouse.

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

I've spent 63,875 hours pooping, so I can say this: Gladwell's precociousness is excellent FOR ME TO POOP ON.

nowhey said...

Start with the tip of your thumb. Place it at the base of your index finger - that is one. Move along that same finger to the next joint - that is two. Last joint, three.

Move to your middle finger, still using the tip of your thumb as the counter - base of your middle finger is four. Next joint, five, and so on.

By the time you get to your the last joint of your little finger you will have counted to 12 using only one hand.

That is the reason we use 12 in so many counting systems. Base 12, not 6.

Now, having gone through that once, use the thumb of your other hand to indicate 1 count of twelve. Count the joints in your counting hand again, hold up a finger and your thumb - there you are at 24. By the time you get all five digits raised, you have 60.

Simple really, and that explains a lot about how we count and measure so many basic items in our lives.

wgh said...

And if our knuckle-counting forebearers had thought to include the tips of each finger in their sequencing, base 16 would have been all the rage.

amba said...

Hours, hell. Karate master Masutatsu Oyama said it took 1,000 days just to be a serious beginner and 10,000 days to become a master. That's 27.39 years. I betcha a lot of the best musicians, actors, and novelists would quickly agree.

woolywoman said...

Wait, don't most people study for the bar after they graduate? Does that count to the 10,000? Because they need to work sleep in there, somewhere.