10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice

Want to become really, really good at something? Just spend three hours a day at it for the next 10 years.

Fabrice Grinda, who I had the pleasure of sitting next to at dinner in New Orleans last spring, notes:

At a recent conference organized by the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell described the different types of geniuses. He suggested that given the complexities of the problems we face, stubborn and deliberate innovators who collaborate with others are much more likely to be the leading innovators of the 21st century.

His recounting of how Andrew Wiles solved Fermat’s last theorem was a case in point. It took Wiles years of work, collaboration with multiple mathematicians around the world and resulted in a 200 page proof.

As Gladwell points out, it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become good at almost any activity. The good news is that you can become good at almost anything you set your mind to. The problem is that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is about 10 years of practicing 3 hours a day.

He suggested that as a society, we are not giving people the right incentives. We often reward intelligence, but ignore stubbornness which is arguably more important.

Here’s the video of Gladwell talking on the topics of genius, stubbornness and collaboration.

10 Responses to 10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice

  1. gregory says:

    “As Gladwell points out, it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become good at almost any activity.”

    I’ve heard of a number of different estimates for achieving this: from 1 hour a day for 2 years(a bit low) up to 3 hours a day for 10 years. But after 10 years, I think you’d want to be more than ‘good’ at something. If I were putting in that much time, I would be looking at a world leadership position for that particular skill.

  2. Toli G. says:

    Yes, 10,000 hours is needed to achieve “mastery” in any field, as the studies conducted on this topic show – not just being “good.”

  3. Sean S. says:

    This estimate may have some truth, but it takes out of account the idea that talent plays a role in one’s ability to master a skill. I think there are certain people who could master a skill in much less time than the one stated, and some who may never master a skill, no matter how much time is put into learning the skill.

    Talent is mysterious, but it definitely exists.

  4. Preet says:

    Thats a good break down of “mastery” into numbers. But it also depends what you put in those three hours a day. There are thousands of people who spend same amount of (numerous) hours on blogging everyday, but there are only a few who have mastered the art of blogging and capturing their audience.

  5. Chris Yeh says:

    While I’m fortunate enough to have many consider me intelligent, I’ve always felt that the main reason I’ve been successful is my instinctive persistence.

    For example, when I was a student, I didn’t start off as the best writer. But I stuck with it. In high school, I spent one summer writing two essays per day. At Stanford, I stuck with academic writing long enough to become a top gun as a writing tutor.

    The key was systematic practice and persistence.

  6. I studied music in college. The most capable musicians were all incredibly tenacious and disciplined about practicing many, many hours (8 hours/day was not uncommon). Thing is, I also noticed that they practiced because they couldn’t NOT practice. They loved playing/singing so much that if they weren’t in the practice room, they were nevertheless thinking about a particular musical problem. I’ve noticed that good computer programmers are the same way.

    I was also briefly a theater major, and I saw a similar commitment to the craft among the best actors. Then one day I realized that to be successful as an actor or a musician, it’s kind of like being a heroin addict. The reason they go to audition after audition, take endless master classes and do everything and anything to land a role or get a gig is not because they want to. They HAVE to.

    So in a sense stubbornness is important, but I don’t think these people would describe themselves as stubborn. It’s just that in the universe of available options at a given moment — go for a hike, read a book, learn a foreign language — they can’t imagine doing anything else besides practicing/acting/solving Fermat’s last theorem.

    That quality to me is an important dimension of what we think of as talent.

  7. Don Jones says:

    It is not only 10,000 hours of practice, but most of those hours need to be practicing the correct way. An hour of practicing something the wrong way, removes several hours from your score, since it takes several to overcome the bad practice you just spent an hour ingraining…

  8. Ashe says:

    “It’s just that in the universe of available options at a given moment — go for a hike, read a book, learn a foreign language — they can’t imagine doing anything else besides practicing/acting/solving Fermat’s last theorem.”

    I find this disheartening, as I’m sort of a generalist… I know from experience that there is no single goal I would choose. I’ve been trying to determine whether or not this is a character flaw. Our society these days seems to suggest that single-minded focus is required to do anything worthwhile. If you aren’t putting in the single-minded focus, somebody else is. Aren’t there talents that require intellectual breadth? What of the people who make the connections between unlikely fields? the people who see opportunities in unlikely places?

  9. Ben Casnocha says:

    Absolutely there are. I’m a big believer that mile wide, inch deep can be an effective approach.

  10. 10,000 hours. Ah, Ben. Ironically, recent research (Ekman, Davidson et al0 is showing that those who have meditated for 10,000 hours or more are substantially less reactionary, more clear and calm. Polar opposite activities to live a meaningful life.

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