The 10,000 hour rule (2008) says that to become truly great at something you need not just talent and opportunity but 10,000 hours of serious practice. The rule comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” (2008).
A study of 20-year-old violin students at Berlin’s Academy of Music, a top music school, found that what separated those who had a shot at becoming world-class violinists from those who would probably become music teachers was how many hours they had practised: the possible greats had practised about 10,000 hours, the probable music teachers only 4,000. Further, no one who was able to get into the Academy and practised 10,000 hours was “just good” – nor could anyone get away with just 4,000 hours and be a possible great.
Gladwell says that is true not just for playing the violin but for most things that require talent. Most of what people suppose is talent is in fact just practice. Behind every great man, or woman, is 10,000 hours of practice.
Mozart wrote his first great concerto at age 21. That sounds amazing – until you find out that he had been writing music for ten years. That works out to about 10,000 hours.
The Beatles: When they arrived in America in 1964 they were not just slightly better than other rock bands, they were way better – they were great. But it was more than just talent: from 1960 to 1962 they had played together before live audiences more than most bands do in a lifetime: about 1200 times in Hamburg, Germany, five to eight hours at a time. They went from sounding so-so to sounding like no one else.
Bill Gates: When he dropped out of Harvard at age 20 to found Microsoft he had already spent 10,000 hours programming computers. Not only does that make him like those top violin students, but in 1975 there were maybe only 50 other young programmers like him in the whole world. When he was growing up computers were rare and expensive – only companies and universities had them. But he lived within walking distance of the University of Washington. His friend Paul Allen had discovered some computers in the physics and medical departments that no one was using in the middle of the night. So they would slip out after bedtime and hack the night away.
Talent and practice matter but so does opportunity. Gladwell says that many of the top people of the computer industry were born between 1952 and 1958. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for example, were both born in 1955. That is no accident. Personal computers came along in 1975. Microsoft was founded that year, Apple a year later. If you were born before 1952 you probably already had a family to support and had committed to mainframe computers. If you were born after 1958 you were still at high school and missed getting in on the ground floor.
Likewise, of the 75 richest men and women in history 20% were born between 1831 and 1840. They were just the right age to become the leaders of the American industrial revolution: people like John D. Rockefeller (1839), Andrew Carnegie (1835) and J.P. Morgan (1837).