Guru Hype #2: Practice Makes Perfect… with 10,000 Hours Clocked?
One of the oft-quoted advice on success, from the angle of perfecting a skill, is the 10,000-hour rule.
This rule was introduced and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success”. It’s the notion that “achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practising the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.” (Source: wikipedia)
Many great achievers and successful people, be they golfers, biz whizs like Bill Gates, even The Beatles, seemed to have spent enormous number of hours before arriving at the greatness they stand for.
As an example, Gates is said to have spent 10k hours programming computers at the young age of 13; and we all know he is a billionaire. Is there a connection here? A remote one (which I failed to see) or just a manifestation of guru hype (which I see much more clearly)?
Now, isn’t Gate’s massive wealth due to his business savvy and how Microsoft came to dominate the PC industry with their software?
Put it another way, if another kid were to start developing software and use up 10,000 hours, is success guaranteed? We can’t even be sure if the resulting software product will be bug-free! Such is the complexity of making software that no one can claim perfection.
Practice Sometimes Predict Performance… But in Limited Cases and Measure
Well, Dr. Sonenshein stated in “Stretch” (on page 76) that research has shown practice does predict performance in some scenarios. So all is not lost, it seems.
In games for example, only those with infrequent rule changes, such as Scrabble or chess, benefitted from lots of practice. Even so, the contribution of such practice made up only 26 percent of actual performance!
For music and sports, where people are also expected to practice extensively, the contribution figures were found to be lower, at 21% and 18% respectively.
But look at education — practice contributed only 4 percent of performance. So much for “mugging” (see the definition of this local slang word here) as the way to score entry into top schools!
And both aircraft piloting and software programming clocked in at below 1%! Ain’t that a scary thought? I’m sure many of us assume pilots train hard and the navigation systems they use — a lot is controlled by software, in case you aren’t aware — are well designed.
The bottom line is this: what we face mostly in our professional and personal endeavours are less-predictable challenges, where performance attributed to practice amounts to single-digit percentage figures. If you’re lucky, you could do a bit better, getting into the low-teens.
Obviously, these findings are a big blow to the 10k-hour rule. There’s no real magic in that rule, just guru hype raised to a new level.
So, no need to think much about those ten thousand hours of practice, let alone perfection! Practice didn’t make perfect in all the cases mentioned.