Posted by: Admin | February 15, 2011

10,000 hours

Here’s a thought – if you’ve reached 50, chances are that you’re good at something.

Writing in his excellent book, Outliers,* Malcolm Gladwell describes the “ecology of success”. To explain: it is a common perception that the most successful, most talented people were born that way, that talent and ability are innate. Gladwell argues that this is a misperception, that while talent plus preparation equal success, it is the latter rather than the former that is the key to achievement.

Take musicians. Quoting from a study undertaken in the 1990s by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson at Berlin’s elite Academy of music, Gladwell describes how the difference between a so-so student and the best in class was not innate ability, but how many hours they practised. The students who would become the professional soloists all had one thing in common – throughout their childhood their practice hours increased year on year, until by the time they were twenty they were “purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments, with the intent to get better” for well over 30 hours a week. In fact, by the age of 20 they had totalled 10,000 hours of practice.

10,000 hours is, it seems, the golden number for true expertise. The brain, apparently, needs this long to truly assimilate a skill to the point where potential can be reached. Those who have reached the top in anything – music, writing, computing, sport – “don’t just work harder than anyone else, they work much, much harder.”

Sticking with music, take the Beatles. In 1960 John, Paul, George and Ringo went to Hamburg where they were required to play 8 hours a night, 7 nights a week. This meant that they had performed roughly 1200 times before they hit the big time in the UK. Taking into account the time spent rehearsing before they got the Hamburg gig, that’s roughly 10,000 hours.

It helps to start young. As a photographer, if I shoot every day for 2 hours a day it would take me 13.69 years to hit the magic 10,000 hours. So I can still become a maestro! But those of you who found your passion in life earlier than me can relax in the knowledge that, by dint of sheer age, you are now where you always intended to be, skill-wise. Which is a big fat tick for being 50!

* I’d recommend Outliers – fascinating stuff.


  1. It is probably a little late in life for me to start anything I want to be an expert in now.

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