Posted on 23 March, 2017

Is the '10,000 Hour' Rule True?

By Jacob Andreae in Mix104.9, Balls 'n' All, Mindset, Personal, Radio Show, Success Is the '10,000 Hour' Rule True?

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This week on Balls'N'All, we draw from Dan McGloughlin's theory that it takes 10,000 hours of active learning and practice to become and expert on a topic.  I talk through the theory, investigate it through Dan's eyes, and even tell listeners what I would spend 10,000 hours becoming an expert on.

Is the '10,000 Hour' Rule True?

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Transcribed Text

Jackson - First Jacob, we’ll delve into your expertise, one of the many areas of your expertise - you told me to say - but, you’re talking about the theory of 10,000 hours. Now, as a brief overview, which I’m sure you’ll explain a little better than I will, it takes about 10,000 hours, the researchers have come up with, to be an expert in something. So could you please tell us a little more about that?

Jacob - So the 10,000 hour rule is the research around believing that you could become an expert in something with 10,000 hours worth of deliberate practice and it was Malcolm Gladwell who created that research, and when I said that, you said “Oh, he wrote that book…”

Jackson - Yeah. So he wrote a book called ‘Outliers’ I believe. I haven’t actually read the book but I’ve got a few mates who have and they recommend it, so I think I might have to give that one a read. But it’s really interesting so, I remember a guy called Dan… and I don’t know his last name and I don’t think his last name was that important but, he had something called The Dan Plan I believe it was and it involved a guy with no relevant golf experience, I don’t know if he played casually but I think he set out to… Have you heard of this guy, or am I just telling you…

Jacob - Yeah, yeah…

Jackson - Yeah. He set out and tried to become an expert, I think he wanted to make the… I don’t know if it was the Master’s Tournament, or something like that, but he wanted to improve his golf game and basically quit his job, quit everything, hired all these coaches and dedicated 10,000 hours… Look, what have you heard about that?

Jacob - Yeah. So I was reading about that in a book called ‘The Sports Gene’ by David Epstein and it was recommended to me by a guy called Tim Ellison at the NT Institute of Sport. He said “Here, you’ve got to read this book.” So I started reading it on holidays over Christmas, I’m still trying to get through it but there was a section on that which talked about this Dan McGloughlin is his name. And so he’s an American guy who had an office job, had a real love of golf and had come across the 10,000 hour rule and said alright, well I’m gonna quit my job, I’m gonna just go and dedicate... deliberate practice to golf every single day, for like 6 hours a day, and that was gonna take… and his goal was, at the end of it, to play in the US Masters, and that 10,000 hours was due to be up in the end of 2016 and here I am, sitting there reading it over the Christmas holidays 2016 going - oh man, this is it! He should be there! Like, how come I’ve never heard of him? So immediately I went and jumped on Google on my phone, and looked his name up, and couldn’t find that he’d actually achieved, you know, what he’d wanted... set out to achieve in that... by the end of 2016. But, yeah, I’ll let you go from there…

Jackson - Well, I don’t know much about that either. So, you’re telling me the story but… Is it true? Does it work? Does 10,000 hours work? And one question I have that I find interesting is, are you more susceptible to learning stuff when you were younger or when you are older? So, sometimes you have habits badly ingrained. I know football coaches sometimes say.”well he’s practiced that bad kicking technique for X amount of years and there’s no changing that now that he’s in the elite system.” They might attempt to change it but they’re always saying “well, it’s hard to change someone’s running style” or “it’s hard to change someone’s kicking style” because they’ve been doing it since they were very young. But, I mean hypothetically, if I were to start a new plan and dedicate 10,000 hours which would take a lot of my time obviously but would I be better doing it now or back, you know, like not talking about time, sort of, not taking that into account but would I learn things quicker now if I dedicated my 10,000 hours from now onwards, or is it like, no, or are you always gonna struggle to be an expert at something that you haven’t started when you were a kid?

Jacob - It’s definitely worthwhile starting something now if you want to learn something. So you would have picked stuff up easier as a child because, you know, the brain’s still developing, it’s creating those neural connections and you don’t have as strong a connection already there. So when you do try to create, essentially, a new habit, which we’ve talked about in recent times, you’re trying to recreate new connections, so new connections are, you know, evolving. And so it just comes down to how much value you see in it. So for example, I’d like to take it to a footy example, when we were doing some running technique stuff when I was working with the Palmerston Magpies with some of the players and they were coming to the athletics track, Waisele Morgan Thompson actually was one of them who’s now at St Mary’s I think or last I heard, I’m not sure if he’s still playing, and Aaron Davey was coming down, obviously who’s played 150 games with Melbourne Demons and a life member there and you know, ...how old... he would been probably, I don’t know 31, 32 at the time so a couple of years ago, I don’t know I think he’s a year younger than me and so what value does he see in changing his running style now - post elite football career? You know, so I don’t know if he’s actually going to be motivated to want to change his running style but if he really wanted to go on and you know, perform at a marathon, the Boston Marathon which is on in a couple of weeks or to go to the Olympics for running then maybe there’s a motivation there for him to do it. So it really comes down to what’s your motivation later on in life and how much value you see in wanting to change that habit.

Jackson - Why 10,000? Is that a magical number that everyone needs to stick to or is it a… is it a bit of a metaphor like a broad sort of number, where it’s thereabouts? I mean you always see people that seem to be naturally gifted at many different things. So there might be someone that is a natural sportsman and then you find out they’re a gun musician or a gun scholar or whatever it might be and sometimes people look at those guys and just say well I’ll just put that down to natural talent or that he’s blessed or whatever it might be. So do some people come up with these… you know, come up with the expertise in these areas - does it take them less than 10,000 hours or is it generally around that 10,000 mark?

Jacob - Yes, so the 10,000 hours came in because that’s what Malcolm Gladwell found out - that a lot of people who were successful in a particular skill had dedicated about 10,000 hours and this is, remember, deliberate practice not just 10,000 hours of learning, like this is outside of going to a guitar lesson - this is just then going, just spending time playing the guitar and I’m glad you brought up the musical side of things because that’s where a lot of the research came from. It was with, you know, people in orchestras and alone with musical instruments and stuff like that. So a lot of the… you know, the criticism with the 10,000 hour rule, is that it was in terms of what people had already done. And that’s why Dan McGloughlin was so… so unique in that he was somebody who had done nothing and he was about to dedicate his 10,000 hours so they could really like remove all other variables and look at you know, what would happen. Of course this was only one example and with any research you want much more, you know, more people involved but a lot, a lot of it is based on what in the music industry and what those people had done in previous times to get to where they are now is considered an expert.

Jackson - So I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not but what was Dan’s go before he started golf? Did you read anything that explained why or what motivated him to start a project like that? And I mean, he must have been fairly well off I’d imagine because not everyone is in a position where they can just decide to quit their job and dedicate six hours a day to a passion. So do you know any background?

Jacob - Yeah so he was someone who wasn’t great at golf, like he was good at golf, he loved golf. Obviously like you don’t quit something to go and do something you don’t particularly like. So he would have been out there playing golf I’m sure, I don’t know that, how much golf he was playing beforehand but I do know, from what I read, that he did enjoy golf, he loved to play golf, he did play a bit of it. That’s what I thought, he must have been pretty well off to quit his job and just dedicate himself to six hours a day to just hitting golf balls and practicing deliberately.

Jackson - Jacob, hypothetically if you could dedicate 10,000 hours yourself to a new passion or a new skill or whatever it might be and I know I’ve put you on a spot here - I can see your eyes darting around like a ferris wheel - but what would that be?

Jacob - Ooh… 10,000 hours to just do whatever I wanted to?  I think it would be something to do with like learning I reckon. I’d become a… I was never much of a learner in school, I didn’t particularly like it. I went to Karama Primary, Sanderson High and CSC and I didn’t particularly enjoy learning at school but something flipped in me probably during my university time, I struggled in the first couple of years and now I’ve become a real life-long learner, I just love like reading and learning stuff and not so much reading but also watching, you know, watching videos and stuff. So I think it would be in learning more about the human body so that I knew more about the human body than anyone else.

Jackson - So you’d take 10,000 hours to study the human body which basically makes you just THE expert?

Jacob - Yeah, yeah, then I’d be really the expert. But interestingly in the Sports Gene book they talk about how the 10,000 hours rule is more… it could range from anywhere between 3,000 hours to 40,000 hours… (laugh) That’s crazy! So this Dan McGloughlin - he’s not... just because he’s reached his 10,000 hours doesn’t mean that he’s no longer, you know, aw no that’s it, you’re not going to make it, you’ve reached 10,000 hours, you’re not going to get there! So it comes back to what your skill level is, like how naturally talented you are at that skill, how… you know, how much experience you’ve had with it in the past, and then that’ll then comes into account when you're then looking at how many hours it takes. I think this is almost the 10,000 hour people’s way of saying “Aw yeah but it’s okay, you might need four times as much as everyone else”.

Jackson - Yeah that seems really weird - that range. I mean it’s so big. It’s a bit like coming up with a theory, yeah saying “oh the 10,000 hours theory but if it doesn’t work don’t worry! I’m sure if you put in 100,000 hours and devoted your, literally every waking second of your life, you might become pretty close to expert at it!” It seems a bit of a no-brainer and I suppose it supports my argument doesn’t it in regards to the natural talent side of things. I mean it takes Person A 3,000 hours and Person B 40,000 hours - well clearly one person is a little more talented than the other wouldn’t you have thought?

Jacob - Yeah yeah yeah. But I’m interested in - now that I’ve had to answer that question what is your, what would you spend 10,000 hours of your time and so I don’t know how many years that works out to be, but six, just say maybe, probably ten years? So if you were able to dedicate you know a fair chunk of hours each day for ten years what would you dedicate?

Jackson - Well I’ve dedicated a fair chunk of my day for the last ten years to watching ‘The Simpsons’ and doing bugga all, waking up at midday and doing stuff like that so I’m, I would classify myself an expert at doing that, that’s for sure! But if we’re talking about something productive, I mean I will explain but the answer really is nothing ‘cause if you wanted something bad enough you would have done it but hypothetically, if I could click my finger and the minimal effort required to be an expert at something, I really would like to be an expert musician. And I know that’s an obvious answer but performing in front of a big stage, I mean anyone who’s been to a festival or a big concert, surely you have to envy the people on the stage, knowing just how powerful creating music is and creating a product that you know, 10,000 or more fans are going crazy for. I think that’d be amazing! And a second one, a little bit more out of left field - I’d really like to be an expert on magic, a magician. I mean I’ve always admired those people, I don’t know whether “admired” is the right word but those people who can just do random magic things. And that’s the thing, I don’t care about those big elaborate studio performance magician, all that sort of stuff, that doesn’t interest me, but people who have really good slight-of-hand I think they call it, when they can do card tricks and coin tricks and literally just make it look like it’s completely disappeared. Just simple things like that… and I think I might devote a little bit more time to that because it’s been on my mind for about the last four or five years. I’ve just thought “Wow! That’d be interesting!” Like I work at a lot of schools and I just thought something like that’d be an easy way to entertain the kids or knew, maybe if you have, if you’re at a bar and you’re talking to a woman or something like that and you had something, some little prop, just some magic stuff, simple things you can do with little props that are next to you. But, yep, something like that would be great Jacob. So, hold me to that one. We’ll talk on a future edition of Balls And All and you can keep reminding me how my magic’s going and maybe one day it’ll culminate into a live, a live trick but we’ll see what happens.

About Jacob Andreae

About Jacob Andreae

I write and speak about Fitness, Nutrition and Mindset. 

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