Talent vs Practice: The 10,000 Hour Rule

What could you do with 10,000 hours? A lot more than watch all four seasons of Game of Thrones, that’s for sure. The 10,000 Hour Rule claims that the key to success in any area is largely a matter of practice. Of course, 10,000 hours is quite a lot of time, especially for those of us working and studying. But the most important conclusion to take from this research is this: when it comes to talent vs practice, talent is overrated, and deliberate practice is a key ingredient to success.


In the early 1990s, a team of psychologists in Berlin studied violin students. They studied their practice habits in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. All of the subjects were asked this question: “Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?” All of the violinists had begun playing at around five years old with similar practice times. It was when they were eight years old, however, that practice times began to differ. By the time they were 20, the elite performers averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the other performers had only 4,000 hours of practice each. The elite had more than double the practice hours than their counterparts.


One interesting point of the study: There didn’t seem to be any “naturally gifted” performers. If natural talent was a factor, it would be reasonable to assume that some “naturals” would float to the top of the group with fewer practice hours than everyone else. But this is not what the study showed. The researchers found a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts. No natural talents.

For more updates on modern Nordic management, follow Christian on Twitter.

For more updates on modern Nordic management, follow Christian on Twitter.

In a talent-culture, a lot of emphasis is placed on the natural-born abilities of people. This is particularly true in the United States, where many schools offer “gifted and talented” programmes for children starting at a young age. This extends through higher levels of education, through university, and into the workforce. In Denmark, it seems that less emphasis is placed on “gifted and talented” programmes for children as all children learn together regardless of perceived ability. However, the workforce is still rattled with notions about talent and the talent-culture is alive in well in Danish companies.

Christian Ørsted, author of Lethal Leadership, believes the talent-culture, where we focus solely on talent, is harmful to business. The image of talent makes people afraid to fail to live up to that image, and develop inferiority complexes if they do fail. The talent-culture makes people believe that their success is due to sheer talent, not to hard work, dedication, and practice. People improve their skills through practicing and accepting criticism of their efforts. It’s not about an ability to be naturally flawless all of the time. The real elite have taken plenty of criticism over their course of practice.

 “Real experts are very good at receiving feedback that may hurt a little and then deciding what they can take away from such criticism. After which, they’ll systematically test, experiment, refine, and sophisticate their abilities.”

The problem with relying only on your “talents” rather than your work ethic or efforts, is that many talented people feel that one mistake will cost them their talented title. This results in a culture in which no one is able to own up to a mistake, Ørsted says, which only leads to more mistakes. Instead of searching only for the most talented employees, companies should be seeking out those who are not only talented, but also possess a strong desire to continuously learn, practice, and adapt to criticism. It is also for a company to create a working culture which recognises the effort made by employees.

The takeaway: The elites are not necessarily naturally “better” than everybody else. At some point they fall in love with practice to the point where they want to do little else. If you are not getting the results you want, focus more on making a deliberate effort to practice.

Image from here.

Anna Guastello
24 Sep 2014

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