You have probably heard or read about Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule”. If you practice doing something for 10,000 hours you will become an expert. You could do this in just under 5 years if you put in 8 hours a day 5 days a week (or 5½ hours every day). Why not get started right now?
This all sounds about right. The most successful people in many areas have indeed put in many hours of practice. But is this why they are so successful?
Let’s consider some basic logic:
- A necessary condition (for example, putting in lots of practice) must be met in order to achieve a certain outcome (for example, performing at an expert level).
- A sufficient condition, if met, guarantees a certain outcome.
Practicing in order to become an expert is probably necessary in many cases. But is it actually sufficient?
To answer this question, a group of researchers recently analyzed data from more than 100 studies including over 10,000 participants in a variety of different performance domains.
The results show that practice has relatively small effects. While the amount of practice you put in certainly does explain some variations in performance (about 12% overall) it does not account for most of it.
There were also some interesting differences between areas of performance:
- Practice matters a lot more for game players (such as Chess and Scrabble), musicians, and athletes than it does for others.
- Practice seems to matter very little for professionals (such as programmers, pilots, and salespeople) or students.
While it may be necessary in some of these cases, we can safely conclude that practice alone is not sufficient.
What now? How can we predict if someone will be good at something?
Looking at a person’s resume usually won’t tell you much about how likely they are to perform. Simply knowing what a person has done in the past can only give you clues about the actual quality of their experience. And there is no reason why a person who hasn’t done something in the past cannot necessarily do that type of thing in the future.
If you want to figure this out, it is usually best to focus on a person’s potential. For example, is there a good match between their personality and the area of performance?