In his book, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” sociologist Malcolm Gladwell proposes, among many things, something he refers to as the 10,000 hour rule. Essentially, it is the tipping point where, after 10,000 hours of practicing something, you are usually an expert in said activity.
It sounds like a daunting amount, but if you think about it mathematically, it’s actually very manageable. If you stay in the same field, you’ll probably accomplish it almost by accident. Here’s what Gladwell said in a recent interview:
One of the most significant factors is what scientists call the "10,000-hour rule." When we look at any kind of cognitively complex field — for example, playing chess, writing fiction or being a neurosurgeon — we find that you are unlikely to master it unless you have practiced for 10,000 hours. That’s 20 hours a week for 10 years. The brain takes that long to assimilate all it needs to know to achieve true mastery.
Find Your Focus
Your specific task may not be something that’s terribly specific. In this book, Gladwell cites Bill Gates as an example saying that his unique access to a computer capable of programming at a young age when many other people did not have that access allowed him to accumulate his 10,000 hours of practice as well as differentiate himself from any competition he might have. Gladwell himself accumulated his practice at writing while working at The American Spectator and The Washington Post writing stories that, at least initially, weren’t like the books that are his hallmarks of success. So, find out what it is that you want to be practicing. If you’ve got a boring office job, focus on your managerial skills in the hopes that one day you’ll be managing something you care about. If you’re working in a shipping company and want to be a graphic designer, focus on the packaging and the different branding on all the packages coming through. Point is: no matter where you are, you can still focus on the thing you need to be practicing.
Practice Every Day
Though you can certainly get some practice out of mundane or otherwise uninteresting tasks, you should devote some time specifically to that thing which you want to master every day. You don’t have to be as extreme as, say, Charles Bukowski who would often forgo gainful employment (or sobriety) in order to write his poetry, but you should set aside some time every single day for your craft. Novelist James Scott Bell uses a technique called “the nifty 350” to accomplish this. No matter what, every day, no matter if he’s sick or it’s raining or he’s hungover or whatever, he writes 350 words in the morning. Often this will lead him to write more, but no matter what, he commits to putting 350 words – even if they’re not good ones – down on paper. Develop this habit for your own passion and your journey of 10,000 hours will be taken down little by little.
Make your own luck
One of the best parts about the 10,000 hour rule is that it doesn’t have anything to do with luck, and it doesn’t have anything to do with age. You can start your 10,000 whenever you want and accomplish them over however long you desire. Gladwell argues that by doing it you’ll make your own luck by creating “a steady accumulation of advantages.” Circumstance has something to do with it – Bill Gates was the right age to ride the wave of personal computing. But, again, Gladwell says even if the timing was off, Gates would still be “a highly intelligent, driven, charming person and a successful professional.”