The 10,000 hours of deliberate practice rule by Suf Alkhaldi

Practicing 100,00 hours
Practicing 10,000 hours

The 10,000 hours deliberate practice was first introduced by K. Anders Ericsson in his famous article in Harvard Business Review in July-August of 2007, which has been famously used by Cal Newport (productivity blogger and Computer Scientist at Georgetown University) and Malcolm Blackwell, the author of Outlier. Blackwell proved that in order to master a skill like playing a musical instrument or playing a particular sport you need to practice around 10,000 hours. He extrapolated this to computer coding as well. The concept of deliberate practice with the supervision of a coach is almost the basic requirement to reach to this mastery.

Although the discovery of this rule has made sense for explaining a lot of talents, it does not explain the creativity and the astounding successes of many silicon valley entrepreneurs.  What concerns me about the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice rule is that we all want to reach to Mount Everest — to achieve the best. Frankly, many people, including me, don’t want to be the best in everything — after all it needs a lot of hard work and around 7-10 years of practice!  In fact, 70% of normal work needs above average performance and 30% needs stellar performance. We do want, however,  to be creative and efficient in using our time.

The 10,000 hours rule creates an astounding skill in music and sports.  However, the skill of Steve Jobs in building the first Apple was not outstanding, even in his time.  The computer code which Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote for the Google startup was not that clean– after all, they were graduate students pursuing their Ph.D.’s in Computer Science. Nevertheless, the idea of producing a search engine which indexes the internet and improves itself using continuous feedback algorithms to improve user experience in the internet search was a breakthrough; much better than if Brin and Page spent their time improving their coding skills.  After all, they hired and are still hiring the greatest programmers in the world.

Steve Jobs kept playing around with many mini-inventions through the years until he was able to master the craft and the beauty of building the IPhone.  Jobs did not practice 10,000 hours to produce Apple.  He was talented with some kind of skill of predicting what will impress users.  Jobs credited his Dad in teaching him this — please read the fence story in the Steve Jobs book by Walter Isaacson.

How about Bill Gates and his early days of building Microsoft? Was his success related to his ability to be a good programmer? Although Gates was an excellent programmer– a lot of stories mention this, building Microsoft was a great challenge for him. Gates and Allen decided to hire Steve Palmer in their Harvard dormitory because of his business experience — Palmer had an MBA.  Gates’ continuous disagreement with Palmer’s plan to hire more programmers to grow the company in the early stages of Microsoft was a sour subject, leading Gates to announce that Palmer was going to ruin Microsoft.   Years later, Gates admits that Palmer was right in hiring more programmers and growing the company. How about Jeff Bezo the founder of Amazon or Tony Hsieh the founder of Zappos?  Did these people practice 10,000 hours of building companies before they were successful?  Bezo and Hsieh, exceptionally talented leaders, seek continuous improvements of their companies. Even if hundreds of people practice 10,000 hours, many of them would not reach to the mastery of a skill to achieve the required creativity combined with timing and location to achieve outstanding success. 

What I mean by this is that not all of us want or need to reach the Olympic Gold medal. We are happy to enjoy watching the Olympics on TV, including the thrill of watching the athletes achieve their goals and victories.

Thank you for reading my post. (  I would love to hear from you. This post is usually published on Saturday.

Leave a Reply