“Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell; How To Become an Overnight Success: 10,000 Hours or 10 Years – Which Ever Comes First

The Wall Street Journal’s Entertainment and Culture section has an interview today with Malcolm Gladwell about his third book “Outliers”.

I bought and read Gladwell’s two previous books “The Tipping Point” and “Blink”.

I found both books stimulating and insightful.

I plan to buy and read Outliers as well.

In today’s WSJ interview, I found one of the interviewer’s questions particularly interesting because I was exposed to research similar to that mentioned in today’s interview about grandmaster chess champions.

From the Gladwell interview: “At one point you suggest that the difference between a professional and a talented amateur is 10,000 hours of practice. How did this become the magic number?”

Gladwell’s response:

“A group of psychologists who study expertise looked at a variety of fields. There is a threshold of preparation for greatness. Nobody has been a chess grandmaster without having played for 10 years or composed great classical music without having composed for 10 years. When classical musicians were asked when they felt they achieved a level of expertise, the answer was 10,000 hours. It’s an empirically based finding that seems consistent across a number of different fields. It also helps you understand why opportunities are so important. An opportunity is basically a chance to practice”.

The research I mentioned before was from MIT. It was strikingly similar in nature except it pertained specifically to the study of grandmaster chess champions compared to other chess masters.

The study from MIT analyzed the differences in brain neural pathways and linkages between the two types of chess players. The study found grandmasters had established 2 billion neural pathway linkages whereas chess masters had not.

After having established two billion neural pathways, the grandmaster achieves a level of conscious subject matter expertise and performance not available to chess masters with any fewer number of linkages.

The study concluded subject matter expertise was the direct result of daily concentration and focus on a single subject for a continuous period of ten years or longer.

Take your pick.

No one individual can expect to become an expert in their field with anything less than 10,000 hours or 10 years of consistent, sustained, focused attention on and practice of their chosen subject.

To prove either concept to yourself, look around for examples of people you consider successful in their fields.

Few if any, would be considered successful with anything less than 10 years of focused practice within their chosen field.

Then look for examples of the extraordinarily successful people you either know directly or indirectly – the “Outliers”.

My guess – you will find the Outliers have been practicing whatever they have become successful at for well over 10 years – and more likely 20 years or longer, hence the saying: “There is no such thing as an overnight success.”

I am sure there are some exceptions to this rule.

However, I believe you too will find 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice were required before any one of them began to distinguish their performance from that of their peers – let alone became an extraordinary success or “Outlier”.

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