Hard Work vs. Talent

Hard Work vs. Talent

The 10,000 hour rule is a theory in which it takes someone approximately 10,000 hours of practice and active participation to become an expert in a given field, profession, activity, hobby or skill. A theory popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book ‘Outliers’. But do you need to sink 10,000 hours of practice into something to become an expert at it? Does naturally talent play a role in shaving a couple thousand hours off to achieve expert level quicker? Can I be good at something from the start?

Look at the last 3 questions. They are all about being quick. Getting to a point faster. This is the problem. Do you want to be considered an expert at something because you like the moniker, or do you want to be an expert at something because you are? There are no shortcuts to becoming great at something. This is why I always say ‘Start with your passion’. You will most likely enjoy the act of practicing and learning a skill to be willing to put 10,000 hours into it if you are passionate about it. It’s not enough to participate, you have to practice deliberately.

In 1993, Professor Anders Ericsson of University of Colorado sited in a paper that “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”. Another study from Berlin, Germany in the early 1990’s asked violinists how often they practiced from a young age and found that the elite performers had averaged 10,000 hours while the less able performers had averaged 4,000 hours.

It also found that no natural talent had arisen from the group. Meaning that no violinists with no exceptionally natural talent rose to the top with less hours practiced. They concluded that there was a direct relationship between the number of hours practiced and the skill level they had achieved through that deliberate practice.

This is good news for 2 reasons;

  1. The amount of hours you put into deliberately practicing a skill with directly relate to how good you become at that skill. Provided you are will ing to constantly learn, deliberately practice, and continually learn that skill.
  2. Anyone, no matter how bad, or good you are when you first start at something, can become great at it by deliberately practicing this skill or craft. Be it, painting, lettering, design, programming, woodwork, speaking in public, or anything else in the creative field.

If you’re afraid to start for fear of being bad at the skill or scared of the prospect of not improving over time, thus feel like you’re wasting time doing it. You will get better with deliberate practice. Anyone can be good at anything, with a lot of practice. No matter how bad you are when you first begin. If you’re driven to want to be great, practice is the only thing in your way. All it takes is time.

So what about natural talent? Will I be better than someone else with a 10,000 hours if I’m more talented than another person doing the same thing? No.

Talent means you can learn the skills needed to perform at a faster rate, it doesn’t mean you are better at something that someone else who practices. It means, earlier in the ‘learning stage’ of a hobby, skill, or ability, a talented person will internalise the skill quicker, but over time as the person who deliberately practices ‘catches up’ in terms of learning the skill, becoming more confident in their own ability to perform they will become just as good if not better, depending on how much effort and practice they afforded the skill, what they consumed, their inspiration, processes, what they learned and how they learned it. Everyone learns at a different rate, some quicker, some slower. But people internalise information and learning in different ways, using different associations.

How long is 10,000 hours in real-time? It’s difficult to process because it’s such a large amount of time, when we only process hours in terms of 24 hours a day. For example, you have 2 passions in your life. One of them is your day job, the thing you work at for 8 hours a day 5 times a week. Assuming you go by the 10,000 hour rule to become an expert, and also assuming you love what you do so much that you actively pursue new knowledge and skills that can help you become better. It will take you 4.8 years to become an expert at what you do. But factor in breaks, not deliberately practicing skill, killing time online, and the various other acts that see you not actually working on your skill or craft in your workplace, which could potentially add years to becoming an expert at it.

So realistically, say you are actively doing work for 3 hours a day at this job. It would take you 12 years to become an expert at this skill or profession. Now, what if your day job isn’t your passion, your real passion is painting, and you can only practice it when you come home from work. Say, 2 hours a day maybe 4 times a week. This is almost 24 years to become an expert if you follow the 10,000 hour rule.

There is no exact ‘magical number’ in which you arrive at and all of a sudden you are an expert. You don’t have a countdown timer with 10,000 hours of which you activate when you sit down to deliberately practice whatever hobby or skill you want to be an expert at.

Think about how much there is to learn about a skill, the technical side, the practical side, the theory, then say your hobby or skill is competitive like a sport, then you have the strategic side of things. Then there is not just learning it, there is getting better, perfecting it, growing it. Think about your favourite hobby, sport or activity right now, and think about someone you know from it, someone you look up to or your favourite person from it or someone who you’re aware of in it.

For me, it is the lettering artists I follow online. The ones I get my inspiration and ideas from. I consider them experts in their field, even if to them they have not put 10,000 hours of work into their craft. From the outside on social media, you can be perceived as an expert in a field through the work you do regardless of 10,000. The number doesn’t have to be exact, But for yourself, when you are conversing with someone about that skill and who actively participates in that skill. You can be quickly exposed based on how you talk about your experiences, practices, processes, skill levels etc. It pays to practice before claiming to be something you’re not.

The saying “Fake it, ’til you make it” is only partially true. Think about how you are perceived through what you share/say/post/talk about online, based on how you act/perform at that skill in the real world. The ‘Fake it’ part refers to the online world, where you can portray yourself as anything you want. But what happens when you don’t have the skills to ‘Make it’ in the real world? Don’t portray yourself as something you are not, because when it comes to it, you will be exposed for what you really are by the experts who have practiced this in real life.

Be honest with people, be transparent. If you want to be better at something, sit down and practice it, dedicate time purposefully to learning new aspects, new knowledge pertaining to your skill/activity/hobby.

You have to want to be an expert.