It’s been four years since Dan McLaughlin decided to leave his commercial photography job and devote his existence to golf. As of October 4, he had practiced golf for 5,592 hours. With a 10,000 hour goal, he’s got 4,408 to go.
The Dan Plan as he calls it, is all about the 10,000 hour rule. Known as deliberate practice by psychologists, the basic idea is that practice counts and 10,000 hours really make a difference.
Where are we going? To how we develop expertise.
The 10,000 Hour Rule
Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, the 10,000 hour theory originated with a psychology professor at Florida State University. Looking at violin students at a West Berlin Music Academy, Dr. K. Anders Ericssen concluded that practice time determined who would excel. While he emphasized that people differed, he said the average time needed to become a “prodigy” was 10,000 hours of disciplined solitary practice before age 20. By contrast, becoming pretty good required 7,500 hours while those with 5,000 hours became teachers.
Not everyone agrees with Dr. Ericssen’s work. Crucially, they remind us that his data is retrospective. Because it depends on his subjects’ recall, bias and inaccuracy are bigger problems than with data from daily logs.
One study also pointed out that the “domain” matters. Utilizing meta data from all relevant research, they concluded that practice counts more for athletes than for teachers. One reason was predictability. Your practice makes more of a difference when you know precisely what to expect.
Below, you can see that the results of the meta-data study indicate the impact of deliberate practice on expertise was not substantial and diminished to almost nothing for educators and professionals.
Furthermore, like me, I assume you are also asking, “What about genes?” After all, there were more than 20 musicians in the Bach family. Investigating how expertise develops, researchers have also cited starting age, working memory capacity, intelligence and personality.
Our Bottom Line: Positive Externalities
Thinking about the debate surrounding deliberate practice, I kept returning to education. Deliberate practice is all about unbundling the skills that create expertise. Whether we agree with the idea or not, focusing on deliberate practice involves figuring out how best to initiate the ripple of positive externalities that start with human capital formation.