Ten thousand is the magic number


Recently, I finished reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Though I’m not a big fan of the author, somehow in this book, Malcolm made his subject compelling for me to read.

Malcolm says if you want to be world class at doing something, you have to spend 10,000 hours on it.

Malcolm gives multiple examples to prove how 10,000 is the magic number.

According to him, Bill Gates had over 10,000 hours of programming before he dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft. Similarly Bill Joy had worked more than 10,000 hours of programming at UMich before he co-founded Sun Microsystems.

Interesting non-tech example are the Beatles, who had performed before live audiences in bars for ten thousand hours before their super duper hits. After these many examples, I was convinced about this magic number.

Can I gain mastery at anything if I just put thousands of hours working on it?

If I follow stocks for 10-15 years, can I become a master of stock prediction? Maybe not. Which means that there are some skills that can be learned and some that can’t be learned. Also, doing it the wrong way 10,000 hrs will also not help. Not only do we need to work for many hours, we need to do it the right way and that means we need a good mentor to show us the path.

I did a simple mental math how many years will it take to reach 10,000 hrs of experience. If I did it full time, I can do 8-10 hrs/day and finish it in ~1000 days which is close to 3-4 years. If do it as a hobby or part-time, I can spend 2-3 hours per day, and I’ll take probably close to 10 years to reach my ten thousand hours.

However, time available to focus on an area reduces dramatically as you get older. So if you don’t gain a skill early in your life, odds are you might not master a skill when you are old.  Ouch!

Question remains what would have I done if I had known about this 20 years back?

Maybe, I would have been an world class painter today. Probably, the world lost its next Picasso…

2 Responses

  1. Asim says:

    I think it’s Bill Joy who co-founded Sun Microsystems not Bill Joel.

  2. gromit says:

    Thanks for pointing out the typo.
    Yes. It is Bill Joy who cofounded Sun Microsystems. I fixed my post.

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