The 10,000 Working Hours Rule

Can 10,000 hours of work guarantee high achievement?

The rule

In his 2008 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularised the idea of the 10,000 hours rule — that high achievers need about 10,000 hours (roughly, five working years) of deliberate practice (i.e. work experience, learning and development) to go from having high potential and aptitude to high achievements and results.  This idea – that for people with high potential who look for high results, what really matters is how many hours they put in – came from some very specific psychological research but has been generalised out to become a rule of thumb employed by thought leaders in HR, L&D and business psychology.

Is the rule correct?

Researchers questioned this rule of thumb right from the start.  Does it only apply to a high-performing elite?  Is it generalisable from classical music (where the original research was undertaken) into other fields such as work?  Can it apply to an organisation’s entire competency framework?  What constitutes deliberate practice?

Recent research reported in Perspectives on Psychological Science ( suggests – in sport at least – that at the very highest elite levels of performance, time spent practicing does not distinguish the winners from the losers.  At these levels it is genetic makeup, personality and confidence that make the difference.  But at lower levels of potential and results, these researchers found that time spent on deliberate practice makes a real difference.

What does it mean?

What does this mean to the GCC HR and L&D professionals that Oakwood trains and supports each week?  Well, it suggests that in every large organisation, there may be a tiny proportion of very high performing mavericks, for whom the usual rules do not really work.  They need to be identified and supported through Talent programmes and suchlike. 

But the vast majority of employees, at all levels, need well-designed long-term induction and L&D programmes, supported by opportunities for coaching and mentoring.  They need to be managed through their 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in order to reach their potential.

That’s what we believe at Oakwood.  But we welcome dialogue with our partners, colleagues, students and other GCC stakeholders.  

What do you think the 10,000 hours rule means to your organisation and its employees? Comment below!

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