Expert Level - The 10,000 Hour Rule
by Victor Antonio, Sales Influence
In one study conducted by Psychologist K. Anders Ericcson done at the Academy of Music in Berlin three groups of violinists were studied. The first group had stars pupils, the second had good students and the third had students who would probably never play professionally. The groups started out at the age of 5 and in the beginning they all practiced roughly the same amount of time for the first few years. Around eight years of age the difference in commitment to the craft started to become obvious.
Here are the numbers of hours per week and by age practiced by those who would go on to become stars:
- 5 years old = 2-3 hours
- 9 years old = 6 hours
- 12 years old = 8 hours
- 14 years old = 16 hours
- 21 years old = 30 hours
By the age of 21 the elite violinists had each practiced a total of 10,000 hours. Ericcson went on to look at professional pianists and found the same to be true. By the age of twenty, the amateur pianists had logged a total of 2,000 hours of practice while the elite pianists had reach the 10,000 hour mark.
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell puts forth the premise that to be an expert in your field requires a devotion to one’s craft for at least 10,000 hours. Gladwell and other elites cited in the book challenge the premise that genius or being gifted is a matter of innate talent. In fact, closer analysis of success stories prove out that the element of innate talent plays a lesser role in achieving expert status than one might think.
Gladwell also points out something quite fascinating and worth remembering. In his study, Ericcson didn’t find any ‘naturals’ or prodigies who effortless mastered their instrument. Neither did Ericcson find ordinary people who worked harder than anyone else and yet never made it to the top. In other words, he never found people worked hard and never made it.
The correlation between good and expert is clearly delineated by the amount of practice the musicians put in. Given the opportunity to be in a good music school, those who worked harder made it to the top regardless of innate talent or disadvantaged upbringing.
Gladwell goes on to give other examples like the Beatles, who before making it big had logged more than 10,000 of playing on stage in four years while similar bands had only a fraction of that experience. Bill Gates, who through serendipitous opportunities, had logged in more than 10,000 hours of programming by the time he dropped out of Harvard in his first year thereby giving him an enormous advantage over other developers at that time. “If there were fifty in the world, I’d be stunned,” says Gates.
What does it take to be the best? Aside from opportunity and access, it seems that being the best requires us to do what most of us have known all along, work hard. If you believe Gladwell’s conclusion, you also know that hard work can now be measured in terms of the amount of time you’re willing to devote to becoming the best.
I believe this number to be true. I started selling around 1995 and as I reflect back on my time traveling and selling, the milestone of 10,000 hours makes sense to me. When you first start selling and you don’t know what you’re doing, you feel clumsy selling. But over time with enough practice the knack for selling becomes second nature. You move from being unconsciously incompetent (not knowing that you don’t know) to unconscious competence (not having to think about what you do know). I´m sure if you were to ask sales expert Zig Ziglar (pictured with me) he´d confirm that he himself logged at least 10,000 hours in his sales career before he really started making his mark.
How can you use this new metric of talent and expert status? First, you now know that to be an expert in your field requires that you to put in 10,000 focused hours on developing your craft and expertise. There is no shortcut.
Second, when others try to offer you their services, you now have a way of measuring their expertise. Ask them tough questions, but more specifically, ask them how much experience they’ve had in the area of expertise they’re offering. Try to get an accurate hour count of just how long they’ve been at it so that you can weed out the ‘amateurs’ from the real field experts.
Lastly, it’s not innate talent that gets people to the top. Success doesn’t just happen overnight for people, it happens over time. It takes long hours and hard work to be the best. It isn’t until you’ve logged your time through thousands hours of dedication that can you demand recognition or payment for that matter. Experts get paid well and gain the recognition they receive for one simple reason…they’ve earned it!