Along with crack users serving longer terms than cocaine users, Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule is a statistic that people just love to state, as if they’re the only ones who know about it. For those who do not know, the 10,000-hour rule states that for anyone to master a skill, they must first practice that skill for at least 10,000 hours. The nice, round number has made the rule a popular term. It’s too bad the rule is completely false.
Writer David Epstein ran track in high-school. Despite trying his hardest, Epstein repeatedly lost to Kenyan runners from the Kalenjin tribe. These Kenyan runners didn’t attend practice much, and yet consistently destroyed Epstein in races. It was this observation that inspired Epstein to travel the world and see just how little 10,000 hours of practice meant in regards to sports skill.
The results of Epstein’s research are available in his new book, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science Of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. It is in this book that Epstein looks to learn if Nature or Nurture is more important when it comes to top-tier athletes.
Epstein takes on Gladwell throughout the book. Epstein notes that the 10,000 hour rule is based on a study of only ten people. He also noted that Gladwell simply popularized the idea. The concept was created by Anders Ericsson years before Outliers was written.
Chess masters with 2,500 hours, and studies which discredit the universal appeal of practice combine to further place the 10,000 hour rule in doubt. All of this is not to say that practice is not important, but instead that 10,000 hours is not some magical number, and that inherent talent plays a much larger role in success than Gladwell implies in his book.
Check out Epstein’s new book, available now. Also, stop quoting Malcolm Gladwell as a source of anything.