The “10k Hour” Lie

by Nick Velasquez

The “10k hour rule” is a learning misconception popularized and echoed by some authors in recent years. This is what the research truly found on learning and mastering skills.


The idea behind the 10k hour “rule” is that it takes 10.000 hours of practice to reach mastery in any field. This is a misrepresentation -turned into a marketable soundbite- of a serious and thorough research led by an authority on deliberate practice and expert performance, K. Anders Ericsson.


Ericsson himself wrote about being dissatisfied with the way his research and findings have been popularized. What his study focused on was the practice habits of a GROUP OF MUSICIANS, revealing that ON AVERAGE the amount of DELIBERATE PRACTICE accumulated by THE BEST OF THEM was close to 10.000 hours.


Let’s take that one piece at a time. First, the study was done on a particular skill, not across many skills. The average time varies depending on the field. Second, it reported an average. It doesn’t mean it takes the same time for everyone, or that it is exactly 10.000 hours. It could be much less for some people, and much more for others.


Third, the study looks at deliberate practice, a kind of practice requiring focus and pushing our limits, not to be confused with mere repetition, performance, or mindless practice. Fourth, it did not imply that it takes that amount of time to become A MASTER -even if it’s deliberate practice-. Ten thousand hours was the average number that the best musicians in his research had spent on solitary, deliberate practice by the time they were 20 years old. They were very good and likely on their way to become the best in their field, but were not yet masters  -they still had a long way to go.


Last and most importantly, Ericsson’s conclusions focused on fact that all the best musicians of the study had gone through extensive hours of deliberate practice, suggesting that talent had less to do with developing top skill than commonly thought.



Let’s set the record straight then. What the study concluded was not that it takes 10.000 hours of practice to become a master in any given field. But that it takes large amounts of deliberate practice to become very good at a craft -Even for those with “natural advantages”. The people talking about the 10.000-hour rule as a mark to reach mastery are not only misinterpreting Ericsson’s findings, but also missing the most important point. It’s not about how long it takes, it’s about where deliberate practice can take us.


“There is no reason not to follow your dream. Deliberate practice can open the door to a world of possibilities that you may have been convinced were out of reach. Open that door.” – K. Anders Ericsson



Further Reading:

The making of an Expert – by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely

The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance – Edited by K. Anders Ericsson, Robert R. Hoffman, Aaron Kozbelt, and A. Mark Williams

Peak: How All of Us Can Achieve Extraordinary Things – By K. Anders Ericsson


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