10,000 Hours to Shine

Big Ideas — POSTED BY Cosmo on March 19, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Malcolm Gladwell says that if you want to shine, put in 10,000 hours

The search for success has spawned a motivational industry worth millions of pounds and libraries full of self-improvement books.

From the Times Online by Steven Swinford

It is practice, however, that makes perfect, according to the sociologist whose books have become required reading within the Conservative party. The best way to achieve international stardom is to spend 10,000 hours honing your skills, says the new book by Malcolm Gladwell, author of the best-selling The Tipping Point.

The greatest athletes, entrepreneurs, musicians and scientists emerge only after spending at least three hours a day for a decade mastering their chosen field.

Ability, according to Gladwell, is just one factor in success. Work ethic, luck, a strong support base and even being born in the right year play a far larger role.

Just as the Beatles rose to fame with the explosion of pop culture in the 1960s, so Bill Gates’s fascination with the ASR-33 Teletype that he used at school in 1968 placed a shy boy on track to become one of the world’s richest men.

“No one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone,” writes Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success.

Gladwell became one of the world’s most influential sociologists with the publication of The Tipping Point in 2000, which described how small actions could trigger social epidemics.

His new book argues that there is no such thing as a “self-made man”. Instead, the years spent intensively focused on their area of expertise place the world’s most successful people above their peers.

“What’s really interesting about this 10,000-hour rule is that it applies virtually everywhere,” Gladwell told a conference held by The New Yorker magazine. “You can’t become a chess grand master unless you spend 10,000 hours on practice.

“The tennis prodigy who starts playing at six is playing in Wimbledon at 16 or 17 [like] Boris Becker. The classical musician who starts playing the violin at four is debuting at Carnegie Hall at 15 or so.”

The obsessive approach is particularly evident in sporting icons. Jonny Wilkinson, the rugby player, Tiger Woods, the golfer, and the Williams sisters in tennis have all trained relentlessly since they were children.

Much of Britain’s Olympic success is down to a combination of natural ability and sheer dedication. Victoria Pendleton’s emphatic gold in the women’s sprint cycling in Beijing came only after humiliating defeat in Athens four years ago. After training for four hours a day, six days a week the 27-year-old finally reaped the rewards. Rebecca Adlington, the 19-year-old swimmer who won two gold medals at the Beijing Games, has put in an estimated 8,840 hours of training since the age of 12.

Bill Furniss, her coach, said: “When I first saw her, what stood out was the fact that she was so willing to take the pain and make sacrifices.”

Such dedication is also apparent in musicians. Maxim Vengerov, 34, is one of the world’s greatest violinists. He was born in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and, after being given a miniature fiddle at the age of four, displayed outstanding aptitude.

His talent was matched by an immense work ethic. He practised seven hours a day, giving his first recital at the age of five and winning his first international prize at 15. Vengerov said: “My mother would get home at 8pm, cook dinner and then teach me the violin until four in the morning. As a four-year-old boy it was torture. But I became a violinist within two years.”

On a wider scale, Gladwell says that Asians excel at mathematics because their culture demands it. If other countries schooled their children as rigorously, they would produce similar results.

Being in the right time and place is also crucial, as the possibility of success comes from “the particular opportunities that our place in history presents us with”.

Such “demographic luck” can be critical in business. According to Gladwell, being born in the 1830s or 1930s benefited future entrepreneurs.

In those decades, a combination of an economic boom and low birth rates led to smaller class sizes and companies on the lookout for talent.

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, said those who put in many hours of practice effectively make their own luck: “They work relentlessly hard, which means when their luck comes they are ready for it.”

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