How Do You Really Become an Expert at Something?
I recently watched another great video from ASAP Science about talent vs. training. The video asks the question, “which is more important: genetics or hard work?” They briefly discuss research that looked at athletic achievements. The research found that a person’s genetics can mark them as a highly responsive to training, possessing high endurance, or both, or neither. As you might expect, a person who is genetically prone to high endurance and being highly responsive to training makes a better athlete than any other group, once trained. You can check out the video here:
But what about things other than athletics? You may have heard about Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour” theory, which posits that to truly become expert at something (a sport, a musical instrument, a foreign language, and so forth) you need to work at it for 10,000 hours. In Outliers, Gladwell says that 10,000 hours is “the magic number of greatness.” But morerecent research has shown that this is probably not true; even with 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice, not everyone can become an expert at everything.
In fact, the 10,000 hour rule was not invented by Gladwell; he adapted his theory from a 1993 scientific paper that called it the “10-year rule.” The researcher who wrote the paper on the 10-year rule, Anders Ericsson, has clarified that there is nothing special about 10,000 hours or 10 years, but rather, that (unsurprisingly) people who practice something for a lot of hours over a long period of time tend to get pretty darn good at it. Ericsson has also pointed out that the 10,000 hour rule cannot possibly apply to every acquirable skill or talent, because not all skills are created equally. Becoming a virtuoso violinist takes much more dedicated practice than learning to memorize strings of digits, for example. And, he notes, with a field like athletics, body type, build, and other physical characteristics affect the outcome and ultimate success as well.