Does 10,000 Hours Make the Best Businessman?


In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he talks about the rule of 10,000 hours. He cites researchers agreement that “10,000 hours of practice is the optimum time needed to gain expertise”. He goes on to demonstrate in a myriad of industries that all experts in a field have a minimum of 10,000 hours working or practicing in that field. He cites The Beatles, violin players, Bill Gates and software programming, and numerous other examples.

He does not, however, tie this into any sales, marketing, or other businessmen. Does this ‘rule’ hold true when applied to business? If yes, it would certainly show that “experience” is the #1 factor in determining job hires an success rates; but we know experience is not the #1 factor. I believe that the 10,000 rule can translate to business, however past the point of 10K hours, there is likely little difference in someone who has worked 100K hours vs. 50K hours. At that point, it would be more about innate ability and ambition.

In going back to Gladwell’s book, his examples all talk about “practice”. The Beatles “played” for 10K hours, Bill Gates “coded” for 10K hours…so I’m wondering, how do we “do” 10K hours of business? Does this mean 10K hours of work in 1 area? 10K hours of work researching? I look at myself and executives tell me my ‘best’ skillset is sales. Well, I started to sell when I was 18 and had my own business in college; is that why I’m more successful now than the majority of people my age? Did I hit that 10K hour mark sooner?

I’m not sure about me; but I am sure that I would like to figure out how to go about getting 10,000 hours in each business area – so this will be my next conquest.

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  1. July 21, 2010 at 2:11 am

    The 10,000 hours concept comes from a previous book by Geoff Colvin “Talent is Over-rated” which was based on some original academic research by Anders Ericsson. (the link to the original research pdf is on my blog at http://www.conorneill.com/2010/01/tiger-mozart-and-pogar-sisters-how-you.html )

    The point was that you need 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice”. There are five things that characterize Deliberate Practice:

    1) It is designed specifically to improve performance
    2) It can be repeated a lot
    3) Feedback on results is continuously available
    4) It is highly demanding mentally
    5) It is not fun

    Most of the time in business I am so busy being busy that I have no time to reflect on my own performance – and feedback is not instant – it comes 2 months from now when I don’t close the sale or 6 months from now when the anual performance review comes around.

    There are plenty of 50 year olds who have accumulated more than 10,000 hours of “business” who are less effective than a 23 year old starting today… it is not just time (nor talent)…

    • July 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

      This is great Conor. I’m going to set aside an hour to read your blog tonight – but thank you for the five items. Making far more sense to me now.

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