I remember reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” a few years back and being unable to shake the eerie feeling that the whole premise was a bit too much “pseudo” and not enough “science.” The book is by all accounts an interesting and somewhat thought provoking read on some of the factors that make up a select few “successful people.” But, most conclusions were drawn from Fox News-esque summaries of research, and it left one wondering how heavily influenced the entire book was by selection bias.
Now, I know the book was never made out to be a scientific study of any sorts, but it seems like Gladwell’s persuasiveness got the better of a lot of readers, as I’ve kept on hearing the fabled “10,000 hour rule” – Gladwell’s rule, that if you put in 10,000 hours of practice at something, you’ll be come an expert at it – stated as fact ever since the book came out. As it turns out, it’s nowhere near as simple as that. In fact, earlier this year, a book excerpt written by Anders Ericsson – the main author of the study, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Gladwell based his rule on – saw the author explain the extent to which Gladwell is incorrect (spoiler alert: Gladwell took a single average and made it a rule.) Especially the deconstruction of Gladwell’s The Beatles example is eye-opening, if you didn’t already balk at the example in the book. But, for a wider audience, I think the distinction of influential practice is probably the most important part of Ericsson’s rebuttal:
This distinction between deliberate practice aimed at a particular goal and generic practice is crucial because not every type of practice leads to the improved ability that we saw in the music students or the ballet dancers.
In other words, even though someone has been doing something for 10 hours a day for 20 years, it does not make them an expert – it’s their approach to it, that does. This is not at all to say that I think Gladwell’s work should be dismissed altogether. It’s merely to say, that I wish people would stop and think about what they read and are told, rather than just accepting it all at face value. For now though, the “10,000 hour rule” serves as a good indicator of when to walk away from a conversation, or counter with such equally fascinating and scientific facts as the 8 spiders a year consumed during sleep average.