The 10,000 Hour Rule

by Patrick Appel

Peter Orszag thinks it has been debunked:

Like many others who read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” when it came out five years ago, I was impressed by the 10,000-hour rule of expertise. I wrote a column (for a different publication) espousing the rule, which holds that to become a world-class competitor at anything from chess to tennis to baseball, all that’s required is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. David Epstein has convinced me I was wrong. His thoroughly researched new book, “The Sports Gene,” pretty much demolishes the 10,000-hour rule — and much of “Outliers” along with it.

Gladwell protests:

“We’ve tested over ten thousand boys,” Epstein quotes one South African researcher as saying, “and I’ve never seen a boy who was slow become fast.” As it happens, I have been a runner and a serious track-and-field fan my entire life, and I have never seen a boy who was slow become fast either. For that matter, I’ve never met someone who thinks a boy who was slow can become fast. Epstein has written a wonderful book. But I wonder if, in his zeal to stake out a provocative claim on this one matter, he has built himself a straw man.

The point of Simon and Chase’s paper years ago was that cognitively complex activities take many years to master because they require that a very long list of situations and possibilities and scenarios be experienced and processed. There’s a reason the Beatles didn’t give us “The White Album” when they were teen-agers. And if the surgeon who wants to fuse your spinal cord did some newfangled online accelerated residency, you should probably tell him no. It does not invalidate the ten-thousand-hour principle, however, to point out that in instances where there are not a long list of situations and scenarios and possibilities to master—like jumping really high, running as fast as you can in a straight line, or directing a sharp object at a large, round piece of cork—expertise can be attained a whole lot more quickly. What Simon and Chase wrote forty years ago remains true today. In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals.

Earlier Dish on Epstein’s book here.