Research debunks 10,000-hour mastery rule in Malcolm Gladwell Outliers The Story of Success

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

If you go by Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers The Story of Success, simply practising something regularly for a long enough time, one will eventually achieve mastery.  The book has repeated mentions of the 10,000-hour rule which can achieve expertise in any skill. The book also cites the examples of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the legendary rock band Beatles to prove the point.

The book relies on the research by Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist and Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. Since the book had hit the bestseller status, it has generated plenty of interest in verifying the claim.

The 10,000 hours rule has its own share of detractors and here is the latest one from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

As per the researcher’s practice increasingly hinders divergent thinking as the day progresses. Another important observation from the study is that contrary to the stereotype of creative geniuses staying up late, people who did their brainstorming at 11 p.m. had the worst productivity over time. The researchers inferred that the idea-generating process got easier the more they practised even though they actually were producing fewer good ideas.

What is the argument against the 10,000 hour rule?

“Becoming better at divergent thinking is a particular challenge, because of the way the brain works. With most skills, practice tends to produce improvement by reinforcing certain cognitive pathways in the brain, making them more accessible,” explains the lead study author  Melanie S. Brucks.

“At the same time, it de-emphasizes other pathways, cutting them off in order to allocate an optimal amount of cognitive resources to the prioritized task. But by training the brain to become more efficient and focused, that repetition also ‘gives you a less flexible brain’,” she adds.  

But it does not mean that it’s impossible to improve creative output through practice. The study suggests that people have been going about it too simplistically.  


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