10000 hour rule, mastery and memory

This blog came out a few weeks ago, but I’ve only just come across it.

I think it may be of interest to people on this forum. Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule is widely cited these days as a rule of thumb/received wisdom about how long it takes to master a skill. This article, penned by one of the authors of a study that was used by Gladwell (Violinists at the Berlin music academy) instead points to the crucial importance of deliberate rather than ‘generic’ practice, and highlights the problems with the way that the 10,000 hours has been interpreted by many, who take it (Wrongly) to mean that anyone can become an expert in a field with this amount of practice. As the author of this blog says - mastery in any field definitely takes hard work over many years, but it is not helpful to reduce this to a number of hours, be that 10,000, many more, or many less.
The other interesting thing in this blog is that memory experts are used as one of the examples…the example in the blog suggests that a figure of less than 10,000 hours is likely to be needed to become a top digit memoriser, although they are not basing this on anything like the scores achieved by, say, the top 100 memorisers, on the current memory rankings. Instead, the example they cite (which I hadn’t come across before) is from an early memory study of Steve Faloon, in the US, who with a system, could remember 80 digits, in the 1970s (news story on this is here).

Interesting reading
all the best

1 Like

I stopped paying to that 10,000hr rule almost as soon as I heard it. A much more helpful model would be to take on a Black Box Training system where you record how you do things and look for improvements and over time you will build up mastery. Or better yet don’t rely on one overly simplified rule. Work hard, do it if it’s helping you, get rid of it if it’s not… It’s always more complicated in real life.


I’m mid-way through reading the book (Peak) that blog post is taken from.

The 10,000 hour rule is clearly a huge oversimplification.

However, the key takeaways from the book so far:

  • keep doing ‘deliberate practice’ in your field, and the more you do the better you’ll get. (Deliberate practice means using effective methods, getting feedback on your performance, and pushing yourself further each time).
  • if you want to be among the best in your field, you need to put in the same kind of hours that the others at the top of the field are
  • effective visualisation of knowledge/performance is a huge part of becoming an expert

The 10,000 hour figure is useful to know, just often not written about in the right context.

Here’s a great TED talk that begins by talking about Ericsson’s 10,000 rule, then begins turning it into something actionable. It’s also just a great talk to watch.


Gladwell doesn’t do a good job explaining what he means by the 10,000 hour rule in his book, but he explains it later in interviews.

He’s not trying to say it required 10,000 hours to be an expert, he’s just saying a lot of the top people in their fields happen to have 10,000 hours of experience.

The key point is work way harder. Work smart, but work hard also. The Beatles didn’t become the beatles by “hacking” the system and playing one show a week. They had unnatural talent, they practiced in the right ways, and they did it constantly. That’s the key point.