10,000 hours required to be an expert

I recently read Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, and one of the ideas he postulates is that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. He was basically saying that innate talent isn’t enough to make you an expert at something, you still have to practice for years until people regard you as an expert. It’s an interesting theory and well explained in the book. I highly recommend reading it – it’s fun, informative and easy to read.

So realistically how long does it take to get 10,000 hours of experience? Well, here’s a quick bit of maths: Assuming that you work 8 hours a day for 5 days a week and you have 4 weeks of vacation a year (I know it varies from country to country), this yields 8(hours) x5(days) x48(weeks) = 1920 hours per year. So you’d need to work for at least 5 years to achieve 10,000 hours! Note that during the 8 hours at work you would have to work constantly on the one skill, not surf the Internet, talk to colleagues, take breaks, spend too long in the loo etc. So more realistically that 5 years could easily become 10. OR less if you were a total fanatic and worked 12 hour days and at the weekend.

I’ve been a hobbyist programmer since the age of 8 (a scary 26 years ago) and coded for crazy amounts of time before I was 20 (hours every day, all night benders, all weekend for many years). Then I’ve been a professional developer for the last 13-14 years. So I think I’ve gone past 10,000 hours a while ago, although lots of my time was not directly programming but doing related tasks like design.

Here’s something interesting though, I’ve been doing Aikido for about 12 years now and I’m a 2nd dan black belt. But how many hours does that really add up to? Pretty much I did 5 hours per week EVERY week without fail (except for Christmas and the odd illness) for most of that time, plus about an extra 7 hours once per month for special courses for at least 10 years, plus a few summer schools of 25 hours (x4 I think) and the occasional extra training session. So what does this add up to? 5(hours) x50(weeks) x11(years) = 2750 + 7(hours) x12(months) x10(years) = 840 + 25(hours) x4(summer schools) = 100 = 3690 hours total. So perhaps I’ve done between 3500 and 4000 hours. This means I’m nowhere near an “expert”, yet if you said to someone you’d been doing martial arts for 12 years, they would probably think you are. Believe me I’m well aware of the fact that I’m still on the bottom rung (or maybe the 2nd) of the ladder as the cliche goes…

So lets compare with my Aikido Sensei who runs the school: He was a full-time Aikido student for many years and trained crazy hours to reach 4th dan in the 1970s. Then for the last 30 years or so he has run multiple classes a week and trained at least 12 hours a week plus ran special courses. This puts just the last 30 years at easily 20,000+ hours but if you add on his first 10 years of crazy training then I’ve no idea what the figure is, maybe nearer 30,000. People who go to maybe 1 or 2 or 3 of his classes a week will never catch him up, it’s like he’s accelerating away in a fast car…I guess that’s when expert turns into master or grand master.

How about you? What are you an expert in or well on the way to being an expert in?

7 Responses to “10,000 hours required to be an expert”

  1. Emi Says:

    I think that’s why University was so satisfying for me, and I’m really glad I chose to go to Music school. I went from singing maybe 4-6 hours a week (which, I’d been doing from the ages of 10 to 18) to singing all the time, days and evenings while I was studying.

    The difference in skill and confidence pre and post was AMAZING and I’m convinced that that’s the reason (along with my super-supportive dude) that I had the guts to start my own session vocals business…

    I love this 10,000 hours idea – I’ve yet to do my own math, but I’ve been singing for over 17 years, I hope I’ve made it!

  2. Alexei Vinidiktov Says:

    That’s the problem! I’ve been spreading myself so thin that I haven’t become an expert in anything so far. That makes me so sad…

  3. Grey Alien Games Says:

    @Emi: Yeah it sounds like you’ve done 10,000 to me! Your voice is awesome.

    @Alexei: Well perhaps you are an expert in learning and have a wide knowledge that could prove useful in starting/running a business?

  4. Grey Alien Games » Blog Archive » Been reading some big ass books Says:

    [...] Gates and Steve Jobs too. He also talks about the 10,000 hours to become and expert theory which I blogged about a while [...]

  5. MMORPG Slot Filled « Saint Waldo's Rant Boxes Says:

    [...] elapsed real time playing this game. That’s roughly 80% of full “expert” status, according to some. Yes, I just tri-meta’d grinding. Pretty neat trick, non? Comments [...]

  6. Reed@martial art supply Says:

    Great article. I am also looking for bloggers who do martial art supply reviews.

  7. Drivers Ed Georgia Says:

    10000 hours looks very big but still it’s so small when you want learn something by passion, you may learn music, dance, computers, art and any thing with passion to get mastery then we never know how we passed those hours.
    Learning is a never ending process.