The 10,000 hour advantage

It’s easy to notch up 10,000 hours of watching TV – which is why the whole world is very good at doing it. In his book,’The Outliers‘ Malcolm Gladwell makes the case for experience over talent. The premise is simple. Spend 10,000 hours of your life doing something worthwhile and you will get pretty good at it. Good enough to earn a living. If you were to spend the same amount of time gaming, there are hardly any games that you cannot crack. Bill Gates is reputed to have logged over 10,000 hours of programming experience by the time he dropped out of Harvard, giving him a huge lead over the rest of the programming world at the time – the late 60s and early 70s. Gates compiled BASIC in less than 4K – an astounding feat, given today’s bloated software programs, including the Windows OS. Some of the world’s best violinists had already practiced for 10,000 hours by the time they were 21. There may have been others more talented but the simple act of doing something for a definitive length of time confers a big advantage.

Take writing. PG Wodehouse, rated one the world’s best humour writers, wrote all through the evening and late into the night for decades. The humour did not flow easily even if that’s the impression created when they are read. In one of his letters to a friend, Wodehouse recalls how he wrote about 2000 words a day and slashed it down to 200. Sachin Tendulkar did not get to be the best batsman in the world without putting in those 10,000 hours before he was 16. In endless practice sessions at Shivaji Park, he would go on for hours day after day, even after it was established that he was one of the best of his generation and the world. At 37, he still has the drive that many others much younger than him cannot sustain. And now, he probably has a 30-40,000 hour advantage. He has the talent all right but it’s backed up by superhuman effort even today.

So you can spend those 10,000 hours sending out text messages. Or watching movies. Or gossiping and you will get very good at it. See the cribbers in every office who whine at how life has dealt them a terrible hand. They get to be great whiners because they have devoted so much of their life to perfecting it. Or the beggar at the traffic signal. They know the ones who are soft touches. They learn to read sympathetic expressions and figure out who will give them money and those who won’t. So, if you spend the next 10,000 hours getting better than everyone else at something that seems worthwhile to you, the world will sit up and take notice. Luck is a factor. But too few persist with the magic of perseverance. Because it’s a damn sight harder.