Don't have 10,000 hours? 10 may be enough to learn something new

In November 2008, a book called “Outliers: The Story of Success” by writer Malcolm Gladwell made an entrance in the world of non-fiction books. And what an entrance it was! It debuted at the number one spot on The New York Times bestsellers list, and held the position for eleven consecutive weeks. In it, while examining the successes of a varied group of people from Bill Gates, the Beatles, to Robert Oppenheimer, Gladwell introduced a concept which has become an oft-chanted mantra. It goes as follows, see if it rings any bells:

“The key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.”

What this idea, famously known as “the 10,000 hour rule”, means is anyone can become an expert in a chosen field provided they are willing to put in ten thousand hours of practice.

Assuming one practices intensely for 8 hours every day, this comes down to 1,250 days or roughly 3 years and about 154 days. That’s quite a commitment. Often, it is this daunting figure that will make it look like a very very tough problem. It leads to all manners of analysis paralysis as our brain goes into overdrive trying to figure out all possible ways of attacking the problem, in the process getting nowhere. (By the way, there are studies that have debunked this rule and there are discussions about how Gladwell has misrepresented the type of practice needed to excel , but that is a topic for another blog post).

However, what you are about to read might sound like clickbait, a cheap trick, a scam. Trust us, it isn’t. The truth of the matter is to be able to learn to do something decently well and quickly, you need not put in 10,000 hours. You don’t need a 1,000 hours either, or even a 100 hours for that matter. All you need is 10 hours of practice, often fewer.

What inspired this post is a YouTube channel run by Mike Boyd, a Scotsman who describes himself as a ‘Learner of Things’. Every week he tries to learn something new and documents the time he spends practicing.

Some of the things he has learned to do this way are:

  •  how to use a slingshot
  • how to throw cards
  • how to pick a lock, and
  • how to play the violin.

Having done this for about two years, Mike has developed a process for himself and gleaned some insights over time. Unsurprisingly, two of these are ‘Start with clear, concise goals’ and ‘Celebrate successes’. Not surprising to us, because these are principles that we have come across again and again in our work related to learning: be it in books like “Switch” by the Heath Brothers, or in the Tiny Habits model developed by Stanford professor BJ Fogg. So we know Mr. Boyd really is on to something here.

We will leave you with two videos from Mr. Boyd’s channel. In the first one, he delineates his process of learning anything quickly while in the second one, he tells us why learning is quicker than we imagine it is. But before we close, here’s our biggest takeaway from these videos:

Make learning a constant in your day. Build a system around it such that it becomes a part of your routine. That will make it much easier to just get started, and once you do, to keep going. It will transform learning from ‘tedious’ to ‘tremendous fun’.

So what what will you learn next? You just need about 10 hours to get going.

And here's the second: