I know I’m in good company when I say I discovered the 10,000 hour rule in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success and subsequently became a wee bit obsessed with the rule and its implications.
Since Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hour rule, much ink has been spilled in the attempt to prove it, or debunk it.
A simplified version of the rule goes like this: it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any given field. And not just any practice, but deep practice that’s intense, focused, and tough, and designed to attack your weaknesses.
This kind of deliberate practice is so demanding that the brain can only handle 4-5 hours of it per day, which means that it takes a decade to become an expert at anything.
This means you can’t truly become expert at more than a handful of things, simply because of the time it takes to become proficient. You can’t effectively pursue 14 passions simultaneously if you want to develop real skill. Developing expertise demands focus.
This is fine if you want to become a concert violinist or novelist or chess grandmaster, but for many (most?) of us, the prospect of devoting 10,000 hours to just one thing is daunting, if not downright impossible. Many of us don’t want to devote a decade to just one thing. Many professions today demand such a broad variety of skills that spending 10,000 hours developing one would be worthless.
It may take 10,000 hours to develop mastery, but in many fields, we don’t need mastery. We don’t need to achieve elite status; we need competence. And it takes a fraction of those 10,000 hours to attain it. This is the rationale behind a new rule of thumb I encountered recently: the 100 hour rule.
The 100 hour rule goes like this:
For most disciplines, it only takes one hundred hours of active learning to become much more competent than an absolute beginner.
The 10,000 hour rule is based on becoming the best of the best: it requires a tremendous amount of practice (and probably innate talent, too) to reach the top 1% in a given field. But it only takes 100 hours (give or take, depending on the discipline) to go from knowing nothing to knowing more than 95% of the population—enough to make you competent, even to set you apart.
Gaining competency in a field still takes work, and it still requires deep practice: the active, deliberate, slightly uncomfortable kind that pushes you past your limits. But it only requires 1% of the hours required to become an expert.
Putting in those 100 hours isn’t exactly a cakewalk, but it’s completely doable. At 1 hour a day, you could learn a new skill in three months. At 5 hours a day, it would only take you three weeks. Devote your weekends to learning a new field, and it would take you ten weeks.
It won’t be easy, but it’s possible.
Over time, I’ve devoted thousands of hours in my own life to building new skills in fields that I remain far from expert in, and I enjoy that competency on a regular basis. I’m a decent cook, and a capable photographer. I know my way around a gym. I’m pretty darn good with WordPress. I’m not an expert, but I know plenty. I know enough.
I’m pushing myself every day to put in my 10,000 hours as a writer, but for the rest of it? 100 hours is enough.
Have you seen these rules of thumb—for 10,000 and 100 hours—play out in your own life? What has that looked like? If could devote 100 hours to building a new skill in 2016, what would it be?