What Malcolm Gladwell REALLY Said About The 10,000 Hour Rule

Too many times, people misquote Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule regarding being an expert.

“Malcolm Gladwell said you have to have 10000 hours in a subject to be an expert,” they will often state. The problem is, they’re repeating a misquote from someone else who has never read the book.

The 10,000 hour rule is from Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success (affiliate link), which if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

The problem is, Gladwell never said you needed 10,000 hours to be an expert, you need 10,000 hours to be a phenom. To be so freakishly awesome, to be such a standout among your peers, that sometimes your first name is enough to tell people who you are: Peyton. Tiger. Venus. Kobe. Oprah.Malcolm Gladwell

But in the meantime, here’s what Malcolm Gladwell said about the 10,000 hour rule and being an outlier:

“In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers (violinists) had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice.” — p. 38

“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. — p. 40

“To become a chess grandmaster also seems to take about ten years. (Only the legendary Bobby Fisher got to that elite level in less than that amount of time: it took him nine years.) And what’s ten years? Well, it’s roughly how long it takes to put in ten thousand hours of hard practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” — p. 41

So who is Gladwell talking about? Is he talking about the people who are merely “pretty good” or “very good” in their field? Is he talking about the Carson Palmer’s of the world? (Palmer is the QB for the Oakland Raiders. He’s good, but he’s no Peyton Manning.) Is he talking about the people who know enough about their subject to perform at a master’s level?

No, he’s talking about those surprising success stories who stand head and shoulders above the elite performers in their industry. That one guy who is way better than the 31 other “best quarterbacks in the country.” That one woman who fearsomely dominates all other female tennis players in the world.

“This is a book about outliers, about men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary. Over the course of the chapters ahead, I’m going to introduce you to one kind of outlier after another: to geniuses, business tycoons, rock stars, and software programmers. — p. 17

So, let me reiterate: an expert is someone who has a level of mastery about a special skill or knowledge in a particular field. They are not the freakishly good. The world class. The first-name-only celebrities. Those are the “outliers.” The “experts” are everyone else.

My point is, it doesn’t take 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert. It takes less than that. Don’t get me wrong, you have to know a lot about your field. You have to have spent thousands of hours doing it. But that’s not the 10,000 hour rule.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He co-authored three social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995.


    1. I am glad to see someone has finally read the book. I was pretty sure there was more to the story than a thought whittled down to the size of a tweet.

      • Thanks, John. It’s actually quite a fascinating chapter. The book on the whole is great, but you start to get an idea of how important intentional practice and hard work really is. When I heard athletes say it was years of “hard work” to get where they were, I always thought that was just more of the PR pap they were all taught to say. But after I read Outliers, and especially the 10,000 Hour Rule chapter, I realized that’s exactly what it was.