Does 10,000 hours make you an automatic expert at your craft?

You’ve heard about the 10,000-hour principle: invest 10,000 hours in your work or art and you’ll become a master at your craft. Malcolm Gladwell first proposed this idea of the 10,000-hour principle in his book Outliers. (If you haven’t read Outliers yet, it’s an exceptional read.) It’s an attractive principle: put in 10,000 hours and the world is your oyster.

The problem is the 10,000-hour principle seems to only apply to industries and arts with set parameters, like chess, tennis, and golf, among others, where the rules simply do not change. A recent study by Princeton University of 88 sub-studies involving deliberate practice showed only a 12% difference on average across disciplines. The 10,000-hour rule is no guarantee of world-class success.

10,000 hours, quick wins, and becoming a humble master - writetojoncook Jon Cook

Investing 10,000 hours as an entrepreneur is extremely different from becoming a Grandmaster at chess because there are very few rules and the context is ever changing. I still believe that I will be a much better writer (my vehicle for entrepreneurship) if I invest 10,000 hours. However, there’s no guarantee of exact success because writing is both subjective and ever evolving. New words are created, paragraph sizes change, and even the latest version of The Elements of Style says prepositions are now allowed to end sentences with.

I’ve only been on this entrepreneurial path for almost two years. I’ve written over 1,000 blog posts in five years, approximately 1.1-1.2 million words between personal writing and business writing. It may sound impressive, but I’ve also written some “stinkers” just in the past two years. I’m blessed to have some very prominent clients who rely on my writing to build their business, so getting “quick wins” can easily tempt me to think I’ve arrived as a writer.

The best masters of a craft are the humble ones. They know that 10,000 hours does not guarantee future success, only expertise for the world of today. A series of bad choices, or sometimes only one, can destroy your reputation, your expertise, even your livelihood with a snap of the fingers. The difference between a world-class expert and an out-of-work job hunter is a change in technology or industry. Think about how many microfiche experts are still alive today.

10,000 hours is an excellent goal in achieving expert skill. Quick wins are good to build momentum and confidence. But, it’s the expert who values the moment of relevance that will make a lasting impact.

As you pursue your dreams, cherish the journey. Remember how much work you invested to be where you are today. It’s not easy to become exceptional. Knowing how hard you worked to become a master and knowing how quickly it could all be irrelevant is what makes humble masters truly great.