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The Ten-Thousand-Hour rule: Is it true?


Hard work beats talent: motivational sayings like these are all the rage. But can you really develop everything to perfection if you just keep at it long enough?


  • What does the Ten-Thousand-Hour rule say?

  • The Ten-Thousand-Hour rule is a myth

  • What you can take away from the rule

  • Making the most of the Ten-Thousand-Hour rule

  • The right focus determines success


More than ten years ago, the US author Malcolm Gladwell published the bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success. The core message of the book is that every area of life, whether finance, leadership or top-class sport, can be learned to perfection within 10,000 hours. It is clear that this was a bombshell in the start-up world, as the 10,000-hour rule captures the anything-is-possible mindset of the scene. But is this rule really true?


The results of a comprehensive meta-study of 88 studies on the topic of diligence and success are clear: Overall, exercise accounted for only about 12% of individual differences in performance in the various fields.

So, according to the research, the 10,000-hour rule does not work to make it permanently into a professional field through diligence alone.

A living example of this is the US-American Dan McLaughlin: He quit his job to become a professional golfer with the 10,000-hour rule. After a little more than 5,000 hours, he also reached a remarkable level of professionalisation: he was briefly among the top 6 per cent of all golfers.

But then his health threw a spanner in the works: first, his body started to complain of slight pains, then they got stronger and stronger so that McLaughlin had to take months off. A new attempt also failed, so that after many futile attempts he gave up golf after more than 6,000 hours.

However, that is no reason to completely shelve the 10,000-hour rule. There is a lot that can be applied to it.


The 10,000-hour rule cannot keep its promise to catapult you into the Olympus of every discipline if you work long and hard enough at it. But it does express an important principle: Self-discipline. Only those who constantly train it can be successful in the medium and long term.

Those who work on the 10,000-hour rule are willing to learn new things and challenge themselves every day. In addition, they are willing to make an effort, deal with setbacks and still keep at it diligently.

So it's about finding out your strengths and talents and building on them, rather than wanting to learn anything perfectly just because you set your mind to it.

Don't take the 10,000-hour rule literally, but use the principle behind it of permanent willingness to grow and develop.


Below is a guide on how to make the 10,000-hour rule work for you without being misled by the promise of mastery that comes with it.

  • 1. Write down your motivation: What area do you want to get better at and why? Is it for prestige or is it really to achieve the company's goals? Only in the latter case should you use your precious time to develop the skills.

  • 2. Make a decision: learn on your own or outsource? A smart entrepreneur knows what he can and cannot do. And he has no problem delegating tasks he is not comfortable with. Hire a suitable employee or freelancer whenever possible instead of spending your time on training in areas you are not good at.

  • 3. Identify your talents: Go on a journey of discovery by writing down what activities you enjoy. Even seemingly mundane activities like DIY can be a door opener to hidden skills that lie dormant within you. Also, ask family and friends about things you enjoyed doing in childhood. Get support from a coach to uncover your strengths.

  • 4. Practice, practice, practice: Now comes the part that made the 10,000-hour rule so famous: Practice makes perfect, and that's when you've discovered an area that can't be done better by someone else and is inherent as a talent within you. Now it's time to take targeted courses, workshops, literature, etc., always keeping mastery as a goal in mind.


The rule only focuses on practising. But that is only one part of success; just as important are talent and intuition.

Just because you've practised knitting for 10,000 hours doesn't mean you can really do something where the expert world thinks, Wow! That's more than just stitch after stitch, there's really something special behind it.

Smart Work bears fruit, not Hard Work alone. If you fight against something that is not inherent in you then the only thing left is to burn out. What takes energy, even to the point of burnout, does not fit your own personality. If you learn and grow in an area with ease, joy and passion, that is your talent. This is where it pays to keep at it because the path itself is fun and this is where the chances are greatest to make it to mastery.


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