August 12, 2011
I was chatting with a printmaker at the studio I go to about the amount of work and skill it takes to get your prints to come out as you intended. I joked about how little progress I've made in my printing skills in relation to the amount of time spent. "I mean, how long does it take to be good at this?"
"Ten thousand hours," he said without a beat.
He saw my surprise, and explained that it taking 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to achieve expertise was an established saying - he didn't make it up. Ten thousand hours, he said, was roughly equivalent to working full-time (40 hours/week) at something for 5 years. It made sense to him that one would be pretty skilled at something (or at least more skilled than other people) after that amount of time and experience.
In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell mentions a 10,000 hour rule, based on research by K. Anders Ericsson, a theoretical and experimental researcher on expertise (a.k.a. an expert on expertise). Gladwell asserts that the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of 10,000 hours. Along with being born at the right time, and other things beyond one's control.
Though it's certainly an oversimplification and much easier said than done, I still find the 10,000 hour rule to be useful encouragement that reinforces Ira Glass's advice for how to do great creative work - keep producing more work. But what if after 10,000 hours, I still haven't closed the gap between my work and my ambitions? We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.