Gladwell draws attention to “a study done in the early 1990s by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music. With the help of Academy’s professors, they divided the school’s violinists into three groups. In the first were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. In the second were those judged to be merely “good”. In the third were students who were unlikely to ever play professionally and who intended to be music teachers in the public school system. All of the violinists were then asked the same question:
Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have your practised?
Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old. In those first few years, everyone practised roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week. But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up the best in their class began to practise more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, an up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practising - that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better - well over thirty hours a week. in fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totalled ten thousand hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students had totalled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totalled just over four thousand hours.”
Gladwell accentuates the fact, that no single musician in Ericsson’s study emerged as a ‘natural’, that is someone who had so much natural talent, that they did not need to practise much to become a virtuoso. Nor did the study reveal any hard-working bees, who totalled ten thousand hours of practice, but just did not get to the top. "Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard she or she works. That’s it.”
“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. “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.”
Gladwell goes on to demonstrate that Mozart, The Beatles, Bill Gates and Bill Joy got opportunities to put ten thousand hours of work to practise writing music or code before they emerged as outliers in their respective fields. I won’t spoil your read any longer, in case you decide to get your own copy of his book.
To bring the point home, ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time (about ten years). To devote this time to any activity, you need support, such as parents, encouraging their children to practise music or enrolling them into a tennis school, or a writer, who can devote time to his novel, without worrying about paying the bills. Gladwell concludes that hard work is not enough - you need to have very fortunate circumstances to develop your talent, passion or idea. The story of success is not quite as simple as a product of someone’s genius. It takes more to explain it, perhaps, ten thousand available hours more.