Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

10,000 hours

Have you read Outliers? It’s a book by Malcolm Gladwell. Not his best book,  but it’s quite good. It’s basically a theory that assumes that really successful talented people get where they are because they just put the hours in. He looks at The Beatles, Bill Gates, Sports stars, all different areas of work and investigates peoples backgrounds.

The guess is that you need to do something for 10,000 hours to get good at it, which is roughly 10 years full time. The Beatles had performed for that length of time before they became an overnight success :D

I’m a strong believer in the idea that almost anyone can do anything if they just put the hours in and concentrate. I occasionally muck around playing a digital piano. I’m not very good. My limits are the intro to Fur Elise and the intro to Wait For Sleep by Dream Theater. That’s about it. But I *know* that if I spent 10 years full time really going for it in terms of practice I’d get bloody good at it.

They say that school isn’t about teaching you stuff ‘per-se’, but teaching you how to learn. That’s a valuable thing to know. If the thought of sitting down with a book and learning some new skill depresses you, it’s really worth beating that. It opens up so many possibilities.

I have absolutely zero natural aptitude for programming. my DNA is pretty similar to everyone else’s.  I went to a relatively good school (state-run) and my mother taught me to read very young. Everything else was hard work.

You can tell I have no actual talent, because I’ve probably done my 10,00 hours and I’m still not rich or famous. I started programming at age 11 on the ZX81. I’m 40 this year.

I’m still trying though :D

6 thoughts on 10,000 hours

  1. The 10k hours is just one of the similarities these people had which he describes in the book. He also attempts to figure out why these “outliers” superstars like steve jobs, bill gates, michael dell etc have achieved what they have achieved in their lifetimes. His conclusion in their case was that they were born during a “sweet-spot” in time which meant that by the time they reached their twenties computing was relatively new and the potential was enourmous. Obviously these people had the insight and acumen to deliver but that time has gone now. Unless of course a new technology is discovered and the planets all align to give an “outlier” individual the opportunity to deliver.

    Its an interesting set of insights into what made the uber-successful what they are. Gladwell was on this programme describing his book:

  2. Have you seen his TED video?

    I, too, believe that it only takes a little talent (it’s more important whether you enjoy doing it), but otherwise persistance and hard work is what gets you further. I’m often afraid of programming some complex stuff, but it seems so easy when I got it working. Actually, I felt like I’ll never be a good programmer when I got my first job at 19 years. I almost quit, but after two years, I now feel safe in Visual Studio).

    Btw, from your articles I had an impression that you are younger, open-minded person. You sure seem energic.

  3. I have read his book and another good one “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin. I would actually suggest the second which offers a different perspective on the same problem — in a nutshell Gladwell makes policy recommendations and Colvin makes personal ones.

    Colvin’s book is more focused about the problem you’re touching on: how do you become a world-class talent in any field? However the conclusion isn’t merely to put in 10,000 hours. In fact it’s to adopt a technique called “deliberate practice”. In a nutshell, if you just play the piano for an hour each day you will not become a world class pianist. However if you practice in such a way that pushes your ability to the limit each time then there’s a chance that after 10,000 hours you will reach that level.

  4. Meh, highly skeptical on that one. That simple idea relies on such a ton of assumptions. It is in fact a very contrived construct of hollow semantics. It works more because it makes a bold, quantiative statement that feeds on our hopes and resonates with or pre-conceptions. It fails as a scientific statement. It doesn’t do any precise predictions and is easily falsified. What does success mean? Being acknowledged by others or succeeding on a personal level? And isn’t being acknowledged for playing a piano something fundamentally different as being acknowledged for composing a unique piece of music? And what exactly did Paris Hilton spend her 10,000 hours on to deserve the kind of attention she gets? What about all the people, who spend 10,000 hours on something and didn’t get successful? And wouldn’t you expect to have lots of minor sucesses during the 10,000 hours rather than 10,000 hours of nothing and then sudden breakthrough as it is somewhat implied here?

    I can see how that theory would work well for Game Developers. Isn’t it exactly the “wrong” kind of message we were indoctrinated from our childhood by RPGs like Word of Warcraft? Just stubbornly grid this one single thing here for X amount of hours to become this über-god.

    (BTW: small typo there in the last line. Says “10,00” instead of “10,000”)

  5. Hmmm,

    I have to agree with the 10,000 (approx ;-) ) hours as I would say that this is what you need to become a 10th Dan black belt which would make you world class.

    It takes at best 11,232 hours at recommended training schedules. This doesn’t allow for holidays, injuries etc – just simply training times

    hours per month months Kyu / Years
    9th Kyu to 1st Kyu 16 3 9 432

    1 ST Dan 20 12 1 240
    2 ST Dan 20 12 2 480
    3 ST Dan 20 12 3 720
    4 ST Dan 20 12 4 960
    5 ST Dan 20 12 5 1200
    6 ST Dan 20 12 6 1440
    7 ST Dan 20 12 7 1680
    8 ST Dan 20 12 8 1920
    9 ST Dan 20 12 9 2160

    Total 11232

    And really above 4th Dan you would be expected to live Karate so those hours would jump to around 50 / 100 ???

    I think it is all about the PERIOD you do them over – just doing 10,000 over 50 years is only 1/2 hour a day. Whereas if you concentrate them your body learns muscle memory, your reflexes increases, your fine tunning becomes better, your memory improves etc etc.

    If you don’t use it – You loose it !!!! – Who here remembers any of the subject they hated at school but yet remembers everything they loved as they turned it in to a career ?

  6. sure but you need quality 10k hours+some talent. What about the players in blue square premier for 15 years? Or what about Messi in Barca at 20?

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