Organizational transformation

If I Had 10,000 Hours

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • Outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill.
  • Deliberate practice is different in that it “entails considerable, specific and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well – or even at all.”
  • Organizations could use the "deliberate practice" model to develop areas of critical importance and value - not just areas that are easy to do.

If I Had 10,000 Hours. While I don’t think the Barenaked Ladies will be remaking their classic sing-along hit “If I had a million dollars” song anytime soon, it would be interesting to hear how they would "spend" the 10,000 hours research says it takes to become an “expert”. In the meantime, however, one person isn’t waiting. Businessweek recently covered Dan McLaughlin in his quest to become a professional golfer. Oh, and he’s never golfed before.

His goal is based on K. Anders Ericsson’s work on how people become experts, which he came across in Malcom Gladwell's Outliers. I first came across Ericsson’s work in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article called The Making of an Expert. The main premise is that new research is showing that “outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill.”

The core of the article is that while many people practice doing things for long periods of time, it’s not the practice itself, but the quality of that practice. Ericsson calls it deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is different in that it “entails considerable, specific and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well – or even at all.”

In the end, Ericsson explains that this deliberate practice takes time and often even the most gifted and natural performers need a minimum of 10 years or 10,000 hours of intense training before they can compete at the top level. If you’re thinking that maybe you can slide into that expert status in under 10 years, don’t worry it’s possible – Bobby Fischer managed to become a chess grand master in only 9 years.

It will be interesting to see how far Dan makes it in his quest to become a PGA pro. As of November, he had passed his 1,700th hour.

On an individual level, I think the 10,000 hour “rule” is a powerful framework for thinking about time in general. So much of it just seems to “disappear” that anything that makes us question how we spend our time, which eventually connects to the question of how much time we have in general, is probably a good thing.

But I don’t think the benefits of this thinking are for individuals only. I think it would be an interesting exercise for organizations to develop this type of thinking to really develop their organizations as a whole. In our experience, many organizations get by because they have become good at managing aspects of their organizations that are less than ideal. Rather than work through and and solve problems in these areas, which is usually tough, they focus on those things they already know how to do well and use those skills to circumvent those areas. This is the complete opposite approach of Ericsson’s deliberate practice model.

Regardless of how you interpret the research, or whether Dan makes it to the PGA, when I think of what we'd all be if we had an extra 10,000 hours, the Barenaked Ladies said it best in the last line of their song: I’d be rich.

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