Learning New Skills For Yourself or Your Business? The 10.000 Hrs- Myth

You might have read it almost all over the internet -and in several books- that you will need at least 10.000 hours of experience in learning a new skill in a new area of expertise. And unfortunately, people keep reading and repeating that hugely erroneous peace of misinformation. So, what is the truth? Allow me to explain, please. The History behind the 10.000hrs Learning- Myth. In 1993, Professor Anders Ericsson, at the time a Professor at the University of Colorado, published an article called ‘The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance’. That was a natural follow up of his book (written with Jacqui Smith): ‘Toward a General Theory of Expertise’ in 1991. He studied the research of a group of psychologists in Berlin, who had observed the violin practice habits of learners in their childhood, adolescence and adulthood years. They have found out that by the age of 20, the ‘elite’ violin players had statistically averaged more than 10.000 hours of practice each (the less able performers had only done an average of about 4.000 -5.000 hours of practice). Ericsson tried to test and extend that idea to all sorts of experts in various fields. So, he interviewed and studied top- athletes, technical professionals and other various top- performers in several fields. He concluded that “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent, are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”. (it assumes that you have a maximum of 1.000 hrs annually to ‘perfect’ that given expertise). Fair enough, for a world-class top performing subject- matter expert. So far – so good. How was the 10.000hrs- Myth created? Anders Ericsson talked in the early 90s about his research- results: that you need at least 10.000 hours to become a World-Class Expert in anything (less if you have a ‘natural talent’ in that field). Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell -a Journalist- wrote in 2008 a hugely popular book: ‘Outliers’ (if I recall correctly, it was for several weeks -if not months- on NY Times’ Bestsellers List). In his book, Gladwell, he took out of context and introduced “the 10,000-hour rule” to his reading mass audience. In the book, the 10.000 hrs been the time needed to become a world expert/ top performer was misrepresented or misinterpreted as the time needed to learn a new skills. Sorry, but that is completely wrong – just a result of a journalist not understanding what he turned into ‘popular science’. So, what is the truth? How much time do I need to learn something new? Ericsson been completely unhappy about how his findings were presented, wrote in 2012 an article (a scientific paper): ‘The Danger of Delegating Education to Journalists’. No more comment on that – I hope it’s clear to all. Studies point out that you need to spend between 20-50 hours (depending on complexity) to learn a new skill so you can have a clear understanding when you communicate with people in that field, develop a sort of ‘gut-feeling’ and obviously be familiar with all the relevant terminology. But you will need to spend the majority of these 20-50 hours also practicing what you read – it can’t be just reading a book; no theory without practice please. If you are starting your own business, these 20-50 hrs should be a guideline for how much time for example you need to invest in building your marketing knowledge, so you can write the marketing section on your business plan, etc. Another example: learning to write Macros in Excel. Sure you can read all about it, and you need to practice it with a real data-filled Excel- spreadsheet. And in all reality, those 20-50 hours might be enough for what you want to do; it is very unlikely that you will need (unless your specialization requires it) 100- 200 hours to invest on learning Excel Macros. Please beware. There are new books (and relevant publicity on the internet) that you only need 20 hours to learn something; I would love to see the scientific data behind it, while I am still on this planet. In Conclusion. There is a lot of information on how to effectively learn something new- just Google it; but there is an observation that seems to be valid: that the moment that you are able to correct yourself while practicing your new skill (e.g. correct your own mistakes in the Excel Macro example above), you are very close to ‘command’ that skill (not to be an expert). So, please stay with the 20-50 hours rule and why don’t you ‘MOOC yourself up’ meanwhile? (MOOCs=Massive Open Online Courses; plenty of them are both high quality and free. Please Google Coursera or EdX or NovoEd or FutureLearn or OpenStudy or the African Management Institute, etc…). And like everything, if you going to acquire a new skill, you should plan how you will go about it – treat your learning process as a mini-project. Thank you and good luck, Spiros Spiros is associated with HireLoyalty (www.HireLoyalty.com) and HIREgana (www.HIREgh.com) © 2017 Spiros Tsaltas.