One way to achieve maximum job security and open doors for the top jobs in your field would be to become the sought-after expert, the most talented person at whatever it is that you are passionate about doing. Everybody wants to hire and work with that person. That’s the dream.
One of the most often quoted ways to achieve this mastery was outlined by Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers. The theory was that you needed 10,000 hours of practice to become an outlier. That’s what set the most talented, expert practitioners apart from everybody else. Practicing 10,000 hours was the secret formula for success.
Maybe not. A new study published in Open Science has put that theory to the test and found that practice alone won’t make you the best at what you do. For participants in the study, deliberate practice did improve their skills, but not to the level of making them leading experts.
The researchers organised three groups of violinists, each based on whether their teachers rated them as the best players, good players, or less accomplished players. The musicians then completed a detailed diary of their practice habits.
The study found that – unsurprisingly, the least accomplished musicians practiced the least amount of time. However, on average the top-rated violinists actually practiced fewer hours than the average ranked players, but both practiced for over the 10,000-hour threshold. So something else is at play.
“The idea 10,000 hours has become really entrenched in our culture,” said study author Brooke Macnamara. “But it’s an oversimplification. When it comes to human skill, a complex combination of environmental factors, genetic factors and their interactions explains the performance differences across people.”
How to become the best at what you do
If 10,000 hours of practice alone won’t make you the top performer in your field, then how is it done? Another recent study published in New Ideas in Psychology attempts to map out the pathway to success. They’ve come up with a five-point formula. (Hard work and disciplined practice are among them.)
The decisive factors are:
“A key concept in this context is to find an area that you’re interested in. That’s how we can light the spark,” Study author, Professor Hermundur Sigmundsson explained. “You need something more. You need a passion for what you’re doing. You have to burn for it.”
Grit, the capacity to persevere through hard times, setbacks, and sacrifices is another essential element to rising above the pack. A positive mindset goes hand in hand with grit – as it is the ability to stay upbeat and optimistic no matter the circumstances.
Finally, the study found that having a mentor, someone you can turn to for help, support, and feedback, someone who can guide you through challenges and potentially open doors for you, is the final ingredient for high achievement.
Their formula reminds me of the only career advice I give my son. (Although he is still too young to care about any career advice I offer him. Eventually he will.) I keep it simple.
Here it is:
Find something you really like to do. Work very hard at becoming exceptionally good at it. Be nice to everyone you meet along the way.