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16 oktober 2015

10 000 hour rule debunked again

This 5-minute article suggests a few simple but powerful mental tools for getting more out of life and investment research efforts, avoiding waste and suboptimization


Some become world champions in just 1 000 hours, some never

First you must realize, there is no spoon 10 000 hour rule

there is no 10 000 hour rule
Please e-mail me at mikael.syding@gmail.com if you don't recognize the picture

The 10 000 hour rule was debunked a long time ago, specifically when Donald Thomas, who commenced high-jumping in 2006, won the world championship in Osaka just a year later in 2007 (clearing 2.35m), without proper high-jumping shoes. The first time he ever tried high-jumping, on a bet, in January 2006, he cleared 2.13m in ordinary tennis shoes.

Actually, the 10 000 hour rule was a deliberate misinterpretation of data. The original research only showed the following:

  • if you have the genes
  • and the ambition
  • you may become a master in your area of expertise
  • if you practice between 3 000 and 30 000 hours
  • and then there are outliers, like Donald, who shows you could train even less, given a certain set of genes

i.e. a completely meaningless and useless result.

the Donald Sprezzaturian retarded hf manager
The Donald


Don't be that guy throwing the 10k hour rule around as if it meant something.

If Donald had, he might not even have bothered with the high jump, and this little man would have been world champion instead:

stefan holm no 10 000 hour man
Stefan Holm next to Patrik Sjöberg

Stefan Holm (181cm, 5"11  1/4) trained more and better than any other high jumper in the noughties and jumped 2.30m or more 119 times, but, e.g., never 2.42m like Patrik Sjöberg in the middle of the photo above did.

Sure, you'll get better, the more you practice, but there is nothing guaranteeing becoming a master, no matter how much you practice. And, if lucky, you could get there much faster.

There is no 10 000 hour rule


The opposite of spending your life on just one endeavour

-I'm a trysexual, I'll try anything once

The singularity is near
The singularity is near

Okay, I wouldn't go that far, not in horizontal hip-hop, and not as a general rule either.

However, there is a 20-hour 'rule' that is immensely more useful than both the 1-hour and the 10 000-hour dogmas:

If you focus and practice intelligently for 20 hours on learning a new skill, you will become "quite proficient"

In 20 hours you can become good enough to enjoy your new skill, good enough to keep learning more on your own and good enough to know if it's something you have a talent for and would enjoy developing even more.

If you're interested in how to acquire a new skill in 20 hours, check out Josh Kaufman's TED talk from March 2013. 


Studio 50:1


1 50 efficiency principle Sprezzaturian retarded hedge fund manager 2
1% effort for 50% of the outcome



Sport jocks sometimes claim to "give it 110%". Now that's just retarded.

And it's not due to a lack of education. They typically got the expression from their (gym) teachers. Anyway, never aim for 110%. You will be disappointed if you do.



Google famously (used to) let it's employees spend one day a week on any project they like. That's 20% goofing around to let creativity flow, and maybe come up with significant improvements and business ideas.

I think Google has restricted the extent of its experimentation hours lately. They are still hanging on to the principle though. And so should you. Just because you're grown up, doesn't mean you have nothing more to learn. Actually, it's quite the opposite. The older you get, the more you need to make a deliberate effort, to keep novelty and personal growth in your life.


1% effort for 50% of the outcome

Whereas 1 hour probably is more than enough for most of broadening your bedside horizons, and 20 hours is good for trying out what skills match up with your preferences and talent... I'd say, if you put in 100 hours (just 1% of the infamous 10 000 hours) you will leave most of mankind behind in that area, often achieving about half the level of a professional.

Call it the 1% effort system. People will keep referring to Gladwell's 10khr, and so can you. But rather than go for the full Monty, aim for just 1% of the 10k, i.e. 100 hours of focused and deliberate effort to kind of "master" a new discipline.

You won't win any championships but you'll become pretty good at most things you try; typically much, much better than any beginner. Languages, sports, programming, design, sales, psychology, you name it. 

Since you have a lot of 100 hour chunks at your disposal, you can become an instant expert in hundreds of useful or entertaining skills. If nothing else, you can find out where your talents are and what satisfies you the most, rather than arbitrarily choosing chess, golf or tennis and end up wasting 10 000 hours on something you don't really enjoy and won't win at anyway.

In 100 hours you'll acquire most useful skills regarding long term value investing, but you'll still not be done by 10 000 hours

A sell-side analyst spends 10 000 hours per large cap company he covers during the course of his career. You could catch up on the essentials in just 5, and become somewhat of an expert in 20, not to mention a 100

Even more importantly, trying new things, practicing them wholeheartedly will increase your brain plasticity; hence future learning of other skills will be easier.

It's fun too. Being a beginner is fun. There are no expectations, no anxiety, just a steep learning curve and a lot of hilarious failed attempts.

Commit and quit. Give it your all (yes, 100%, or close to it, but not for long, not for 100% of your life). Focus! Be serious. Give it one hour, just one hour. Then one more, just one more.

If you're not completely hooked after 20 hours, try something else. The brilliant thing with the 20-hour system is that you can try so many things before deciding what should stick. If it's useful and enjoyable enough, keep going until you get to a 100 hours.
The 1:50 rule in practice

Last summer I read the unabridged 2400 page book The Count of Monte-Cristo in French to improve my French.

I spent about 100 hours on learning the basics of Portuguese on DuoLingo last spring.

For no other reason than exercising my brain.

However, if you want it to really stick, it's advisable to have a specific use for any skill you set out learning.

Commit and quit. Restart.

Fair disclosure: I quit both this year's handstanding and side split efforts after just a few hours, due to lack of interest and slight injuries. Perhaps next year. 

I spent somewhere between 20 and 100 hours on Khan Academy's math section, but now I'm taking a pause. I'm not sure how much time I put into Python and Javascript on Codecademy and Khan but probably around 25.

What I really should focus my next 20-100 hours on is online marketing skills, such as web design, SEO and writing copy. There are always new things to learn, new skills to attempt.


Working out, the 1% turned into 2%

I've tried several martial arts, tennis, volley ball, football etc. Martial arts is the only thing that managed to keep me interested long term, but my work schedule forced me to quit.

I took up weight lifting (again) in 1996 to keep in shape "until I could get back to martial arts" but I never did, and now I'm hooked by the iron instead.

I've typically always spent 1-2% of my time working out (more before I turned 22), and since I retired I've stabilized at around 2%.

I work out 4 hours a week, in practice 2% of the available time, doing mostly heavy compound exercises with free weights. In fact, most of that time is resting between sets, which I spend reading and writing.

I don't do any specific cardio, except for a quick warm-up on the tread mill before working out.

I'm by no means a bodybuilder as such, but I am quite fit, despite sitting at an office desk for 20 years and eating whatever I like, including a lot of french fries, ice cream and drinking my fair share or more of alcohol.
Cooling down after a sauna:

post sauna cooling down

The picture above is the result of a 1% effort that got me hooked and expanded to 2%. By focusing on the most effective exercises, I look and feel athletic at 43, despite only going to the gym for about 90 minutes every second day (including 5-10 minutes of mobility exercises every fourth day).

There are no 110%, 100% or such efforts in my diet either. I fast (16:8) and I drink fish oil. That's it. I still bench 300+ lbs, I haven't had a cold in 9 years and my Omega 6:3 balance is exceptionally low at 2.0. 


Summary - Hard made easy:

  • Forget about the 10 000 hour myth. There is no spoon.
  • Try just one more skill, then one more, for a limited amount of time
  • Commit and quit. Don't get stuck, don't force feed yourself skills you don't like or need
  • Give it 1% and enjoy half of the master level - the Sprezzaturian way
  • Even if you don't use the skill per se, your learning ability is improved or maintained


Did you like the article? Share it with a friend or your social network. Tweet about it. And if you haven't signed up for my newsletter and eBook, please do. There is a new eBook in the works - with hundreds of tips and tricks like the "1:50" and "Just one more" rules.

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