So is it true that 10000 hours makes you an expert?
Yes and no.
But deliberate practice is a specifically defined term. It involves goal setting, quick feedback, and countless drills to improve skills with an eye on mastery. It is not “just showing up” and, plain and simple, it’s not fun.
Most people may do something for 10000 hours (driving a car over the course of a lifetime) but never get anywhere near expert level (Formula One.) Most people plateau and some even get worse.
Extensive research in a wide range of fields shows that many people not only fail to become outstandingly good at what they do, no matter how many years they spend doing it, they frequently don’t even get any better than they were when they started. Auditors with years of experience were no better at detecting corporate fraud—a fairly important skill for an auditor—than were freshly trained rookies. When it comes to judging personality disorders, which is one of the things we count on clinical psychologists to do, length of clinical experience told nothing about skill—“the correlations,” concluded some of the leading researchers, “are roughly zero.” Surgeons were no better at predicting hospital stays after surgery than residents were. In field after field, when it came to centrally important skills—stockbrokers recommending stocks, parole officers predicting recidivism, college admissions officials judging applicants—people with lots of experience were no better at their jobs than those with very little experience.
Occasionally people actually get worse with experience. More experienced doctors reliably score lower on tests of medical knowledge than do less experienced doctors; general physicians also become less skilled over time at diagnosing heart sounds and X-rays. Auditors become less skilled at certain types of evaluations.
When deliberate practice is engaged, as with those who are the best in their field, the 10yr/10000 hours rule pops up everywhere:
A study of seventy-six composers from many historical periods looked at when they produced their first notable works or masterworks, designations that were based on the number of recordings available. The researcher, Professor John R. Hayes of Carnegie Mellon University, identified more than five hundred works. As Professor Robert W. Weisberg of Temple University summarized the findings: “Of these works, only three were composed before year ten of the composer’s career, and those three works were composed in years eight and nine.” During those first ten or so years, these creators weren’t creating much of anything that the outside world noticed. Professor Hayes termed the long and absolutely typical preparatory period “ten years of silence,” which seemed to be required before anything worthwhile could be produced.
In a similar study of 131 painters, he found the same pattern. The preparation period was shorter—six years—but still substantial and seemingly impossible to defy, even for supposed prodigies like Picasso. A study of sixty-six poets found a few who produced notable works in less than ten years, but none who managed it in less than five; fifty-five of the sixty-six needed ten years or more.
These findings remind us strongly of the ten-year rule that researchers have found when they study outstanding performers in any domain. Other researchers, who weren’t necessarily looking for evidence of this rule, have found it anyway. Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard wrote a book-length study (Creating Minds) of seven of the greatest innovators of the early twentieth century: Albert Einstein, T. S. Eliot, Sigmund Freud, Mahatma Gandhi, Martha Graham, Pablo Picasso, and Igor Stravinsky. A more diverse group of subjects would be hard to imagine, and Gardner did not set out to prove or disprove anything about the amount of work required for their achievements. But in summing up, he wrote, “I have been struck throughout this study by the operation of the ten-year rule. . . . Should one begin at age four, like Picasso, one can be a master by the teenage years; composers like Stravinsky and dancers like Graham, who did not begin their creative endeavors until later adolescence, did not hit their stride until their late twenties.”