In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized what he called the “10,000 hour rule”. He argued that mastery is not a matter of talent but of endless, devoted practice. In other words, you could master anything if you just dug in and kept at it. Taken to the extreme edge, this idea supposes that you could become Peyton Manning or Einstein or The Beatles. Obviously not so. But this became a very popular and widely accepted notion. It leaves people already unsure of their future career in even more doubt. Just pick something and keep at it sounds suspiciously like my dad telling me to stop fooling around, pick something practical, make a lot of money, pull myself up by my bootstraps and get moving. One problem with this philosophy is that pulling on ones bootstraps actually pulls you down. The other problem is that the 10,000 hour rule is nonsense.

Recently psychologist Brooke Macnamara of Princeton University reviewed the results of 157 experiments studying the connection between overall ability in music, sports, education and professions with time spent practicing. It turns out there was very little connection. In some areas, such as violin playing and chess, there was a connection. In most areas such as computer programming and academics, there was almost no connection. Macnamara thought perhaps natural talent, general intelligence and working memory played more of a role.

Since 1981 Rockport Institute has been studying factors that contribute to high-level ability. It is not a mystery: each of us is born with a complex profile of talents and personality factors that combine to give us a unique natural fit with the world or work. Imagine Einstein taking over for John Lennon. If you want both the success and fulfillment, design a career that fits you fully, naturally.

Then put in the hours. The combination of natural fit, practice and curiosity is what leads to mastery. At Rockport we have more than 60,000 hours of coaching and counseling experience under our collective belt. Every year we gain experience from working with many new clients. I think that whatever wisdom we gain is the result of always being eager to learn and not assuming we know everything.

Leave a Comment