10,000 hours to be an expert

I was reading somewhere to do with sports of a known phenomenon that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve expert status in an activity.

The suggestion was those kids covering that many hours in football would almost certainly be excellent. In part time activity that’s about 10 years, which may explain why we have some superb players around 17. (club football tends to start around 7 in the UK)

In full time its about 5 years, which is why those with that level of experience of a product or business process are often considered gurus. Of course if your area changes fundamentally every couple of years, then its not going to be possible to achieve guru status in any current product.

There is another side to this that I first read in Code Complete – do you have 5 years experience, or 1 years experience 5 times? ie the progress you make depends how you invest your 10,000 hours.

And of course there is also the oft repeated phrase – practice makes perfect, but only perfect practice. Having watched tons of people practice and practice crappy ski technique, I am never surprised to see hundreds of skiers who have mastered the art of skiing badly. They have created a glass ceiling for themselves, that they will struggle to get through. Decent advanced training can fix this, but few intermediates take further training – taking misplaced pride in being self taught, just like many spreadsheeters?

Maybe people who code procedurally do the same thing? they will struggle to ‘move to the next level’ of object oriented coding? I’m not convinced thats valid as OO is often overkill, especially for spreadsheet based stuff.

What do you think?

Have you got 10,000 hours/5 years in? do you feel like an expert?



7 Responses to “10,000 hours to be an expert”

  1. jonpeltier Says:

    Good question. I have well more than the five years, though squeezing out 10,000 hours might be a trick, since my time is split between app dev the programming tasks and app dev figuring out what the needs are for that particular domain.

    Re self taught, if all you do is the same boring techniques again and again, you’ll be like the mediocre skiers. If you are constantly looking around, reading from all sources, you can actually push beyond the mediocre glass ceiling, and maybe bump against the expert glass ceiling. This is what I feel I’ve been doing, reading advanced sources (Professional Excel Development comes to mind, among others) and trying the more advanced VB6 tasks within VBA. But then part of being good is coming up with easier, faster, and more reliable ways that do not rely on heroic measures.

  2. Harlan Grove Says:

    It took me a few hundred hours using spreadsheets while I was still in graduate school to have developed to arrive at my first real job knowing more about spreadsheets than anyone else in the department.

    I have to admit that I got a major boost from my original ‘productivity’ software – Lotus Symphony – which included an automated tutorial module that walked one through basic to intermediate formulas/functions and menu basics. It also included a How To guide that went through basic spreadsheet layout and design. Ah, the good old days when software came with SERIOUS support and documentation, actually providing some value for the hundreds of US$ cost beyond the software disks.

    Having developed some understanding and ability with spreadsheets circa 1985, the changes in spreadsheets circa 1990 were able to digest, also the changes since then. I’ve used the airplane metaphor before, but why not repeat myself: some of us learned to fly in contraptions with 4 levers, a joystick and no dials. We learned how to fly without instruments. [More importantly, we learned how to LAND (error trapping, diagnostics) without instruments.] All the changes since have been gravy, and for us they’ve been INCREMENTAL. New spreadsheet users have all the current features dumped on them at once. Who’s there showing them how to keep things simple? What’s necessary, useful, nice but superfluous, and usually more pain than gain (e.g., merged cells)? They’re going to buy books to learn this?

    Time isn’t the only factor. Opportunity and conditions count for a lot too.

  3. mrG Says:

    Sorry I don’t have the reference handy, but before asking such questions you may want to look this up: There is research that shows how novices will consistently over-estimate their competence and skill level, leading them to greatly under-estimate project costs and completion times, whereas the 10,000-hour experts consistently under-estimate their competence and similarly expect the task to be harder than it will actually turn out to be!

    Having worked in both the expert and educational levels in both music and in the information industries, this jibes with my experience, and I wonder if it may be due to the same blindspot effects that cause us to believe we have “all the data” when in fact we have next to none (the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” comes to mind) — if you ask a child or even an alzheimer’s patient to give you a summary of their world model, they never mentions the big gaps in their model, they experience a cohesive ‘now’ and then simply conclude they have the whole picture, and when you look at it that way, its really remarkable that any of us have ever noticed our lackings and bothered to become experts at all!

  4. Simon Says:

    Curt posted a link to something that sounds like what you are talking about here:
    Good WMD ref. btw
    (DR quote here: http://www.slate.com/id/2081042/)

  5. Allen Laudenslager Says:

    10,000 is roughly the same time the old apprenticeship programs demanded to become a “master”. Of course the programs were specifiably designed to force the apprentice to master a catalog of skills. What jobs have you held, beyond entry level, where you could get by just doing the same thing the same way over and over again? I became the MS Word “expert” for my company because I had to master such a large number of techniques in doing my job for 10 years.

    Far too many self styled experts have a great deal on knowledge and not nearly enough understanding about how to apply that knowledge. A lifetime of experience teaches me that 5 years practical experience over 4 years of classroom every time.

  6. RaiulBaztepo Says:

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  7. PiterKokoniz Says:

    Hello !!!! ^_^
    I am Piter Kokoniz. oOnly want to tell, that I like your blog very much!
    And want to ask you: what was the reasson for you to start this blog?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Thank you:)
    Your Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

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