Mastery Comes with Deliberate Practice – Not Just 10,000 Hours

By now, most every educator has heard about the 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell proposed in his 2008 book Outliers. World class experts in a certain field have practiced or been intensely involved in their particular field for at least 10,000 hours…right?

Well, according to Anders Ericsson, not exactly. Ericsson is the psychologist whose ideas Gladwell drew upon when he wrote about the 10,000 hour rule of thumb. In a 2016 interview, Ericsson offered a variation on the theme.

It’s not just a matter of spending 10,000 hours doing something. It’s about deliberate practice – often guided by teachers or coaches with specific expertise – that helps individuals strengthen their skills and excel in a particular area or field.

Daniel Pink, the author of Drive and To Sell is Human, sat down with Anders Ericsson in October to discuss deliberate practice.

As Ericsson notes in their interview at Heleo, “Just believing that you can change, I don’t believe is successful. You need the teacher, you need to make a commitment to some domain. Those specific things, that’s where we help an individual understand what they need to do in order to be successful to pursue a goal.”

And while doing this is not easy, Pink suggests, it does have a high payoff. “In a world where we’re expected to get the answers right away and move very quickly, there are massive, long-term returns to being deliberate, whether it’s in our reasoning or in a way that we develop expertise.”

My take-away from their conversation is that to develop the type of expertise we seek, we need to “go slow to go fast,” being very deliberate and guided by a teacher/coach who provides good feedback at appropriate times.

What has been your experience in developing expertise in your profession or avocation? In what ways have you used deliberate practice? Did guidance make a difference?

[PS: To be fair, Malcolm Gladwell contends that his proposition has been over-simplified by constant repetition. See what he said here. ]