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The 10,000-Hour Rule Is One of the Biggest Lies in History

by | Dec 27, 2023 | Life Hacks

I discovered Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule in 2009.

It felt like a huge breakthrough. I finally thought all I needed to be successful was to do 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

I didn’t start writing online until 2014. After 10 years of writing it has taught me that the 10,000-hour rule is bullsh*t.

It’s undermining humanity’s ability to achieve greatness.

I had an interesting call today with an aspiring film director.

At 53 he’s decided to start chasing his dream. I encourage it. Even though I don’t produce films, I’ve had some success with content. We got chatting.

“I’m going to post my short film in a 7-part series on TikTok.”

That’s his plan. I used to think like this too. I tried to tell him what I’ve learned is, a few days or months of posting on social media, won’t make a difference.

“If the film studios can see I’ve released something, I’m in with a chance.”

The idea is that having a small catalog of work is enough. And it used to be enough. The problem is the acceleration of content in existence is now infinite.

No single human or corporation has time to go through all the content like they used to. The social media algorithms also don’t reward short-term posters.

Our conversation drifted into the story of JK Rowling who wrote Harry Potter. My film director friend tried to tell me if you just show up for long enough and keep asking the gatekeepers for permission to publish, one day they’ll see your talent and reward you.

Me: “These Harry Potter-style success stories are so dangerous. They make people believe they will be the 0.0000001% exception to the rule. There’s more chance you’ll win the lottery.”

We eventually agreed boring consistency was the key to success in any field, including being a film director.

I told him how writers I knew, who made it past the 5-year mark, often saw enormous success, even if they were average writers.

This led us to agree that the basis for the 10,000-hour rule is the formula for success in any field.

When I got home I had a revelation.

The 10,000-hour rule isn’t the key to success at all. From the age of 12–26, I pursued a music career. I practiced drums and sound engineering every day for at least 8 hours at a time.

But my music sucked and I never had a hit song.

The 10,000-hour rule didn’t help me reach my dream at all. I began to think about why. Then that night serendipity grabbed me by the neck.

I was chatting to a 20-something-year-old LinkedIn creator. In 6 months, he’s gone from no audience to millions of views and an enormous following. I’ve never been able to do that. I don’t know anyone who has.

What’s the difference?

This guy doesn’t believe in the 10,000-hour rule. He believes deliberate practice is a lie. When I looked at his process and his LinkedIn timeline, I figured out what he’s doing.

He’s exceptional — not at practice — but at iterating his process. He iterates on the problems he’s trying to solve faster than anyone I know. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s an engineer at Google.

Iteration is the foundation of the software developer mindset, yet it hasn’t bled into other fields.

Think about the conventional career.

Someone learns a skill, gets a job, and then starts off doing their thing. The first year in that job is crazy. There’s so much to learn.

I remember my first year working in banking. New systems, software, and people to meet. It was overwhelming. In year two things got easier. By then I found most people stopped learning.

Bankers would get one year of experience and learning, then times it by 40 years and call it a career.

What I found was missing is these bankers stopped iterating. They used the same toolkit to solve the same problems. Over time they found it harder because technology got better at solving those problems.

By accident I took a different path. I got bored easily. I changed jobs all the time. I kept learning new skills relating to finance. Then I learned the principles of the IT industry, and later the writing industry.

I’m not that smart but my iteration rate is higher than most. Not because of IQ but because of curiosity — and maybe even a lack of patience.

This subtle difference in approach is the difference between 10x thinking and 2x thinking. It lets you achieve much bigger goals.

What this all means for you

A key formula for success is to focus on 10,000 iterations, not 10,000 hours.

Doing the same dumb thing over and over without changing your mind, beliefs, network or skills, rarely turns normal people into JK Rowling billionaires. Years of experience is meaningless.

Just showing up isn’t enough anymore.

To master the 10,000 iteration rule you have to be willing to increase your rejection and failure rate. You have to look at the data and make tiny tweaks faster than you normally would.

You must commit to daily change instead of consistency.

A core component of the 10,000 iteration rule is you must focus on execution, so you have the insight to make iterations that lead to real and unreasonably fast progress.

Time in the game isn’t relevant anymore. Practice doesn’t make perfect. The 10,000-hour rule is one of the biggest ways to sabotage your success.

Adopt the 10,000 iterations rule.

Make 10,000 iterations your goal over the next 5 years, and you have a high chance of joining the top 1% in your field.

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