February 6, 2009
The Magical 10k Hours
In his latest book (Outliers), Malcolm Gladwell argues that if you want to really master something (e.g. playing guitar, programming, playing golf), there is a high probability that the number of hours you will need to invest into it will revolve around 10,000.
10,000 hours if you want to be an expert at something. This means 14 years if you are doing it 2 hours per day.
Looking back at Seth Godin‘s insightful post entitled What would a professional do?, this makes me wonder:
How much can you really achieve by doing all the little tasks you’re (at most) average at yourself instead of leaving them to those who have devoted their 10k to them?
Once again the question of focus and extreme specialization. Sharing work and profits vs. keeping it all to yourself because you can just do it so much better and faster.
Based on the experiences of others and my own, I would say that the question you need to ask yourself is this:
Is the combination of your personal talents, traits and circumstances, confronted with all the tasks in front of you, so wonderfully special that you can do twice a better and cheaper job doing it all by yourself?
This is seldom the case, but surely not unheard of. And of course, your environment and circumstances might be preventing you from doing otherwise.
But consider this: if you can do it only twice as good as with a team of other 10k-ers, you will probably make a profit; however, the next time around you will not have made the important connections and experiences to even have this choice and you will most likely be doing it by yourself again.
And as you get older, and the cycle continues, you probably start losing your edge, along with your wonderfully special advantage – and you lose.
Do the stuff that matters to you the most right now and stop thinking about what you feel might come in handy later.
Otherwise you end up just being an amateur at a lot of things. And – as Seth Godin put it –
Be an amateur on purpose, not because you have to.
There will always be enough time for your whims later on if you do it right. Right?
P.S.: I think we might be building up a little fascination with the number 10,000 here (see my earlier post, 10,000 Reasons To Focus).