Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Who Becomes Great ? The 10-Year-Rule.

Geoffrey Colvin wrote an interesting article in Fortune Magazine this month: "What it takes to be great." Major conclusion of recent surveys is that nobody is great without work. It's nice to believe that if you find the field where you're naturally gifted, you'll be great from day one, but it doesn't happen. There is no evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice. Reinforcing that no-free-lunch finding is vast evidence that even the most accomplished people need around ten years of hard work before becoming world-class, a pattern so well established researchers call it the ten-year-rule.
(The ten-year rule represents a very rough estimate, and most researchers regard it as a minimum, not an average. In many fields (music, literature) elite performers need 20 or 30 years' experience before hitting their zenith.)

So greatness isn't handed to anyone, it requires a lot of hard work. Yet that isn't enough, since many people work hard for decades without approaching greatness or even getting significantly better. What's missing ? The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call 'deliberate practice'. It is activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results, and involves high levels of repetition. For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don't get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80% of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day - that's 'deliberate practice'. Consistency is crucial.