Opinion

10,000 hours

10,000 hours

If you dream big and work hard,” millionaire celebrities are fond of saying, “nothing can stop you”. It is precisely this kind of naive optimism that lies at the core of the 10,000-hour rule, articulated by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers (2008).

The crux of this theory is that more than talent, interest or even natural ability, “10,000 hours is the magic number for greatness”. A new study by psychologists at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, has confirmed what most people — those who could not become Tendulkar or Beethoven or Picasso — already know. While practice is important, if you don’t have it in you to begin with, it doesn’t make perfect.

The basis for Gladwell’s now clichéd formulation was research conducted among violinists in 1993 that found the difference between “good” and “great” is clocking in the “magic number”. The new study finds that the best violinists (and by extension, practitioners of any skill) often don’t practise as much as their less talented counterparts and yet, excel to a greater degree.

The nub of the new findings is twofold: First, no matter how much time most people spend on the basketball court, they aren’t going to become Michael Jordan. Second, there are indeed people born with it.

However, this need not cause despondency. In the era of celebrity and social media, there are other ways to live all your dreams. Every Bigg Boss contestant has managed to get rich and/or famous by being publicly obnoxious.

Then there’s the fact that being good at one thing allows you to indulge your hobbies and get paid for it — TV channels insist on subjecting viewers to Bollywood celebrities playing sports. A good PR agent and the right connections can take you a lot further than 10,000 hours.