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Human Capital Formation: 10,000 Hour Rule

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Mar 3, 2013    •    327 Views

For human capital formation, 10,000 hours could be crucial.

I was at Lincoln Center several nights ago. Listening to a wonderful performance of Chopin’s Polonaise, I wondered how much the pianist practiced. That took me to Malcolm Gladwell.

In Outliers, Gladwell says that practice is a crucial component of brilliance. Concluding that you need 10,000 hours of practice to display genius, he says that prodigies and unusually high I.Q. individuals are not automatically great. They have to work at it.

Mozart, he explains, had been composing for 20 years before he produced his greatest work. With the Beatles, he reminds us of the hours, 8 hours a day 7 days a week, during which they performed in small Hamburg, Germany cafes. We could also add YoYo Ma, Bill Gates and Wayne Gretsky to the 10,000 hour list. Maybe Tiger Woods also?

The 10,000 hour theory originated with a psychology professor at Florida State University. Looking at musicians, all with talent, Dr. K. Anders Ericsson realized that practice time determined who would excel. Those who had accumulated 10,000 hours of disciplined solitary practice time by age 20 were the “prodigies.” Meanwhile, 8,000 hours meant less expertise and those with 4,000 became amateurs and music teachers.

Still though, other psychologists point to studies that contradict the rule. They say that practice certainly helps. But, “working memory capacity,” for example, can make a huge difference. A musician with more innate working memory capacity will fare better than one with less, no matter how much practice each one accumulates.

And finally, all of this takes us to “The Dan Plan.” Reading about the 10,000 hour rule, Dan McLaughlin quit his job as a commercial photographer to devote 10,000 hours to golf. Although he had never lifted a club, he was convinced that a disciplined regimen would take him to the PGA. Having started during 2010, he projects hitting 10,000 during 2016.

Our bottom line? Having 10,000 hours of human capital formation requires a fairly affluent society. You need lessons, a supportive family and special programs and teachers.

Sources and Resources: A great book, Outliers  introduced me to the 10,000 rule and here, Gladwell presents an excerpt. From there, I looked at Dr. Ericssen’s work and this NY Times article that describes researchers who disagree. But if you just have a few moments, do read “The Dan Plan.” to see how he defines which hours count toward his 10,000, which are ancillary and the progress of his “human capital formation.”

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