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Why Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule Doesn’t Work and the 10,000 You Should Really Be Concerned About

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are required to become world-class in any field. Perhaps you heard the same principle touted. The number always felt too thin to me, as if it were missing an extra zero.

A Princeton study revealed that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice doesn’t offer any guarantees of mastery. A meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice found that practice accounted for only 12% of the difference in performance.

Consider the wide varying impact of practice:

-In music, practice made a 21% difference

-In sports, it made an 18% difference

-In education, it made a 4% difference

-In profession, it made a 1% difference.

Mastery is more than practice. Factors including the stability of the field, new innovations, as well as competitiveness within the field may have greater impacts and implications than those 10,000 hours.

I recently met a person who reminded me that maybe a far more important 10,000 deserves our time and reflection. This 10,000 may impact your life, your family, your future, more than can imagine.

Gathering around a dinner table with strangers at a wedding often proves a trying affair. I took a deep breath, imagining my lungs filling with the fierce love of God, and asked the man across the table about his profession.

“We own a winery outside of Sonoma,” he said.

My eyebrows lifted. Perhaps the timing of this conversation—smack in the middle of the Scouting the Divine summer Bible study—proved more than coincidence.

Over the next hour, I peppered my new friend, Ben, with questions.

More than a decade before, Ben and his wife uprooted their family from Orange County, California. They longed to escape the traffic, the pace of life, the plasticness of the culture. They longed for something real.

They moved to a quiet community outside of Sonoma and purchased a winery. The couple believed rural life, with its wide-open and agrarian roots, would provide them and their kids with some much-needed grounding.

When they opened the winery, Ben and his wife set the maximum capacity for their winery—10,000 bottles.

They did their research and learned that 10,000 bottles was the quantity a family winery could produce and still keep its values, its focus, its connectedness.

A few years after the winery opened, an east coast distributor asked for a tasting. He adored the wine, and introduced the brand to top restaurants throughout New York City. The wine soon spread through the city’s finest restaurants. Orders surged from across the United States. Then Europe. Then China.

Ben and his wife began buying more property. More equipment. More professionals became involved in sales, marketing, and distribution. The children soon lost interest.

“How many bottles do you produce now?” I asked.

“55,000,” Ben said.

“And your family?” I asked.

Ben looked to his left, then right, then down the pale pearl tablecloth.

“I lost them all,” he said. “Not the winery, but my wife, my kids. I lost them all.”

“If you had it to do again, what would you do different,” I pressed.

“We would have stayed at 10,000 bottles,” he said. “The wineries that keep their families, not all of course, but the thing they all share in common is that they limit production.”

Scouting the Divine

The conversation with Ben still haunts me.

10,000 bottles.

They limit production.

10,000 bottles.

In my profession of writing and teaching, the push from industry and publishing houses is always more, bigger, better, faster.

I suspect it’s not too different in your profession. Your workplace. Your household.

But where are the limitations? Where are the stops?

What’s your maximum productivity—at work, school, sports, hobbies—that when you push beyond everything falls apart?

Where do you say, “We will be this busy, this active, this involved, and no more.”

Where is your maximum capacity?

Leif and I have been wrestling with this question. Finding ways to do less. Rest more. Play much more.

Pass on good to cling to God’s best. Create margin, and then some.

All is messy.

But I want to know my 10,000 and not go beyond it.

What have learned from this week’s homework and video from the online summer Scouting the Divine Bible study? Where is your 10,000?  

*Original Photo Source