Following the “Outliers” book by Malcom Gladwell, some people are convinced that if they “just” invest 10,000 hours in something they will become really good at it. I think that this is not always the case. I don’t believe any person is able to invest 10,000 hours in anything he/she decides. I believe that challenging activities require special aptitude. And I think there are situations in which someone may spend lots of time stuck in some place, doing the same mediocre job for years. Like driving in neutral while pressing down the gas…
Question: Can you just decide to invest 10,000 hours in anything you feel attracted to?
I believe you can only invest a lot of time in some activity if you really enjoy doing it. And I also believe that you can really enjoy an activity only if you got some talent in performing it. In other words, if you don’t have the innate ability to do some activity you will not be able to enjoy it, and thus even if you try you will simply quit much earlier than you expect.
You certainly know people who have tried all kinds of activities and then decided to quit after a relatively short period of time. And you probably also have your own personal experience of trying to do something and then deciding to quit. That may be trying to learn a foreign language, trying to play some musical instrument, trying to exercise more frequently or even trying to write your own blog.
If you had these experiences, you can ask yourself why you decided to quit. Was learning a foreign language more difficult than you expected? Was playing a musical instrument less fun than you thought? Did you enjoy exercising more frequently? Did you feel satisfaction from your blog writing? If you decided to quit, this probably means that for these particular activities you did not have enough talent to enjoy and persevere.
One case in point is that of College drop-outs. It’s clear that if a person chose some profession is because he/she felt attracted to it, and was ready to invest a lot of time learning it, believing that with the right amount of dedication and effort success was guaranteed. However, statistics show that 33% of the students drop-out of College. Of course some of these students may have personal reasons to drop-out, such as health problems, but for most of them the reality was different from their expectations, and they simply decided to quit.
Question: May you invest 10,000 hours and still see no improvement?
I believe people can get stuck in some position, for example performing the same job for years without any personal progress or improvement in their competencies. Unfortunately, this probably happens more frequently than it should, since after a certain age people may have very limited opportunities to try something new. So they simple continue doing the same mediocre job they did in the past, because this is the only thing they know.
This phenomenon is known as the “Peter Principle”:
“In a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Eventually they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their ‘level of incompetence’), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions.”
The Peter Principle has two corollaries:
“In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”
“Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”
These people who have reached their levels of incompetence are probably not enjoying their jobs anymore. But they will continue working because they are being paid and they may not have any other alternative. So in this case they may actually spend 10,000 hours doing something, not enjoying it and not improving.
- Aptitude is required: To invest 10,000 hours doing some activity you must enjoy it, and to enjoy it you need talent.
- No guarantee of success: If people reach their incompetence level they may spend 10,000 hours doing the same mediocre job, not enjoying it and not improving.
People like to believe that if they work hard enough they can become very good at anything they want. I think that people should first understand what are the few things they are already good at, and then work hard to become even better.
What do you think? Do you agree or do you have different experiences?