I was a woman playing a man’s role at this dinner party. In fact, I was the only woman in the room. Our male boss greeted us at the door, and the only glimpse we had of his wife during dinner was as she silently waited on us with bowed head. More servant than hostess, she was relegated to her role in the kitchen.
After dinner my boss’s wife was allowed to join us, upon my request. She was thrilled at the invitation, and in an effort to please us she showed us some dolls that she had made. Entirely made of paper, these dolls were created by hand with elaborate series of folds. Their colorful costumes gave them character and a uniquely Japanese flair. My hostess was thrilled (and more than a little embarrassed) as I praised her creativity and artwork. “You should sell these,” I suggested. “How long did it take you to learn to make these?”
In perfect English my Japanese hostess responded, “Oh, no. They are not good enough to sell. I’ve only been making dolls for two years. It takes at least ten years before they are good enough to sell.”
To my untrained eye, the dolls were perfect, but my new Japanese friend knew that she had so much more to learn. She knew she had to put in more time. She subscribed to the dogma that we hear so often today:
It takes ten thousand hours of practice to become an expert.
In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell outlines many examples of success, tied to opportunities – opportunities that allowed the expert to practice for ten thousand hours. One example Gladwell cites is Bill Gates. Gates had unique access to a high school computer at a time when most schools didn’t have them. He was able to log ten thousand hours programming on that computer, allowing him to become an expert at a very young age.
Ten thousand hours is roughly equal to forty hours a week for five years, or twenty hours a week for ten years.
It’s no wonder then that companies look for candidates with five years experience for skilled jobs. It’s not coincidental that many successful people offer up “persistence” and “dedication” as characteristics that contributed to their success. It’s no surprise that the violin student who practices the longest hours is often the first chair. There’s more to success than talent and desire.
Have you put in your ten thousand hours yet?