Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” certainly hit a chord with educators and academics with his claim, based on empirical research, that 10 000 hours of study would elevate a person to virtuoso levels of skill.
Interestingly, the study upon which his claim is based makes no such claim.
Gladwell’s theory is too generalised to be applied to the real world and a number of good arguments have been made to refute his claims. Firstly, virtuoso level skills are dependent on the area being studied. Memorization tasks only take a few hundred hours to achieve mastery levels. And sport, which puts physical strain on the body, doesn’t allow for the level of practice that are possible in other areas (such as music).
If a person practices for 90 minutes a day, they reach the golden number of 10 000 within 20 years. However that level of practice may not be intense enough to increase skills significantly enough to be considered virtuoso. 3 hours of practice a day, attaining 10 000 hours in 10 years, is more likely to result in mastery.
Numerous other factors, such as motivation, also contribute to one’s ability to become a master of their art. Also, not everyone is suitable (physically or intellectually) for any task. My short self would never be able to become a basketball virtuoso in 10 000 hours!
However, there’s no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Gladwell’s 10 000 hours theory is really just a way to grab people’s attention. 10 000 hours sounds more precise than ‘lots and lots of practice’ … which is what Gladwell is actually saying!