Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule Visualized: Practice Makes Perfect

One of the most interesting parts of Malcolm Gladwell’s fantastic book Outliers is his discussion of the “10,000-hour rule,” which posits that it takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to truly master a skill, be it playing the violin, computer programming, or skateboarding.

Gladwell covers several tantalizing examples, from the Beatles to Bill Gates, and argues that the biggest factor in their success is not innate talent or blind luck, but rather dedication to their chosen craft. It’s an empowering message, and one that suggests that almost anyone can succeed if they put in the time (could those saccharine posters be right?).

Of course, privilege and luck can greatly ease the way, but there’s little substitute for 10,000 hours of work.

This infographic, created for the blog Zintro by Nowsourcing, takes a closer look at practice and the 10,000-hour rule.

Of course, as Kurt Cobain said, “Practice makes perfect, but nobody’s perfect, so why practice?”

Courtesy of Zintro


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, Miller-McCune and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.

  • Simon

    I strongly disagree with number four. You need to have time for “the small stuff”. Not only does insignificance balance out all the effort you (should) put into being significant, but also it often actually is the purest sort of significance.

  • Ella

    I read this book and took everything to heart. “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.” My coach, Vivian Smith, used to tell us that, and this book reminds me of that every time. Cool read and graphic.

  • Christian

    Interesting that “teaching others” is denigrated at the beginning of the infographic then extolled at the end of it.

  • Brennen

    By small stuff he means the small things getting in the way of practice/success. i.e. checking email, social media, fear, wasting effort on non productive activities. Focus specifically on improving to become an expert, when you are “working”. I agree, take time to refuel and enjoy.

  • James Rivera

    Malcom also said things we don’t control have to fall into place at the right time. Timing also plays a huge rule in the success of everyone. I believe we are all successful and mightily bless by God but we take those blessings for granted. Life would be a bore if everyone where Steve Job’s or the Beatles.

  • Onjefu

    @Christian, nice catch. Don’t you like those contradiction?

  • w00d

    My guitar teacher always disagreed with “practice makes perfect” saying. He would recommend instead and would often say “Perfect practice makes perfect” … Practice badly and your ART will suffer however if practiced well you and your ART will grow. Practice a chord wrong and it will always be wrong except now it will engrained into your muscle memory.

  • Wm. Luke Everest

    I love this. I have to say, though, two things. First, just to clarify in case you weren’t mentioning it tongue in cheek, Kurt Cobain was joking. Nirvana practiced like crazy, and Kurt would literally spent all day, every day, writing songs for weeks at a stretch. Krist used to shop around for guitars because if he gave Kurt a new one as a present, three weeks later Kurt would have written a plethora of songs. They also performed so much, and so heartily, that he got addicted to cough syrup due to his singing (and screaming) style causing him pain.

    Second, let’s go over the “No” list.

    1) Mindless repetition. Well, that’s bad, but repetition is good.

    2) Watching an expert perform. WHAT!? That’s one of the best things you can do! As Stephen King says, “If you haven’t the time to read, you have neither the time, nor the tools, to write.” You will meet precious few successful people who DON’T tell you that studying the greats is one of the most important ways to learn. I can tell you from personal experience that being young and arrogant, wanting to shake the world to its boots and refusing to learn from others, slowed me down a whole hell of a lot back before I grew up.

    3) Teaching other people. This forces you to reflect on your own practice. Teaching others in an arrogant, self-aggrandizing manner is a bad thing, but that’s also just plain bad teaching.

    4) Only doing the things that you’re already good at. I totally agree with him on this one, but the emphasis must be on the word ONLY.

    5) The last one, he’s completely right about.

    Good article, but with a few holes. The rule is to just immerse yourself. If you love the greats, don’t just admire them. Study them. If you love a subject, jump into it face first. That’s the guy’s point. As Albert Einstein said, “There’s nothing special about me. I’m just passionately curious.” That stands for becoming knowledgeable and/or expert at anything.

  • Violet

    I agree with you guys its always a perfect practice that can make you perfect.unless u practice perfectly you cant be perfect

  • Marshall

    Yes perfect practice makes perfect, i copy,what about when you do all and it fails?

  • Sidney

    Although the 10,000 hour rule remains true for many – Life isn’t a formula it’s more like a blank canvas. Anything can tip the scale from being called “ordinary” to “genius”. I think alot of it is hard work, but luck definitely plays a part.

  • Rajan Dhiman

    Who observe can never be perfect.
    So the practice makes a man near perfect and when he observes more he again start practicing and become near perfect but never perfect. It’s near perfect!!!

  • Alan

    Too many people confuse a skill as the aim then forget a skill is only part of the performance. It does not take 10000 hours to master a skill it takes 10000 correct executions to become unconsciously competent. An automatic correct action can be achieved with a breakdown of the steps involved and then devoting the time to progress through each one. That is called quality practice as long as you can remain totally focused during your drill(s). Graduate through each stage of the process and a skill can be mastered. The time is of no importance as long as you are making quality progress. Each step in the process supports the next like a foundation for a building then its frame, and finally the roof is put on last. An athlete must have many skills to play their sport. Putting on your shoes is a skill, tying your shoe is another skill. Obviously neither required 10000 hours or executions to get right but the correct executions were what created unconscious competence! No sense drilling the wrong execution. Get it right, repeat it repeatedly until it happens automatically without thinking. That my friend is called habit! Skills and habits are very interchangeable. Smoking is a skilled habit just like being a drunk. If you don’t believe it try to out drink a drunk or out smoke a chain smoker. They do it unconsciously with correct execution day in day out. Although it’s an unhealthy habit/skill good and bad habits or skills are developed with the same deliberate actions.

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