Want to Be An Expert? Practice for Ten Years

In Daniel Coyle’s article on Russian tennis players we receive another interesting tidbit from the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. We already knew about the need for feedback, but this is the first I’ve heard of the Ten-Year Rule: “an intriguing finding dating to 1899, which shows that even the most talented individual requires a decade of committed practice before reaching world-class level.

That makes me feel better about all the skills I’m still struggling with.

And if you’re looking to turn your child into a super athlete, the U.S. Olympic committee leverages the ten-year rule to provide advice on windows of optimal trainability.


  1. Excellent article. This reminds me of an article I read on a related topic a few years ago: Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years. I used to believe that certain types of aptitude or talent were innate, and that may be true in some cases, but as this article shows, experience can be as good a factor in influencing talent.

  2. I’m glad that point still circulates – it made a strong impression on me lo these many years ago in an undergrad cognitive science class; some landmark paper that looked at chess masters and also (or maybe a different paper) Louis Armstrong.
    10 dedicated years to reach that level.
    It’s definitely humbling but also tantalizing since it does put it in reach.

  3. I have been living by the comfort of another “ten years to mastery” quote, from a lecture about photography.

    David Lyman, the founder of the Maine Photographic Workshop, “The Eight Keys to Success” (http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0410/lyman.html):

    “I have asked hundreds of accomplished photographers, writers, filmmakers, painters and musician how long it took before they felt they were able to speak from a source within. Ten years has been their unanimous answer.”

    “If it takes 10 years, then how do you spend the time wisely? It will take at least two years to acquire 70 percent of the craft you will need to work in your medium. It will take another eight years to acquire the next 20 percent of your craft. At 90 percent, you will have mastered your craft, but there is that 10 percent that will take a lifetime to acquire. In the meantime, while working to master your craft (the technical skills and processes for working in your medium) you will also be learning and acquiring a personal vision, your ability to see, to observe, to create and discover things. This is difficult at first, but the older you get the wiser and more aware you become.”


  4. Steve, that chess study was conducted by nobel laureate (psychology and economics–so a pretty smart guy) Herb Simon.

    Apparently Simon determined that it takes about 50,000 chuncks of information to become an expert, and it take about 10 years to acquire this many chuncks.

  5. nice. – question is: will we have time for this?

    weekend ft had a nice article “stuck in the muddle” on the endangered middle class.

    if you have a society with an elite of plutocrats and pop stars of all kinds (the likes for example dan pink writes about), what will the strategy of an individual be to pursue success? – to excel in the “creative economy’ – to make use of your creative capital in case you have not got enough of the other – will you follow a strictly linear path? …probably not totally.

    creativity is about risk. as the business world embraces innovation we see that the only sensible answer to the new challenge is a portfolio strategy.

    individuals might be well-advised to do the same balancing act of their risk portfolio.

    as the new corporation will be dominantly influenced by both the culture of design AND the culture of private equity investing something similar might hold for individual career building.

    i think the new setting demands that you have to be ‘ready’ to be excellent much sooner than in ten years.
    you have to be ready to be excellent at any given moment – whenever fate strikes… – and you probably have to be ready to be excellent in a number of (related) fields.

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