100 hours or 10,000 hours? That is the question. Competency or mastery? Do you aspire to elite level or just need to know enough to get by?
Malcolm Gladwell blew up deliberate practice with his book "Outliers". Deliberate practice is a consistent, measurable activity that focuses the individual on continuous improvement until mastery.
In Gladwell's case it is 10,000 hours of hard work. The 100 hour rule states that we can achieve competency in a discipline with similar deliberate practice in just 1% of the time. 100 hours.
Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.
There have been some interesting applications of deliberate practice since the Gladwell book was written, most notably the work of Dan McLaughlin.
Dan McLaughlin & 10,000 Hours
Professional photographer Dan McLaughlin quit his job at the age of 30 to pursue a place on the PGA Tour despite having never picked up a golf club before.
He called it a journey in human potential.
McLaughlin's plan was to begin 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in 2010 and achieve his goal of a sub 2 handicap, progressing to play in qualifying events for the PGA Tour.
The starting point: a practice putting green. Putting over and over from small distances up to the edges of the green. from there he would progress to chipping and on to his irons, adding one club at a time.
Everything was done with purpose and intent. No phoney hours, all output clocked and measured.
Although outrageous in its premise, "The Dan Plan" would highlight how regular people could push the boundaries of performance with regular, deliberate and disciplined practice.
Training full-time for 30 hours a week Dan managed to reach a 2.6 handicap by 2014. Remarkably, this four years of deliberate practice put him in the 94th percentile of all male golfers in the US. All done from a standing start.
Dan McLaughlin never made it to the PGA Tour, retiring from the project a year later due to a chronic injury, instead moving his focus to a botanical soda manufacturing company.
However McLaughlin's contribution to peak performance cannot be underestimated.
He managed to show how Gladwell's theory could really work in practice, at any age, to achieve an elite level of play.
The highest echelons of performance are a unique combination of mindset, talent and disciplined practice.
McLaughlin may not have made it to the top table, but he got a good way to lighting up the road.
The 100 Hours Theory
What if mastery is not what is required? What if it is just competency?
What if we only need to know or do just enough to add that bowstring and beat the competition? The real question is how good we could get with 1% of the time.
What can be accomplish with just 100 hours?
Whereas the 10,000 hour rule is about becoming a member of the elite in a chosen discipline, the 100 hour rule is about getting away from being a beginner.
For most disciplines, it only takes one hundred hours of active learning to become much more competent than an absolute beginner.
Only 100 hours? Essentially 100 hours will take you from knowing nothing to being more educated and competent than 95% of the population.
If 10,000 hours is magnificently wielding a Samurai sword, 100 hours is closer to a paper cut. Small but can still do a lot of damage.
A commitment to continuous learning will quickly yield new skills. At one hour a day, applying the same deliberate practice as Dan McLaughlin, you will learn a new thing in three months. Five hours a day would yield a new skill in three weeks.
Offer up your weekends and in ten weeks you would be proficiently good at something new.
With the internet opening up availability of information and pay-as-you-go courses, there is a level-playing field more so than any time in recent history for people looking to improve and compete.
People working in niches can now excel as there is so much information available.
Looking to build a website for your business? 100 hours will get you there. Need to learn facebook ads? 100 hours will do it. Want to play the piano? 100 hours.
Ben Francis from Gymshark tells a great story about being able to build a linkup with the Post Office from his own Gymshark e-commerce.
Real 100 hours stuff.
He eventually hired a specialised CTO who said the link had to go as there were better, bespoke solutions. The gift of 10,000 hours!
Having mentors can really short circuit a process. It will pare down what you really need know to get your 100 hours in. Deliberate practice is about very methodical processes that are manageable and measured.
But you need to know what it is that should be measured! A bit of experience looking over your shoulder will help.
The real issue is the commitment of time and the ability to follow through with deliberate practice consistently again and again.
Although there is more opportunity for learning, never before have we been as distracted.
Our lives are time poor, enveloped in Netflix and dopamine tricks. If we could look outside the box we would see an oasis of opportunity.
100 hours of deliberate practice is the cheat code for creating a skillset that will allow you to thrive. It may not get you to the Olympics, but it will get you noticed.
The trick is to be a willing learner, push past the awkward, difficult phase of not knowing what you are doing into a space where you can thrive.
The future of work is a mix of highly specialised individuals who can do complex work and people who are qualified, albeit more shallow, in a variety of domains.
So put down the phone, pick a skill and make a plan. You don't always have to be the best, sometimes good enough is all there is to it.