Witnessing The Result Of 50,000 Hours Of Practice


There’s been a lot written about the “10,000 hour rule”, first articulated by Psychologist and researcher K. Anders Ericsson, and later made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.  This rule has basically been recognized as a “barometer of excellence” in that it sets out a necessary quota of time that one must invest in order to rise to the level of mastery of a subject matter.

While I think that 10,000 hours is a good start on the road to mastery.  I hardly think that it captures real mastery.  For this much more time is needed.

When I used to practice law it was not unusual for lawyers (including myself) to bill over 2000 hours in a year.  This is “billed” time, not actual time.  Every 8 hours of “billed” time was more like 10-11 hours of “actual” time.  5 years of 2000 hours billed time (ie. 10,000 hours) hardly made me (or anyone else) a master.  It gave me a good start at technical proficiency, but it wasn’t mastery.

I’ve noticed the same thing over the last 5 years in the various ventures I’ve been involved in (direct sales entrepreneurialism, writing, public speaking).  In the last 5 years I have banked 10,000 hours in practice combined in these pursuits. Am I a master?  Far from it. I feel constantly like a novice, always learning and growing.

If you want to see mastery, in my opinion, you need to look for someone who is in the 50,000 hour+ club, and when you get the chance to experience that, you really know mastery.

I had the chance to experience this club this past weekend when I went with my wife to a Neil Young concert.  The concert was surrounded by controversy since Neil was donating his tour proceeds to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal defence fund for a legal challenge to the Government of Canada’s recent approval of Royal Dutch Shell’s planned Jackpine oil sands mine.

The atmosphere of the concert was somewhat politically charged, with opinions and peaceful demonstrations both in support of, and in opposition to, Neil’s position.

For me, I didn’t see or think about politics at all (nor do I wish to even talk about politics).  All I saw was mastery.  Utter, complete, transcendent musical mastery.  The product of 50,000+ hours of practice. 

When you witness the level of mastery that brings you chills, and causes a hush to come over a crowd of 1000+ observers (of diverse political inclinations) you know that this is something special, and it is something that isn’t just the product of raw talent (which Neil Young surely has).  It is the product of practice.  Day in, day out, since 1960.  Through the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young years, through Woodstock, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, constant reinvention, continual adaptation and experimentation in both song writing and melody.

Pure mastery.  It was fun to watch.  Inspiring.  Unfortunately for some people, politics got in the way of appreciating a master.  One day I hope to be a master of my craft as well.  50,000 hours….

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