Do you desire to be outstanding in your profession? Do you want to be known in your industry? And are you in a hurry to get there quickly? The good news is, there is a secret formula to achieve your goal. The bad news is, there are no short cuts.

Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his seminal book, Outliers, that to be a specialist in your trade, you need to clock more than 10,000 hours of experience. To give you a clearer idea what that entails, the average person who works eight hours a day, five days a week, clocks 2,080 hours a year. At that rate and assuming that you meet industry benchmarks along the way, it would take you about five years to get there.

Mr Gladwell gives several pertinent examples to back his findings.

Pop music

In 1964, the Beatles took the United States by storm with their brand of pop music that revolutionised the industry. Little did the Americans know they had been playing since 1957, seven years before they landed in America. The time between their first album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and their greatest album, The Beatles (White Album) was 10 years.

In 1960, when the Beatles were struggling, they were invited to play in Hamburg. Relatively unknown, they struggled to play in strip joints seven nights week non-stop till two in the morning. In Liverpool, the Beatles could only play one-hour shifts with their best songs. In Hamburg, they played for eight hours, so they played new songs and found new ways of playing.

Singer John Lennon put it this way: “We got better and got more confidence. We couldn’t help it with all the experience playing all night long. Being foreign, we had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into it, to get ourselves over.”

In their five trips to Hamburg, they performed 270 nights with at least five hours per night.

By the time the Beatles became a worldwide phenomenon in 1964, they had already performed 1,200 times.

Most bands today do not even perform 1,000 times in their lifetime. Without Hamburg, the Beatles might have taken a different path.


Bill Joy co-founded Sun Microsystems, one of the biggest computer firms and he rewrote Java, a computer language. He is regarded as the Edison of the Internet. Yale computer scientist David Gelernter described Joy as one of the most influential people in the modern history of computing.

Joy entered the University of Michigan and he stumbled upon the Computer Centre. He was awestruck by computing and it became the centre of his life.

Whenever he had some spare time, he spent it programming. He got himself a job with a computer science professor so that he could carry on programming over the summer.

He next attended graduate school at the University of California where he entrenched himself deeper in computing. He rewrote and vastly improved Unix, the software developed by AT&T for mainframe computers. In all, Joy had invested more than 10,000 hours in computing and he built Sun Microsystems into a huge success.

His success was not due to an old-boy network. His parents were not wealthy and he was not a genius. His talents and his commitment helped him to stand above the crowd.

Classical music

American psychologist Anders Ericsson studied the violinists at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music. Those who had potential to be world-class soloists clocked over 10,000 hours by the time they were 20 years of age. Those who were good clocked only 8,000 hours. Those who intended to be music teachers had experience totalling just over 4,000 hours.

Ericsson discovered that there were no natural talents who would breeze through with a few hours of practice to become world-class soloists. There were no diligent students who worked harder than anyone else and did not break though to the top ranks.

He concluded that once a musician had enough ability to enter a top music school, the only factor that separated the top performer from the rest was how diligent he was. Musicians at the top did not work as hard as anyone else — they worked much harder.

Tomorrow: How Bill Gates, Mozart and the legendary chess player Bobby Fischer excelled in their careers. Learn how you can clock 10,000 hours and be outstanding in your field of specialisation.