Does The 10,000 Hour Rule really work?

"Malcolm Gladwell’s often cited book “Outliers: The Story of Success” played a significant role in popularizing the concept (initially put forward by Anders Ericsson) that deliberate, sustained practice in one specific field plays a crucial role in becoming an expert (or ‘outlier’) in that discipline.

The ‘10,000 Hour Rule’ has since been used as a go-to theory on the sacrifice it takes to be successful. However, the notion received much criticism and Gladwell himself has admitted that he rues the focus it has been given at the expense of his much broader thesis.

Quite simply - practice alone is not sufficient and does not exist in a vacuum. The thousands of hours I spent kicking a football in my youth are testament to this!

What is often missed when people roll out the lazy ‘10,000 Hour’ reference is that Gladwell spends a large portion of the book highlighting an array of other factors that play a part in the development of a very particular set of skills…


Take Steve Jobs as an example.

Yes, he may have notched up 10,000 hours of programming at a very young age and is an undoubtedly intelligent and talented businessman. But the access he had to computers in 1968 would have been almost unheard of for anyone at that time, let alone a 13-year-old.

Gates himself readily admits this fortunate set of circumstances played a key role in his development, and Gladwell points to a number of other factors we need to consider when examining success – family, date of birth, access to facilities, etc.


All well and good I hear you asking, but what’s the relevance of this for a blog about recruitment and talent development within eCommerce and Digital?

Given the growth we’ve seen in specialist roles in these areas within the FMCG space over the past 12-18 months, I feel there is a key lesson to be learned in terms of both talent acquisition and talent development;


Environment might be more important than racking up the hours.

Nurturing eCommerce & Digital talent in the FMCG market is about much more than simply giving someone responsibility and letting them get on with it.

Whether it’s tagging on responsibility to someone’s existing remit (the classic addition of ‘Digital’ to a job title) or bringing in a specialist from outside, without the relevant facilities, budget, training, measurement and so on, the development of specialists who understand a rapidly expanding space is going to be severely limited.

It’s fair to say that in this instance time spent practicing is still crucial, and the time taken to rack up 10,000 hours (roughly 5 years) almost seems a conservative estimate. But it’s also about so much more


Expertise cannot develop without passion.

The same logic is equally applicable to employers trying to find talent to be nurtured. In an ever-changing landscape, previous experience becomes quickly redundant without the desire to continue learning.

When searching for digital & eCommerce talent for FMCG businesses, the intersection of experience between skills and sector is still relatively small, so taking a broader view than square pegs for square holes is crucial. The passion, desire and interest in the space is vital in ensuring that time spent doing is also time spent learning.

Without these traits, all that practice may amount to nothing than more than banging your head against a digital brick wall.



Andy Davies

Associate Director – eCommerce, Digital, Marketing & Sales

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