Can anyone become an outlier in their profession or hobby?

I recently read the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. I have mentioned this book in a previous post about giving up. I made reference to the 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. In that post I estimated that I practice about 240 hours a year. Now, that I’ve been taking lessons for 5 years, I’m probably at about 1,200 hours of practice. At this rate, I will need another 20 years before I become an expert organist! But do I really need 10,000 hours???

Discussion- Can anyone become an outlier

Does the 10,000 hour rule apply to every profession?

According to the book, those who practice the most are the experts and the outliers. Those that start the at the youngest age will stand out and get more opportunities as they are slightly better/more advanced than others at the same age. These opportunities lead to even more practice. A couple of the examples in book are Olympic athletes and pro hockey players in Canada.

And sometimes it’s all about being in the right place, the right time and even being born at the right year (examples, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs). So some of the book was a bit of downer. What if you weren’t born at the right time to have a the best chance of being an outlier in a particular field? There was not a chapter on this which was a bit disappointing.

This was my first reaction to the book. But perhaps, I missed that point of the book. The goal of the book may have been to explain how those that are super successful (outliers) got there – a lot of practice, opportunities, and some luck.

Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule has caused a stir and many articles have debunked it, including this one from Business Insider. Regardless, I believe I will be a better organist once I have 10,000 hours of practice compared to the 1,200 I have practiced so far.

Can we all become outliers?

The short answer is No. Merriam-Webster defines an outlier as a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample. Just by definition alone everyone cannot be an outlier. If we were all at the same level than there would not be any outliers.

Does it matter?

We can be successful even if we are not an outlier. We can still work hard and practice at whatever we want to do. Not everyone needs or wants to be an outlier. I’d just like to get to point where I’m successful enough to play for a church.

For musicians, how we practice makes a difference too. Dr. Noa Kageyama explains how long a practice session should be and tips for effective practice in his post How many hours a day should you practice. If I apply his suggestions to my practice, I will become an expert much faster!

What do you think about the 10,000 hour “rule” and outliers? Do you think anyone become an outlier in their profession or hobby?

Reflections on 5 years of organ lessons (Sept 2009 - Sept 2014)
Why I'm still going to wear my organ shoes
Website | + posts

Heidi Bender writes about her experiences of learning to play the organ. She started on the adventure in 2009.

She also writes on her website Tons of Thanks, which helps people write thank-you notes. Heidi is also a cat lady who writes at The Joy of Cats.

4 thoughts on “Can anyone become an outlier in their profession or hobby?”

  1. Sorry for being harsh, but what Mr. Gladwell said is outright cr*p. The ones who stand above the rest have a mix of hard work, talent, perseverance and a little luck. And that luck won’t make a difference if the other elements have been neglected.

    The Gladwell thesis might be applicable for non-talented people, but once the natural ability gets in the mix the results change a lot. Bill Gates, Beethoven, Michael Jordan or Leonardo Da Vinci share some common traits. They surrounded themselves with people who inspired them while being disciplined and creative; and this way their talent was able to evolve and accelerate their achievements.

    So, keep practicing and trust your teacher and your nature.

    Oh, and record your practices and performances. You will learn a lot faster by listening after practicing, trust me.

  2. Hi Heidi,

    I have never heard of the word “outlier”. I don’t need to be #1 at anything although I have a little marble thing here on the table that says #1 Mom on it. It was given to me by one of my children. The 10,000 hour rule reminds of being perfect which none of us is. IF I had to 10,000 hours of anything to be good enough I would probably give up. For example, I do enjoy doing scrapbooks. They aren’t perfect like some instructor would say but they good enough to me and my family. I probably have 10.000 hrs put into them. 10,000 hrs of practicing would be too much for me. some peole have more natural talent. Some people are very goal driven. I happen to think I should do the the best I can at whatever I do for as long as I can. In my career as a RN I did the best I could each day I worked. Being retired offers a person even more options and goals. Keep up your good work.


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