You’ll be familiar with the 10,000 hour rule: the principle that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are needed to become world-class in any field.

During those 10,000 hours, the rate of learning isn’t constant: it’s subject to diminishing returns. Could you tell the difference between a pianist with 9,000 hours’ practice and one with 10,000 hours’ practice? Not unless you were a world-class expert yourself: by the time you’re that good, there are only teeny-tiny improvements left to make and they only come very slowly.

However, could you tell the difference between someone who’d never touched a piano before and someone who’d had 100 hours of lessons and practice? Of course you could! If you can’t play the piano yourself, you’d be impressed by someone who could bash out a few basic tunes even if you’d never mistake them for a Juilliard graduate.

This observation gives us the 100 hour rule: someone with 100 hours of deliberate practice in any field will appear impressively good at it from the perspective of someone who’s never practiced it at all.

This applies to fields of knowledge as well as practical skills. Someone who’s spent 100 hours learning about economics or nutrition or art history will seem impressively knowledgeable to someone who’s never studied that topic, even if they couldn’t hold their own in a debate with a true expert.

For anyone with jack-of-all-trades tendencies, this is a bit of a life hack.

If you can dedicate 10 hours per week to any given topic or skill, in 10 weeks’ time you’ll be at a totally different level from where you are now. Then just as the rate of learning starts to drop off, you can switch to a different subject.

Within a year, you’ll have proficiency in five new topics. By the time you’ve put in your 10,000 hours, you’ll have covered 100 different subjects – which, for most of us, will be more useful and enjoyable than being exceptionally good at just one.

As time goes on, you’ll encounter areas of overlap between something you’re learning and something you’ve already learned – speeding things up even further, and generating new insights from the intersection of different disciplines.

You’ll be able to impress people by asking intelligent questions about any subject they’re interested in. And maybe even wow your friends with your faltering rendition of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”.

The 10,000 hour rule is great for those who aspire to be elite. But for those of us who lack the determination and focus – and are, frankly, too old anyway – the 100 hour rule could be just what we need.

(I heard someone mention “your first 100 hours of learning” on a podcast in passing, and it struck me as such a useful idea I’ve “borrowed” it and fleshed it out here. Full credit belongs to the person who had the original insight.)

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3 thoughts on “The 100 hour rule

  1. Great post!
    I’ve read a number of books like Bounce and Outliers that go into the 10,000 hour rule but never really thought about breaking that down into smaller chunks.
    I’m an amateur artist, but have focused very much on drawing and painting certain things – which I can do very impressively to the uninitiated, but not to a professional level. I have long understood that there is no such thing as “talent” only “practise”.
    Unconsciously I’ve made a career out of researching and becoming an SME in various topics (I work in the software business). I have always intuitively understood that to be an expert “you don’t have to be the most knowledgeable person in the world – just better informed than those around you”. And this just takes a bit of time and effort. I regularly learn new software skills to keep me ahead of the curve and my colleagues.
    In private life I’m also a voracious learner and love to study new topics of interest. I ski, scuba dive, draw/paint/make digital art, and speak French to advanced beginner / early intermediate level. I often become a “100 hour expert” on topics I’m excited by – everything from politics to history to economics – but I have honestly never really thought about it in this way consciously, and applied that idea systematically! I definitely will going forwards though!
    Property investing is my current topic of interest and I’m immersing myself for many hours each week so hopefully that will pay dividends in the coming months! 🙂

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