The 10,000 hour rule and how to take a shortcut

A classic walkway clock with trees in the background.

Is there an abbreviation for the law of 10,000 hours to achieve excellence?

It is said that in order to achieve artistic, sporting, professional or any other perfection, you have to invest around 10,000 hours of quality work in order to achieve championship standards. Talent and first class mentors can help to reach a high level a little bit earlier. The few outstanding genetic talents reach this level sooner or much easier. The decisive last 3-5% to the very individual top of your abilities will still take place within the 10,000 hour rule. Always?

An IRONMAN Triathlon tale

A new time trial bike and lack of experience with Plan B almost led to a disaster (DNF, did not finish) at my premiere on the IRONMAN distance in triathlon. A natural and acquired high degree of resilience and some hours of competition and training history in my experience saved me from a complete crash over 3,86km swimming, 180km cycling and 42,195km running. Because it was my first long distance run without too much know-how, I gladly used the option “to prepare my own food and to hand it over to a refreshment point through helpers.” Unfortunately, after the first of two bike laps, the catering table was empty. Empty like the bottles I carried with me. No supply of concentrated carbohydrates... Water without bread with a pulse of about 173 beats per minute - although the tank in the body was already attacked after about 3.5 hours of competition.

It was my first triathlon beyond the 2.5 hour mark, the middle distance I missed sovereignly, as the good high jumpers also like to do with “entry heights”. The nutritional challenges were joined by an unjustified time penalty due to a “conversation” during the overtaking process, a technical breakdown due to a final rivet slowly taking leave of the bicycle chain and a twenty-minute “active break” to remedy the imminent chain break with kerb edge and stones lying around. After completion of the provisional repair my two thighs said goodbye with a double cramp, which was caused by the sudden stopping and the bent posture. The following roll backwards into the ditch and the climb up again ahad no consequences.

Long story short: I finished the race but had some minor downtimes at the end of the marathon due already during the bike leg drained glycogene storage in my liver and muscles. Official time was a 10:1x something, just shy of the first (illegally drafting) female pros. But this is another story.

10k hours, mitigate risks through continuous assessment of worst case scenarios

What’s the biggest difference between a professional (athlete) who has put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and one who has put in “just” 1,000 or a couple of 1,000 hours? Talent? Athletic abilities? Power? Equipment?

Perhaps, but the best answer is experience to minimize unnecessary risks. Why? The experienced athlete or “professional” in any field has only one interest. The existing plans should be implemented and one thing must be avoided in any case: a (hazardous) mistake!

The athletes placed in front of me had similar physical conditions, a similar max. carbohydrate intake per hour, comparable equipment and aerodynamics, a similarly amount of training the last three months leading into this event. If you want to shorten the 10,000 hour rule, you have to avoid dangers. New equipment, disoriented helpers, over-motivated judges were very present dangers from outside on this specific race day in August. Some of them could have been stopped in advance. Of course an IRONMAN limps on a short leg as an example because endurance sports, like few other sports, especially reward the training diligence in the last months before the race and punish laziness as brutally as possible.

Many people think great professional athletes and entrepreneurs alike take risks. Great entrepreneurs mitigate and minimize risks by simulating and assessing worst case scenarios early on.

“Preparation, I have often said, is rightly two-thirds of any venture.” - Amelia Mary Earhart

How to skip 10k hours

To succeed you have to make a contribution to the world, take action and this requires for doing it in perfection actually a set of 10,000 hours of practice in your field. You can skip the 10,000 hours:

Ideas + Risk + resilient Persistence = Contribution (incl. 10k h shortcut)

When your idea output is strong, when you are willing to take the risk that nobody has ever taken before, when you persist through all the things that can and will go wrong, you will make your unique contribution - like I did in my first Ironman distance triathlon race by finishing it. It wasn't my best race, but one of the most memorable competitions out of 200+ endurance races.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” - Amelia Mary Earhart

How to transfer above formula into action

A) Write 5-10 ideas daily and train your idea creation, abstraction and formulating abilities.

B) Mitigate all risks by continuous assessment. Take the shortcut by analyzing all current/upcoming worst case scenarios.

C) Take action, adapt, pivot, move on - don’t sit in regret, fear or self-pity.

D) Repeat and enjoy

This post is inspired by James Altucher's 10.000 hours rule