I don’t agree with everything in this article. While I do agree that the nature part of ‘nature + nurture’ does need some minimum level, I think nurture is much more important than I think this article implies, and am more in line with most of what Gladwell has said. Gladwell’s definition of talent, from an interview he gave a few years ago, is: “Talent is the desire to practice. Right? It is that you love something so much that you are willing to make an enormous sacrifice and an enormous commitment to that, whatever it is -- task, game, sport, what have you.” I think achieving expertise is an extremely difficult thing to do, which is why it is so rare, but it is that love that leads to the drive to make the sacrifices needed to ‘practice’ deeply to achieve expertise that is what is important. And, in my opinion, that love and drive is triggered more by one’s environment, upbringing, and luck than it is by anything one is originally born and wired with.
New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell didn’t invent the rule, but he did popularize it through his best-selling book Outliers. The principle actually dates to a 1993 study, though in that paper the authors called it the 10-year rule.
Whatever name it goes under, the rule essentially says that in order to become an expert in any field, you need to work for at least x amount of time. I don’t know what all the fuss was about. But I guess a big round number brings the equation to life or makes a formula for success sound scientific in a way that simply saying “Practice, practice, practice” doesn’t. Still, that interpretation of the rule seems reasonable to me. Talent plus ten thousand hours of work equals success? Talent plus ten years of work equals success? Sure!
Consider this article about the 10,000-hour rule that opens with the example of Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest people in the world: “As Buffett told Fortune not long ago, he was ‘wired at birth to allocate capital.’ … Well, folks, it’s not so simple. For one thing, you do not possess a natural gift for a certain job, because targeted natural gifts don’t exist. (Sorry, Warren.)” Maybe the issue here was the word targeted.
Was Warren Buffett born to be a CEO specifically? Was he born to run a behemoth corporation like Berkshire Hathaway rather than, say, to work as a day trader? No. But was he born with a brain for business — a brain that would lend itself to number-crunching and risk-taking and opportunity-identifying and all the other skills that go into becoming the leading investor of his generation? I say yes. Certainly Buffett put in his ten thousand hours or ten years of work. He bought his first shares of stock at the age of eleven, founded a successful pinball-machine business with a friend at the age of fifteen, and before he graduated high school, he was wealthy enough to buy a farm.
This is not the career trajectory of someone who’s interested in business and is putting in his ten thousand hours. This is the career trajectory of someone who lives to do business. You might say it’s the path of someone who was born to do business. You might even say it’s the path of someone who was wired for business at birth.