The 10,000-hour rule: Why hard work matters

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer February 21, 2014 10:07 am
Kevin Love is no Beach Boy, and living in Minnesota, as he does now, he is not exactly “Surfin’ USA.”

The son of former University of Oregon star basketball player Stan Love and nephew of Michael Edward “Mike” Love of the Beach Boys matriculated from Lake Oswego High School, went to UCLA for a spell and now is one of the best forwards in the National Basketball Association.

No matter that he is slow, white and, by NBA standards, short.

Kevin has an uncanny knack for getting off his shots, from anywhere and everywhere on the court, and being in the right place at the right time for rebounds. The 26 points a game and 13 rebounds he is averaging this season is in the top four in the NBA in each category. Pretty good for a “short” 6-foot-10 guy with the raw leaping ability of a Studebaker. Somehow, some way, he makes good things happen.

He is by all accounts a brilliant young man. And his education continues. Somewhere along the line he ran across the English-Canadian writer Malcolm Gladwell, on the staff of The New Yorker since 1996 and possessor of one of the quirkiest minds ever.

Among Gladwell’s books that Love recommends is “Outliers: The Story of Success,” published in 2008. It’s about how a person’s environment, coupled with drive and motivation, can lead to opportunities for success. It’s about how people can have all the drive and motivation in the world, but need to be like Bill Gates, at the right place at the right time, if they want to get a ride to the $60 billion planet.

Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule plays prominently in “Outliers.” It’s about how success in any field revolves around practicing a specific task for 10,000 hours.

To be a master of anything, no matter your talent, no matter if you are a Wonder Boy, you have to invest the time. Whether you are a builder, a musician, an artist or a skateboarder, it takes time to master the craft.

There are no shortcuts.

To put 10,000 hours into perspective, do something — golf, kite flying, barbed-wire sculpture — an hour a day. In a year, you’ll have 365 hours. In 10 years, you’ll have 3,650 hours. 

By all accounts, at an hour a day it would take approximately 25 years to master the craft.

Now look at athletes competing in the Olympic Winter Games, which conclude Sunday in Sochi, Russia. For many, their sport is a full-time job. At eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, with a couple of weeks off a year for good behavior, you would get about 2,000 hours a year. Even in that intense setting, it would take five years to master the craft.

It’s one thing to have talent. We each have a talent, whether that is in quilting, tiddledy winks or pipe organ. It’s a whole other thing to put in the hours needed to maximize our potential.

As late, great basketball coach John Wooden would say, none of us achieves to 100 percent of our talent. The way to judge people’s performance, Wooden said, is how close to 100 percent of their potential they can achieve. In that respect, a seemingly low achiever might be performing closer to their personal best than someone with loads of talent.

By Gladwell’s reckoning, even reaching 90 percent would take discipline and a lot of hard, hard work. Of sweat, blood, tears. Of being ready when opportunity knocks, if it ever knocks.

Kevin Love exemplifies this tradition. As a player for the Minnesota Timberwolves, he has worked hard at his craft. Now in his mid-20s, despite being undersized and slow of foot, he somehow is uncanny about being in the right place at the right time on the court to maximize his performance and that of his teammates.

Kevin Love may not be a Beach Boy. But his play on the court exemplifies the Beach Boys’ hit song “I Get Around,” except his getting around is on a basketball court.  For his teammates, and for fans of high achievers, this means “Good Vibrations.”