Mastery = 10,000 hours! Part 2 of 3

It is a big number.  10,000 hours translates into 5 years of doing something BEFORE you can be considered to have attained Mastery.  So where did this number come from and what does it mean to people trying to attain it and leaders who are trying to grow and retain people who have this?

First question – Where did this number come from? In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he explores success and presents what he has found to be common themes to those who have achieved it.  One of his findings was that success might look overnight or based on talent, but a common theme is preparation (aka.  hours of work). He references a study of young musicians that examined who achieved the highest level of achievement vs those who became good.  The difference between average, above average, and excellence?  Hours of practice.  In the end, the number was 10,000 hours.  He also presented other anecdotal evidence of famous athletes, musicians, and business icons.  This is not his only point to success, but it is a significant one.

This 5 year number is one that I have also heard shared.  Studies have been done in the area of nursing that support that the length of time for a nurse to achieve the status of a clinical expert in a particular area is 5 years.  So if it is important for a nursing supervisor to also be a clinical expert, promoting them at 2 years or 3 years is a risk, especially if their team needs them to be an expert.  Mastery is about preparation.

Second question – What does it mean to people trying to attain Mastery and leaders who are trying to grow and retain  people who have this? Think about our society – microwaves, fast food, IM(now Twitter), Facebook (instant updates of life vs yearly Christmas cards), etc.  We do not like to wait for things.  When we do wait we do not wait very long.  So this number 10,000 hours seems like a looonnnnng time.

I was presenting to a group of nursing leaders one time and I said something that clicked with them because everyone went for their pencils and wrote it down.  I said “When you think about career development, imagine a crock pot, not a microwave.” I was shocked at their response, but this visual made them realize the time needed to grow expertise AND the commitment that it takes from all to achieve it.  Helping people achieve this takes a plan AND a commitment from a leader to revisit it and revise it every 6 – 12 months.

So what can be done with this number?   First, as an individual pick an area you want to achieve Mastery in and get to work.  A job, special projects, volunteering, reading each week, or whatever other way you can find to accumulate hours doing and learning.   Secondly, as a leader make a habit of asking questions of your people.

  • What is an area that you want to become an expert in?
  • What things do you want to learn or do over the next year?
  • How are you progressing  on the development goals we set for you last year?
  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?
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Mastery – A great goal and a significant goal!  Just don’t get frightened by the number.  Remember, when you are doing what you love time passes quickly.