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Monday, October 4, 2010

It’s Simply Practice, 10,000 hours of it.

This year I am coaching my oldest sons' mite hockey team (6-8 year olds).  While at a recent training session for coaches an interesting statistic caught my attention:

Consider this: Two-thirds of Canada's pro hockey players were born in January or February. The same holds true in college and high-school all-star teams.

You may ask yourself why.  Well, it turns out that youth leagues in Canada organize kids by age, based on the calendar year. Children born in the first two months of the year are inevitably larger and more coordinated than teammates six to 10 months younger. So they get more ice time, more coaching, and more chances to excel from practice.

Outliers: The Story of Success
In the book Outliers, written by Malcolm Gladwell, it challenges common assumptions about high achievers as it builds a case for nurture over nature, attitude over aptitude.  His insistence that cultural heritage, timing, persistence, and an eye for the main chance are the determinants of success is sure to have readers considering their own destinies.

He also dismisses the notion that the "gifted child" who scores at the top of intelligence tests has advantages. Although some smarts are necessary, beyond a certain level they don't help. What does matter, he says, is simply practice - 10,000 hours of it.  Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.  He quotes neurologist Daniel Levitin, who says that scientific studies show that 10,000 hours are required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything.  .

The 10,000-hour rule undoubtedly applies to Lean. If you want and need to become outstanding at Lean thinking, or at least proficient at Lean, but you don't have the time for 10,000 hours — or 20 hours a week for 10 years. What can you do?

Seize every educational, networking, and mentoring opportunity available.  Attend conferences, participate in educational webinars, and read expert books and articles like those in this blog.  While you can't replace your own learning by tapping into the knowledge of people who have their 10,000 hours, you will reach a level of proficiency that otherwise would have taken years — or 10,000 hours — to gain.

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  1. Tim,

    Wow! The 10,000 hour rule and how you break it down to 20 hours per week for 20 years really illustrates the value of experience. We need to challenge ourselves to bigger and better things and new challenges as we accumulate experience as well. We all want to be the Lean Practitioner with 20 years of experience and not the guy with 1 year of experience 20 times. Great post.


  2. 10,000 hours are required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything.

    a really good concept which gave us a moral support to keep our heads up even if we failed to achieve something we want. Deals with it by always remembered that we at least need 10,000 hours to be proficient and maybe we haven't got there yet..

  3. Hmmm...

    Just a thought, but knowledge isn't skill, but certainly can lead to it if we try to apply what we learn. And as most of us who try to practice lean know, learning is doing. Just a word of caution to those out there that reading, attending seminars and watching videos about lean: knowledge alone isn't enough and doesn't necessarily lead to be being proficient in lean.

    A great book out there in a similar vein is called, Seeing David in the Stone. I recommend this book over Outliers because, in fact, there are outliers to Gladwell's outliers theory. For example, how do you explain the 1/3 of hockey players proficiency that helped them earn a spot in the NHL? Perhaps something else is at play here than just having a social advantage, which is an underlying theme in Gladwell's works.

    I would say that in my short lean experience of about ten years, what has been more valuable to me is the 10,000 mistakes I've made, not the hours.

  4. Tim, thanks for the great post. A big part of being Lean is about process and Lean processes are relatively easy to replicate, so I would say that manufacturers often mistakenly believe they need an experienced Lean practitioner as if they needed someone to “invent” Lean within their own organization. In many cases (but certainly not all) manufacturers can borrow the experience of the industry by following established best practices.

    I’m not completely discounting the value of having Lean experience, but I think the skills that Lean practitioners need to have a mastery-level of isn’t Lean itself, but someone who knows how to be systematic, implement processes and change organizational culture. If you have 10,000 hours doing these things, you should be golden.

  5. Bryan, I think you point is not just about time spent but the quality of the time spent. To that I agree. My point is it takes time. You must practice (experiment and try) what you learn. There is a difference between those who have the knowledge and those who can reduce that knowledge to practice. If you what to improve certainly a key element is spending more time learning. Knowledge can't be skiped.

    Thanks for sharing the book Seeing David in the Stone. I will have to put that on my reading list.

  6. Hi Tim,

    10,000 hours! In order for anyone to do that they have to have real passion (will fired by desire)- intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation ($, fear, etc.). I vote for intrinsic.